Country passing through a phase of rapid change (The Financial Express (Bangladesh))

Most people, including experts, are of the opinion that economic development is the ultimate goal in a nation’s life. Critically speaking, it is not so, because fulfillment in a nation’s life is subject to development in various spheres at the micro level, a fact that is hardly considered while assessing economic development in a society.

Bangladesh is undergoing a phase of rapid change. Economic indicators suggest that the country is moving forward. Infrastructural facilities like Dhaka-Chittagong four-lane highway, elevated expressway, Padma bridge, Pangaon terminal, LNG terminal, metro rail, sewerage tunnel around the capital are being built. Capacities of Chiitagong and Mongla sea ports have been strengthened. Other infrastructure projects include Sonadia deep sea port of Cox’s Bazar, Ruppur nuclear power plant, Rampal coal-based power plant etc.

In order to generate speed in the economy and encourage investment in the private sector, projects for development of infrastructural establishments in power, energy and communication are being approved and implemented. Meanwhile, the government has undertaken programmes to attract foreign investment in six special economic zones of the country. Countries like China, Japan and Germany have expressed their interest to invest in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEPZA) has requested the power division to take necessary action to supply electricity to the economic zones from next January. It is expected that China, Japan, India, UAE and Kuwait will make large-scale investment in this sector. This will help generate few hundred thousand employment opportunities in six districts of the country where economic zones have been set up on 2,257 acres of land.

Progress made by Bangladesh in these areas has been recognised by various foreign organisations and the media. A report by Goldman Sachs, an American multinational investment banking organisation, contains a list of 11 promising countries of the world which have been termed ‘the next eleven’. The list includes Bangladesh. The organisation has stated that youths constitute the majority of Bangladesh population who can change the future of the country. JP Morgan has named 5 frontier economies and Bangladesh is one of those five. According to the World Bank, Bangladesh has demonstrated all the potentials to become a middle income country by 2021.

The US has predicted that the ‘next eleven’ will surpass the combined development of 27 countries of European Union by 2030. The Guardian of London writes, Bangladesh will overtake the western states in terms of economic growth by 2050. Besides, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s have been rating Bangladesh quite high over the last few years. All these predictions clearly indicate that Bangladesh has a bright future ahead.

According to the current budget, we are dependent on foreign assistance for only 1.8 per cent of our GDP (gross domestic product), meaning that we have been able to strengthen our national capacity. The latest report of BBS shows that our per capita income has increased to US$1314 which was US$1190 last year. Bangladesh’s position in terms of per capita income is 58th in the world. Purchasing power and average longevity of people have also gone up. Bangladesh is being shown as a middle income country based on improvement in GDP. But GDP improvement is not the only criteria to become a middle income country. International organisations have divided the countries of the world in different broad categories. These are: less developed, lower middle income, higher middle income and high income countries. The Centre for Development Policy under United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO) has defined less developed countries as countries that have minimum per capita income of US$1190.

Besides per capita income, two other factors are considered. These are: human development index and economic vulnerability index. Percentage of population with malnutrition, rate of child mortality, number of children in secondary schools and rate of adult literacy are considered to work out human development index. Factors considered for economic vulnerability index include total population, diversity of export products, contribution of agriculture to national income, percentage of population living in lower regions, stability of export items, percentage of population affected by natural calamities and stability of agricultural income.

Whether or not a country can be called a least developed one, depends on all these and the lowest step of per capita income. Only per capita income is not the sole determinant. For example, in spite of having higher per capita income, Myanmar and other island states of the pacific region are in the group of least developed countries due to their not being eligible in terms of human resource and economic vulnerability indicators.

Ironically, people of the country that is fast developing in terms of all acceptable indicators and has a per capita income of US$1314 are now embarking on an uncertain journey on the seas towards an unknown destination despite being well aware of the dreadful eventualities. They are destined to end up on seas which are known as floating mass graves. Thousands of workers are living as captives in the illegal labour camps discovered recently in the forests of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. They include Bangladeshis and Rohingyas. Rohingyas have gone as illegal migrants, Bangladeshi workers are not migrants, they are going as illegal workers in quest of a better life.

International human rights organisations and many developed countries have expressed their deep concern over the issue and termed these boats or trawlers as floating graves. They have expressed their interest to rescue the migrants. Social analysts are of the opinion that the youths are taking the risk of illegal immigration to earn money abroad, since there are no adequate employment opportunities in the country. People do not want to leave behind their near and dear ones and migrate to other countries for employment had there been enough employment opportunities at home. This is about unskilled workers. Members of the educated communities are also migrating illegally in large numbers due to lack of employment opportunities and social security.

Economic development typically involves improvements in a variety of indicators such as literacy rates, life expectancy and poverty rates. GDP does not take into account other aspects such as leisure time, environmental quality, freedom or social justice. Essentially, a country’s economic development is related to its human development, which encompasses, among other things, health and education. These factors are, however, closely related to economic growth so that development and growth often go together. As improvement in economic indicators is essential for development of a country, so is social security and standard of living. Equally important is to create a positive impression in people’s mind regarding these developments.