Since the assumption of power by Awami League (AL) in 2009, the General Economics Division of the Planning Commission (GED) presented to the nation two Five Year Plans and a Perspective Plan. The 7th Five Year Plan and the perspective plan are likely to end in 2021. Planned economic development has long been a motto of the AL since the time of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The interest in planned development is revealed by the fact that, barring one or two, all the Five Year Plans were formulated and implemented by the AL government. In this column today, we shall make an attempt to review the progress of those, and the ensuing challenges, by drawing upon available information.
While none of the Five Year Plans could reach the targets, the Sixth Five Year Plan somehow was relatively less prone to criticism. Development performance under the Sixth Five Year Plan (FY2010 - FY2015), was heartening with sharp reduction of extreme poverty, to 24 and 13 per cent respectively, improved human development and increased growth rate to an average of 6 per cent per year. No doubt, these improved indicators helped the country achieve lower middle income status in 2015 with a per capita GNI of roughly US$,3100 PPP. It is thus no surprise that, as one of the government documents tend to describe that Bangladesh can now aim to reach upper middle income status and eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.
While walking up the ladder, the downside risks remain no less daunting such as the interface of deltaic geographical configuration, high population density and recurrence of a range of natural disasters including flooding, river bank erosion, sea level rise, salinity intrusion, cyclones and water-logging. One of the available documents read as follows: "dry and wet season water shortages and surpluses; vulnerability from being a lower riparian to much of the river inflows; growing water demand from rapid urbanisation and industrialisation; rapid depletion of groundwater owing to over-exploitation in many areas; arsenic poisoning of ground water; and a range of water quality issues emerging from industrialisation and urbanisation all combine to make the effective management of the Delta challenge a major driver of national development."
In view of the long-term challenges for development outcomes presented by climate change and natural hazards, the government has not sat idle; it has decided to formulate a long-term Bangladesh Delta Strategy 2100 (BDP2100). The main aim of BDP2100 is seemingly to "integrate short-to medium term aspirations of Bangladesh to achieve upper middle income (UMIC) status and eliminate extreme poverty by FY2031, with the longer-term challenge of sustainable management of water, ecology, environment and land resources in the context of their interaction with natural disasters and climate change." The BDP2100 looks primarily at the medium-term delta agenda (2016-40) but is more futuristic as the decisions taken today could impact upon the longer-term agenda for 2040 and beyond. "In this regard, it sets up a long-term vision for the evolution of the Bangladesh Delta by the end of the 21st century, but defines short and medium-term goals as steps to reach that vision. These goals, associated strategies, policies, institutions and investments are moving targets and adaptive in nature. They are adaptive to changing natural events in order to respond appropriately and stay the course to the path of the long-term Delta vision."
The main impeding factor to development remains climate change as available empirics from home and abroad term it a real threat to global and national level prosperity. Due to certain crucial factors such as deltaic formation of the country, the configuration of the rivers and challenges posed by natural disasters and climate change, Bangladesh has been ranked 5th in the list of the most vulnerable countries in the world. These risks have been rising over time. Needless to mention, unless these vulnerabilities are managed and addressed comprehensively, Bangladesh might fall from the grace of high economic growth.
The most vulnerable sector is agriculture with temperature, humidity and radiation increasing the incidence of insect pests, diseases, and micro organisms and rising temperature reducing yields of staples, particularly rice. Additional adverse effects will follow from the loss of land and physical assets from inundation. Along with these negative aspects, perils from health hazards will also intensify as water-borne diseases, such as diarrhoea and dysentery, and vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue are climate sensitive.
As one research shows, "At the macro-level, the combined effects of climate change could range from a loss of 1-1.3 per cent of GDP per year in a moderate climate change environment and from 2-2.5 per cent of GDP per year in an extreme climate environment. In terms of loss of human welfare, district and sub-district level analysis shows that there is a strong positive correlation between the incidence of poverty and the intensity of natural hazards. On an average, districts that are ranked as most exposed to natural disasters also show poverty rates that are higher than the national average. Strikingly, of the 15 most poverty-stricken districts, almost 90 per cent of the districts belong to high natural hazard risk categories."
Abdul Bayes is a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.