DHAKA – Bangladesh has emerged as a “development surprise” in terms of GDP growth and socio-economic parameters.
When war-ravaged Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, and even into the 1980s, many observers doubted that it could survive as an independent state. But we have proven them wrong; and it’s the resilience of the people of Bangladesh and a combination of our bold measures that have unleashed a growth trajectory and have taken us on the threshold of becoming a middle-income country. Vision 2021, the election manifesto of our party Awami League, that envisioned turning Bangladesh into a “Sonar Bangla” — Golden Bengal — as dreamed by the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has now become a reality.
In 2005-2006, our per-capita income was just $543. This figure rose to $1,466 as of March this year. Bangladesh saw a sustained GDP growth of 6.3 percent during the last seven years and we expect that to be 7.05 percent this year. Its foreign currency reserve surged to over $29 billion from $3 billion in 2005-2006. Its poverty level fell from 56 percent in 1990 to 22.4 percent in 2015.
Our development model is based on harnessing domestic resources and providing an enabling environment for foreign investment. Our investment regime is one of the most liberal in the region. Our investment-friendly policies have turned us into a favored destination for foreign investment, which have led to the development of a vibrant and dynamic private sector in the country. Risk factors for FDI are minimal in Bangladesh. Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch’s credit rating for Bangladesh stands at BB-, Ba3 and BB, respectively, with a stable outlook. We allow 100 percent foreign equity with unrestricted exit policy; easy remittance of profits; protection of foreign investment; and steady energy prices.
Bangladesh is a homogeneous country that prides itself on its religious and cultural harmony. Our government pursues a policy of zero tolerance toward militancy and terrorism, and has effectively thwarted the rise of extremism and militancy even as it gradually becomes a global phenomenon.
Through a people-centric development model, we have turned our population into an asset rather than a burden; and today we are reaping that “demographic dividend” as 105 million (65.62 percent) of our population who are between the ages of 15 and 64 are directly contributing to the country’s growth. I see our young workforce as our most important agent in our development paradigm.
During the last seven years, we have made considerable progress in improving infrastructure, power generation, communications and development of ports. Our power-generation capacity has tripled and we are planning to generate 24,000 megawatts by 2021 to ensure energy security. We are set to install a nuclear power plant by 2021.
The country’s dream physical infrastructure project, the Padma Bridge (costing $3.6 billion) is being built with our own resources. The capacity of the Chittagong and Mongla seaports are expanding and two deep seaports — one at Payra and another at Matarbari in Cox’s Bazar — will be built soon. We are going to set up 100 special economic zones across the country that are expected to attract $40 billion investment and create 10 million jobs by 2030. Work on 33 SEZ is ongoing and at least 10 will be ready by 2017.
Although garments are Bangladesh’s prime export item, we have taken measures to diversify our export profile by harnessing major markets in the region. Bangladesh is now producing everything from ships to chips. We are moving up the value chain by developing a knowledge-based economy, technical-capacity building, enterprise development and an integrated policy approach to investment.
I am happy to see that women’s advancement will be discussed at the Ise-Shima Group of Seven Summit. In Bangladesh, we have placed the highest priority on mainstreaming women in the country’s development process. We have an ambitious and bold pro-women development strategy, which aims at ensuring equal opportunity and entitlement for women.
We have prioritized on women’s education, and economic and social self-reliance. And this strategy is showing results. Bangladesh ranks 68th among 142 countries in the Global Gender Gap report of 2014. We have made education free for girls through grade 12 and have plans to make it free up to the tertiary level. Nearly 17.2 million students from primary to postgraduate levels are covered by various stipend programs. We offer free meals for students from poorer families, which has helped to arrest the dropout rate and to achieve gender parity at primary and secondary levels. These proactive policies and measures for girls’ education have led to almost a 100 percent enrolment rate at primary school and gender parity.
We are ranked seventh in terms of political empowerment of women. In the current parliament, there are 70 women; and over 12,500 women elected representatives are represented in local bodies. The prime minister and leader of the House, opposition leader, deputy leader of the House and the speaker are all women. And this has been achieved through a combination of bold measures and social awareness to ensure women’s participation in politics and leadership roles.
Alongside the progress in education, health care and sanitation facilities have been extended to the grassroots level. The total fertility rate has fallen to 2.2 — slightly above the replacement level — from 3.4; infant mortality has been reduced by more than one-third, from 97 deaths per thousand live births in 1990 to 31 per thousand in 2015. Over the same period child mortality fell by two-thirds and maternal mortality fell by three-quarters. It now stands at 176 deaths per 100,000 births.
Life expectancy has risen by 12 years to 71. In 1990, women could expect to live a year less than men; now they can expect to live two years longer. We provide reproductive health care services to women through over 16,500 community clinics and Union Health Centers spread out across the country. Nutritional status has risen, and we have achieved self-sufficiency in food production. Bangladesh was one of the few developing countries that achieved most of the Millennium Development Goals.
Bangladesh is truly a land of potentials. Our development narrative speaks for itself. We have proved the doomsayers wrong — and this was through our resilience, our determination, and our innovative and indomitable spirit. Bangladesh is now showcased as a development role model. We saw how Japan was rebuilt within a short span of time after World War II to emerge as an economic superpower. Our aspirations and determination to emerge as an economic powerhouse are no less.
I believe in the strength of people’s power, and we are on course to emerge as a middle-income country by 2021 — when we celebrate 50 years of independence. And we hope to join the ranks of the developed countries by 2041. In our development journey, we would like to join hands with the rest of the region and world to transform the lives of our people for a better world; for a better planet; and a peaceful and prosperous world order.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a winner of the U.N. environment award Champion of the Earth.