If slow and steady are the key to win a race Bangladesh is destined to make it in the area of human development. The inclining forward by the country year after year offers optimism for that prospect. The continuous rise, though incremental, indicates that the advance is not a one-off phenomenon, nor a deviation from the trend. Ever since the Human Development Index (HDI) began to be published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangladesh, considered as a laggard in development in many respects, started puzzling development experts with its stellar performance in the key indicators of human development index. From a 'basket' or a test case for development its elevation into a model of development became the exemplary success story in the folk-lore of development of economics.
According to the 2016 Human Development Report, Bangladesh moved ahead by three notches compared to previous year. Among 188 countries Bangladesh occupies 139th position in terms of human development index, the Report said. In 2015 the country's position was 142th. As in previous years, UNDP prepared the index using data and information on a country's health, education, income and source of wealth, inequality, gender balance, poverty, employment, security, trade and financial flow, communication, environmental sustainability and demography. The survey is as comprehensive as the broad spectrum of all-round development and leaves little room for speculation or guesswork. It makes no allowance for a country's failure to registrar progress in any indicator and objectively assigns it a place in the global ranking. Of all the accolades received by Bangladesh the recognition of progress in HDI year after year is the most outstanding and distinctive.
According to the 2016 UNDP Report the human development index estimated on the basis of the key indicators stood at 0.579. During the previous year the figure stood at 0.575. The progress is small, but steady and linear on year to year basis. In the list of HDI the top position is occupied by Norway, scoring 0.949, which comes as no surprise given its small population and rich oil resources in the North Sea.
In the UNDP Report 188 countries surveyed have been divided into very developed, developed, middle and low according to human development criteria. Bangladesh has been placed in the category of 'middle' in the list of countries surveyed. In South Asia Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan (147) and Nepal (144). The Report indicated that countries having higher life expectancy, developed educational system and higher per capita income score high in the HDI and rank at the top of the list. In this year's ten top ranking countries only Singapore has been included from Asia, which again comes as no surprise with small population and knowledge-based economy and rising per capita income. Because of its unique demographic and economic condition Singapore cannot be compared with other Asian countries.
But Bangladesh, with its myriads of problems is the Cinderella of fairy tale. Its good fortune in turning the corner is no less than a miracle. And yet this miracle is not based on magic and does not explain the causes behind the achievement of the country in HDI. Behind it lies sustained investment by the government on education, health and gender development. Particularly progress in primary education has contributed significantly to the achievement of success in terms of HDI as has gender development. The last deserves special mention as the disadvantaged women have literally come in from the cold having being out on a limb in the patriarchal society.
The transition of the country from the lower to the lower middle-income status with corresponding increase in per capita income has further buttressed the progress towards higher ranking among countries surveyed by UNDP for preparation of the HDI.
The achievement of Bangladesh in terms of HDI appears remarkable, even incredible in view of the many adverse factors constraining development. Crushing poverty, low literacy rate, debilitating climate change and a fractious polity stood like a wall between the country and its transition into development. Alternating regimes of illiberal democracy and naked military dictatorship created a political environment that could be hardly said to be congenial to sustained development. Aggravating the dysfunctional development scenario has been the chronic incidence of corruption at all levels, hemorrhaging the life blood of the economy. Not only forging ahead, but even laying out a road map for sustained development proved to be a chimera. It is the hard-working and enterprising people, from farmers to garment workers, who took up the challenge against heavy odds and came out as the saviours. A vibrant private sector, fired by competition to catch up with the rest of the world became the engine of growth pursuing an export-led strategy. It is self-serving no doubt, but works for enlightened self-interest nevertheless as it does the world over. Given a proper enabling environment by the government, the private sector proved to be at par with the rest of the world. With more skilled manpower, greater female labour participation and tapping of demographic dividend Bangladesh can leap frog ahead among countries in the human development ranking.
Bangladeshis in the colonial (British and Pakistani) past were scoffed at as lazy, un-enterprising and good only for clerical jobs. This myth has been laid to rest, thanks to the opening up of opportunities and the simultaneous unlocking of potential among people looking for opportunities to improve their luck. This, in turn, has given birth to a nation that is confident, innovative and competitive. Max Weber's Protestant Work Ethics has been co-opted by Bangladeshis it would seem and a new nation has been born. This is the secret behind Bangladesh's success story as a model of development which is reflected in the HDI. Some countries wilt in the face of adversity, others take up the gauntlet with courage. Bangladesh belongs to the latter. The latest Human Development Report bears testimony to that.