As a new academic year draws near in the fall, we reminisce spring graduation celebrations for secondary and post-secondary students in the United States, but also the heralding of a special graduation for one South Asian nation. During the March 2018 review, the United Nations’ Committee for Development Policy (CDP) predicted Bangladesh to satisfy the criteria to become a developing country.
With just 47 years of independence, Bangladesh is expected to earn a status of a developing country from the least developed country in the next six years. The CDP will most likely recommend Bangladesh at its triennial review of least developed countries in 2021, and full endorsement is expected to follow at its 2024 meeting.
Consideration for becoming a developing country means demonstrating years of satisfactory human and economic advancements, and Bangladesh has been gaining on the developing community with precocious stride.
Foreign aid, non-government organizations and state-operated agencies have been key in Bangladesh’s development. Since 1973, the Asian Development Bank has assisted Bangladesh with $20.75 billion in aid. Close to 70 cents per dollar has been allocated to four sectors—energy, transportation, education and agriculture, as well as to natural resources and rural development.
Criteria for a Developing Country
Eligibility for becoming a developing country is based on three standards: an economic vulnerability index, a human assets index and per capita income. The United Nations’ most recent standards to graduate from least developed to a developing country are scores of 32 and below for its economic vulnerability index, scores of 66 and above for its human assets index, and a gross national income per capita of at least $1,230.
These thresholds must be met on two of the three categories for six years or the course of two successive, triennial Committee reviews. Bangladesh is on pace to fulfill all three requirements since its economic vulnerability, human assets and per capita income graduation thresholds were respectively met in 2003, 2015, and 2017.
Economic vulnerability is calculated considering eight factors: population size, the population living in low coastal zones, remoteness, the share of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, export instability, export concentration, and victims of natural disasters.
In a show of economic ascendancy and national pride, Bangladesh launched its first communications and broadcasting satellite, the Bangabandhu-1, transported by an American manufactured SpaceX rocket in May 2018. In addition to accelerating telecommunication development, the Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization has developed remote-sensing technology that can be used in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water resources and oceanography. Remote sensors collect data on energy emitted from the Earth and can be used for shoreline erosion prevention, natural disaster preparation and natural resource management. This type of growth is vital to becoming a developing country.
Bangladesh’s strong textile and fabric industry drives 80 percent of the country’s export economy, the 57th largest in the world. Only China and the European Union topped Bangladesh’s clothing exports in 2015. Clothing exports made up almost 14 percent share ($26 billion) of Bangladesh’s 2015 gross domestic product (GDP).
Bangladesh has experienced GDP growth of 6 percent or more since 2011 and 7.3 percent in 2017, the second-most of all South Asian countries behind Bhutan.
Human Assets Index
Becoming a developing country also requires notable progress in education and health. The CDP’s human assets index is calculated by maternal and under-five infant mortality, malnourishment, gross literacy, and gross secondary school enrollment.
From 2011 to 2016, Bangladesh boosted its literacy rate from 47 to 73 percent. Room to Read, a non-profit organization, dedicated to girl’s education and child literacy in Asia and Africa, has opened 6,000 classroom libraries for over 300,000 Bangladesh children in 1,000 primary schools. The organization has concentrated its outreach in rural areas such as the Brahamanbaria District, a flood-prone area just 14 meters above sea level, and the Natore District, an agriculturally dependent rural area. Bangladesh has also reached all-time highs of secondary school enrollment rates: 72.5 percent for girls and 69 percent for both sexes.
The Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities II (SHOUHARDO II)–Bangladesh project has reduced physical growth failure due to chronic malnutrition, known as stunting, by 13 percent in children under the age of five. Bangladesh villages affected by the SHOUHARDO II project are Cox’s Bazar, Mymensingh, Rangpur and Sirajganj regions. As part of the SHOUHARDO II project, women learned optimal breastfeeding, life-skills, and investment and finance strategies. This project also implemented a monthly food ration program consisting of wheat, vegetable oil and yellow split peas. There is also an indication of improving health conditions for women in Bangladesh as maternal mortality ratios dropped by 32 percent from 2012 to 2015.
Per Capita Income
With a current economy worth $686.5 billion and a gross national income per capita of $1,433, Bangladesh has exceeded the average least developed country for over 20 years. On its road to becoming a developing country, about 50 million people in Bangladesh have escaped extreme poverty (living on $1.90 a day) since 1991. This rate has declined from 40 percent to 14 percent today.
While Bangladesh still faces challenges, such as Rohingya refugees, overpopulation, flooding and insufficient sanitation, it is well on its way to becoming a developing country within the years to come.
– Thomas Benjamin