Development includes economic growth and human development. The Seventh Plan (2015-20) emphasises on pro-poor and inclusive growth through reduction in inequality by ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare and education, and broad-based participation in productive employment. Let us see how inclusive achievements have been in different aspects of development in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been making steady economic progress for more than one decade, with the annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth increasing from over 6.0 per cent to around 7.0 per cent. The per capita income has increased from around US$100 at the time of independence to over US$ 1,500. Also, with acceleration in the growth of per capita income, poverty has declined considerably from 57 per cent in 1991 to around 23 per cent at present. Bangladesh has achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target of halving the population living under the poverty line.
However, despite poverty reduction, there continues to be concentration of income among richer households. The share of the poorest quintile in national income declined from 7.0 per cent in 1991-92 to 5.0 per cent in 2010. Income inequality has increased. The incidence of poverty is highest in Rangpur; higher in rural areas; and higher among the widowed/divorced household heads, those with little or no education, and the land-poor households.
Between 2000 and 2015/16, the working-age population increased by 32 million persons, labour force by 21 million, and employment by 20 million, i.e. the economy has not been able to generate enough jobs for the working-age population.
The labour market is faced with several challenges: predominance of informality; pervasive vulnerable employment; predominance of low-productivity, low-wage, informal sector; low skill level of the employed population; poor quality of jobs; considerable under-utilisation of labour force, and more so in rural areas and among females; marked gender inequalities; and high unemployment among the educated and the youth.
Between 2004 and 2014, nutritional status of under-5 children showed some improvement. The level of stunting declined from 51 per cent to 36 per cent, underweight from 43 per cent to 33 per cent, but wasting only from 16 per cent to 14 per cent. Stunting, underweight and wasting are higher in rural areas, and among those whose mothers are less educated and belong to poor households. The percentage of ever-married women with Body Mass Index (BMI) below 18.5 (below the normal BMI classification of 21.4) declined from 34 per cent in 2004 to 19 per cent in 2014. Anemia is a major health problem among young children and pregnant women, especially in rural and remote areas and among the less educated and poor households.
Bangladesh has achieved considerable success in reducing childhood mortality. The country has achieved the MDG 4 target for under-5 mortality. However, infant and under-5 mortality rates are higher in rural areas, and among those whose mothers are less educated and belong to poor households. Vaccination coverage among under-2 children has increased; however, coverage is lower among those whose mothers are less educated and belong to poor households.
Maternal health has improved, with the maternal mortality ratio declining from 322 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001 to 194 in 2010; however, it is higher in rural areas, among less educated women, and those who belong to poor households.
The percentage of last births that received at least one antenatal care (ANC) from a medically trained provider increased from 30 per cent in 1997 to 64 per cent in 2014, and those receiving four or more ANC visits increased from 18 per cent in 2005 to 31 per cent in 2014. However, there are inequalities in ANC coverage by place of residence, women's education and household wealth status. Deliveries of babies by medically trained provider increased from 12 per cent in 2001 to 42 per cent in 2014; however, more than one-third of births are assisted by untrained birth attendants. Deliveries at health facility increased from 9.0 per cent in 2001 to 37 per cent in 2014. Medically assisted deliveries and those delivered at medical facilities are lower among rural women, the less educated, and the poor.
Between 2005 and 2015, the primary school net enrolment rate increased from 90 per cent to 99 per cent for girls and from 85 per cent to 97 per cent for boys. Between 2008 and 2015, the secondary school net enrolment rate increased from 51 per cent to 72 per cent for girls and from 40 per cent to 62 per cent for boys. Bangladesh achieved the MDG target for gender parity in primary and secondary school enrolment. At the tertiary level, the net enrolment rate is quite low (12 per cent), with only 45 per cent being females. While net enrolment increased among the non-poor, it remained unchanged among the poor. The enrolment in technical education continues to be extremely low (8.0 per cent), and males outnumber females. The grade completion rates are higher among females and in rural areas in the junior classes, while the reverse is the case in urban areas and in the higher classes.
The skill of workers is not aligned with the need of the current stage of economic growth, which puts greater emphasis on technically skilled workforce in the high-productivity manufacturing and services sectors. Also, about two-thirds of migrant workers are low- and semi-skilled. Other challenges include disparity by place of residence and socio-economic categories, gender gap at tertiary and technical education levels, and relatively low school completion rates.
Despite improvement in school enrolment over time, there are, according to a recent UNESCO report, about 10 million out-of-school children, adolescents and youth. Bangladesh has the fifth highest number of out-of-school adolescents and the third largest number of out-of-school youths in the world.
It is abundantly clear that the benefits of development have not been evenly distributed. Hence, the government should attach top priority to ensuring pro-poor and inclusive growth. Greater focus should be given on policies to: (i) remove inequities in access to quality healthcare services, thereby ensuring healthy workforce; (ii) remove inequities in access to technical and tertiary education and bring about desired improvements in education, including its quality, thereby raising skill level of the workforce; (iii) create adequate number of full-time productive jobs to ensure decent jobs to the workforce; (iv) explore greater overseas employment opportunities, and provide training and skill development to migrant workers; and (v) strengthen micro and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) by making available easy credit facilities to them and by upgrading their skills. The above policy measures, if implemented effectively, will help build healthy, skilled workforce, who could be adequately utilised in productive employment, provided adequate number of such employment is created, thereby raising overall economic growth and reduce inequality in income and other aspects of development.
Barkat-e-Khuda, Ph.D is Supernumerary Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka.