Thursday, January 03, 2013

Bangladesh’s Gains in Human Development

BRAC: Targeting Extreme Poverty: Programme Components
Economist: The Path Through the Fields
Guardian: Bangladesh’s Brac Receives Large Aid Boost form UK and Australia
Guardian: Growing Discontent
UNDP: Social Safety Net Programmes in Bangladesh
WB: Bangladesh
WB: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has made significant gains in the areas of education, health, and poverty reduction since its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Bangladeshis’ life expectancy increased from 59 years in 1990 to 69 years in 2010. Women’s life expectancy is two years longer than men’s. The country has cut its infant mortality rate by more than half from 1990 to 2010. Female enrollment in primary school increased from 45% in 2000 to 90% in 2005, which surpassed the primary school enrollment rate for boys. In addition, the poverty rate decreased between 2000 and 2010 from 49% to 32%. Part of these gains may be attributable to faster gross domestic product (GDP) growth in recent years—it has increased from around 3% in the 1970s to above 6% since 2004—but many of these gains are due to progressive government policies and strong non-governmental organization (NGO) involvement. The Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC) is one NGO, in particular, that has done much in the way of social spending.

One of the ways that Bangladesh’s government has helped achieve these gains is by providing free birth control and advising women about family planning. Today, more than 60% of women use birth control, compared to just 8% in 1975. Moreover, the average number of children each Bangladeshi woman gives birth to during her life has declined from 6.3 in 1975 to 2.3 today. The government has also dedicated about 12% of public spending to social programs designed to help the poor, such as food for work, cash for work, conditional cash transfer (money that is conditional upon school attendance, for example), and programs that give food and necessities to certain vulnerable households without conditions attached to the aid. However, government expenditures on education and health are lower than average among lower income countries, and the country’s safety nets are not able to reach many needy families. Thus, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a critical role in Bangladesh’s human development.

BRAC is one NGO that has played such a role. For example, BRAC, along with Grameen Bank, brought microcredit (small loans made to the poor) to Bangladesh, and today, the organization has loaned $725 million to five million borrowers. For those people that are too poor to truly benefit from a microloan, BRAC has created a program whereby it gives people income-producing assets such as livestock or crops (these assets produce food that people can feed themselves with as well as sell for a profit), and a monthly stipend, and then monitors the aid recipients for two years to help them become self-sufficient. In addition, BRAC operates a system of primary schools that provides an alternative to the state-run system and teaches about 1.5 million children each year. It also provides medical services to over 100 million people each year.

Despite the extensive role that BRAC has played and continues to play in Bangladesh’s development, some criticize the organization for assuming the role of a government, but without any accountability. For example, farmers have accused BRAC of marketing hybrid rice and corn seeds to them by misstating production costs and crop yields. The leader of one group that is critical of the practice of promoting hybrid seeds claims that hybrid crop production is responsible for depleting underground water sources, contaminating drinking water, and intensifying desertification in the northern part of the country. BRAC argues, however, that these hybrid seeds are more profitable for farmers than traditional crop strains. This problem demonstrates one of the many trade-offs that can accompany every country’s path to development and the difficulties that heavy NGO involvement can cause.