Growth, Governance and Economic Development in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has achieved rapid and spectacular improvements in many social development indicators during the last two decades or so. Within South Asia, Bangladesh has improved its position ahead of India and the region as a whole in a number of human development indicators although its per capita income is still significantly below the regional average. Cross-country comparisons by Asadullah, Mahmud and Savoia, show that in relation to per capita income, Bangladesh has transformed itself during this period from being a laggard to a clear leader in many of the indicators of health, education and demographic outcomes. Bangladesh’s developmental achievements may appear as a ‘development puzzle’, given the country’s desperate initial conditions, still widespread poverty and allegedly poor record in governance adversely affecting the quality of public service delivery. Another element of the puzzle is that the improvements in social development indicators achieved thus far have been possible despite the fact that Bangladesh’s public spending on both health and education as a proportion of GDP has remained lower than what is expected even at comparable low levels of per capita income as demonstrated by the researchers in this policy brief. Moreover, Bangladesh belongs to a regional belt, stretching across northern Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and northern India, that is characterised by patriarchal family structures along with female seclusion and deprivation. This makes its achievements all the more noteworthy. Asadullah et al. show that much of this has been achieved through low-cost solutions and the activities of NGOs.