After Much Heartbreak, Some Good News at Last for Bangladesh

The World Bank quietly announced that Bangladesh reduced the number of people living in poverty from 63 million in 2000 to 47 million in 2010

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A.M. Ahad / AP

A garment worker participates in a protest outside the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association office building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 11, 2013

All the grief coming out of Bangladesh in the wake of April’s Rana Plaza collapse has obscured one piece of good news. The World Bank quietly announced back in June that the country reduced the number of people living in poverty from 63 million in 2000 to 47 million in 2010. This sharp decline means Bangladesh will reach its first U.N.-established Millennium Development Goal, that of poverty reduction, two years ahead of the 2015 deadline. The country is also on course to lower its poverty rate — the proportion of the population living below the poverty threshold — to about 26%, an improvement on the original target of 29.5%.

The number of Bangladeshis living in poverty — defined as an income of less than $2 a day, or a diet of less than 2,100 calories daily — declined by 26% from 2000 to 2010, despite a growing population, which now totals some 150 million. “Bangladesh has successfully upgraded its economic growth rate every decade by 1%,” Debapriya Bhattacharya, a macroeconomist and policy analyst with the Dhaka-based Centre for Policy Dialogue, told TIME. “The major lesson that other developing nations should learn from Bangladesh is that the government cannot do this alone. The extent of poverty in developing nations is huge and the resources and capacity of the government minuscule. So social innovation and collaboration with the nonprofit sector is a must.”

(MORE: Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Uncertain Future for Rana Plaza Survivors)

With the loss of over 1,100 lives in the Rana Plaza disaster still a vivid horror for many Bangladeshis, the news of the country’s economic growth will be bittersweet, for it is the relentless desire to lift themselves from poverty that drives many to risk their lives in substandard and dangerous working conditions. But while the spotlight must firmly remain on an appalling work-safety record, some encouragement can be taken from the country’s performance in other areas. As well as achieving better “health outcomes” for its people, the World Bank report found that Bangladesh had also demonstrated “lower childhood mortality, increased under-five vaccination rates for all children, increased literacy rates, and improved safety net coverage.” General living conditions have also improved. In 2000, only 10% of those living in poverty had access to electricity.

 Ten years later, the percentage was 28.5.

 In 2000, poor Bangladeshis did not use mobile phones, but by 2010, 36.3% were in possession of one.

Rapid economic growth — GDP increased by an average of over 5.5% from 1994 to 2012 — has driven these improvements. Incomes in sectors from agriculture to casual transport like rickshaw-pulling have been rising by around 10% annually. And because fertility rates have been consistently falling for years, there is less pressure on resources and incomes, and there are more jobs to go around. “Earlier a family used to depend on one earning member,” the report said. “Now many have multiple earning members.”

But this being flood-prone Bangladesh, all gains are fragile; a single disastrous typhoon could consign thousands back to poverty. According to the 2010 household survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 17.6% were found to be “extremely poor” — keeping themselves just above the poverty threshold. “There are a lot of people hovering around the poverty line. If there is any kind of shock on the economy like a natural disaster it might bring these people sliding down,” Bhattacharya says. And therein lies an even bigger challenge for Bangladesh: the Rana Plazas can at least be foreseen and prevented, but no one knows when the next cataclysmic cyclone might strike.

MORE: 40 Years After Its Bloody Independence, Bangladesh Looks to Its Past to Redeem Its Future

11 comments
journo45
journo45

@RamaNewDelhi What should be really appreciated in Bangla Desh is the defiance of the people against Islamic fundamentalist terror groups!

Robert2011GB
Robert2011GB

It really doesn't matter what kind of growth rate Bangladesh achieves if it does nothing to reduce it's horrendous birth rate.

Bangladesh is half the size of Ohio with a populations that's half the size of the United States!

The World must not give any assistance to Bangladesh until it institutes a ruthless "I child" per family policy - that is the only way to save Bangladesh..

DannyHeim1
DannyHeim1

I don't trust this story, no, not at all. I'm sure these stats are true in some sense, but do they truly reflect an improvement overall to Bangladesh? Very, very doubtful. This article is an effort to have the world momentarily take its eyes off of Bangladesh and also climate change where Bangladesh represents ground zero for that issue. And given climate change, Bangladesh is not going to improve, it will instead see many, many millions of refugees pouring out and onto other lands where they will be unwelcome. 

Economic growth does not and will not change the fact that the seas are going to rise and swallow that country, it does not change the fact that India is killing them off by taking away their water leaving drought part of the year and using their country as a depot for dumping surplus flood water washing them out the rest of the year. NO, Bangladesh needs a hell of a lot more than some of its citizens squeaking out of poverty. This article is B.S.

CesarSandroAzpilicueta
CesarSandroAzpilicueta

so what..statistics are not always true..when there is a disaster or in the time of major festival lots of poor people u will find tht in want of food and clothes..this report is eyewash


changechange3
changechange3

@TIME @TIMEWorld >>So what is going now in the world as the money is there but people are still leaven in poverty till they die

journo45
journo45

@RamaNewDelhi While Statistics happen to be one form of Lie, in the case of Bangladesh it is evident on the streets of Dacca.

Saad164
Saad164

@Robert2011GB its larger than ohio actually, almost the size of illinois. but i get what you're saying.


AnikZaman
AnikZaman

@DannyHeim1

 so if u don't like statistics then how can u measure it? As a Bangladeshi citizen I have seen the growth and income of Bangladesh especially from 2000 just 10yrs. earlier many middle class can't even think of a apartment in Dhaka now almost 75% of them owns a apartment worth millions of $. And the lower income group people is far more solvent then previously with even rickshaw pullers have access to mobile phones.

But I agree with you that all the progress will be washed away if climate change continues to deteroite.  

On Indian context I think India have tried many times but failed the stand the steady economy growth of Bangladesh and also indian economy is more like Bangladesh. Yes, it outperformed Bangladesh for many years but still this year India's GDP growth plummeted to 4.5% from 8.5% because investors realized that India is not a substitute of China.