Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
Published: 2014-10-19 18:28:15.0 BdST Updated: 2014-10-19 20:44:03.0 BdST
Bangladesh has progressed much going by different social and health indicators among the SAARC member states, but Sri Lanka despite its long civil strife remains the star performer in more ways than one.
This has been revealed at the SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) progress report.
Bangladesh launched it on Sunday, ahead of the next months’ SAARC summit in Kathmandu.
Presenting the report, Prof Shamsul Alam, a member of the Planning Commission’s general economic division, said Sri Lanka’s overall performance was the best in the SAARC region.
He analysed some of the indicators of the 22 SAARC development goals covering four areas –poverty alleviation, health, education and environment– using comparative statistics for 2011, the last time SAARC nations had comparative data.
However, the prime minister’s International Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi said the Sri Lanka story had a message for all developing countries — without waiting for an economic boom a country can improve its social indicators.
SAARC started in 1985 and adopted 22 goals in 2006 in the 13th summit at Dhaka as part of a regional response to the urgent needs of achieving the MDGs by 2015.
The report presented on Sunday showed that Sri Lanka secured the top position in the life expectancy at birth, infant as well as under-5 mortality rate, maternal deaths, total fertility rate, access to improved sanitation and infant immunisation indicators.
Bangladesh is trailing Sri Lanka in all of them, except total fertility rate where it ranked number one among the South Asian countries with women having less children, and GDP per capita where it is in fifth position.
Bhutan topped the list of GDP per capita with $ 5,162 in 2011, followed by Sri Lanka $ 4, 929.
Rizvi, a former Oxford and Harvard professor, said Sri Lanka had smartly used its public policy choices, despite huge political upheavals, to allocate resources in key social sectors like education and health. “That was now yielding results.”
He said Bangladesh has also done well by absorbing this lesson.
Rizvi said both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had “not waited for our economies to boom for delivering certain goods and services to the people”.
He cited Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s study and said that when Sri Lanka’s per capita GDP was $ 450 and South Korea’s $ 3500, all comparable, the island nation was at par with South Korea on all major or even ahead in some.
“Sen argued that if Sri Lanka had waited to achieve the same level of South Korea it would have to wait for 170 years, but it achieved by reordering priorities and allocating funds in the right place.”
“We should congratulate ourselves that Bangladesh has been following a similar policy, may be less wholeheartedly, but its achievements are due to that.”
He, however, stressed on better connectivity within SAARC states for better co-operation.
Former adviser of the caretaker government Rasheda K Chowdhury commenting on the progress report said the SAARC development goals should prioritise measuring gender violence that can impact on other achievements.
She said Bangladesh had achieved a lot by reducing poverty and robust GDP growth, but it could suffer a lot “if we don’t have stable politics”.
She appreciated SAARC development goals and she believed those were “much more specific and contextual” for countries of the region than the MDGs.
“It has a goal of ensuring access to affordable justice that has nothing to do with the MDGs, but it’s much contextual for us,” she said, for example.
“We should focus our work on what we have in the SDGs (SAARC goals),” she said.
Apart from comparing within countries, the report presented Bangladesh’s own achievements and challenges using the latest statistics.
It said reaching the target of hunger alleviation within the given time frame remained uncertain but improving the condition of underweight children under-5 was achievable.
It also identified regional variations of health related indicators and inadequate co-ordination between health and family planning care services.
It also noted inadequate budget in the health and education sector.
Upstream withdrawal of water in a big threat and presents environmental challenges — for which Rasheda K Chowdhury suggested trans-national cooperation in water management.
UNDP’s deputy country director Nick Beresford appreciated Bangladesh’s social and economic growth.
He said Amartya Sen last year had pointed out that while Bangladesh had half the economic growth of India over the last 20 years it has had more than twice the progress against poverty.
“This makes for growth that is more robust and of course, inclusive,” he said.
He said the need to focus on violence against women as “a key challenge missing from SAARC and MDG goals is well noted”.
He, however, said the main concern of the SAARC was “to place people at the core of development, and to support rapid and successful economic development”.
“Considering poverty and underdevelopment are an ever-present challenge in South Asian countries, SAARC’s efforts are critical in making the region more stable and poverty free,” the UN official said.