The Daily Star
Poverty remains a big stumbling block to progress in Bangladesh and by extension the South Asian region. That fact has been confirmed once more by the UNDP's Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) prepared to assess the factors related to poor living conditions in South Asia. There is, surely, good reason for Bangladeshis to feel happy about the findings, which place them slightly before neighbouring India in the index. Of the 104 countries assessed in the MPI, Bangladesh has been ranked 73, with India close at 74. Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been placed at 82, 70 and 32 respectively. Of course, these figures do not convey much clarity by themselves, which is why it is important that we take a look at the breakdown that allows such mathematics to be arrived at.
The MPI assesses the performance of nations on a benchmark of ten indicators which again are grouped under three dimensions, namely, health, education and standard of living. Health comprises child mortality and nutrition, while education brings together years of schooling and child enrolment. Within the standard of living canvas come electricity, drinking water, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel and assets. Now, the MPI report notes that as much as 57.8 per cent of Bangladesh's population stand deprived of at least 30 per cent of these indicators. On average, they are deprived of 50.4 per cent of the indicators. Which all goes to show that while we may feel happy about the progress we are apparently making, we certainly cannot afford to be complacent about it. The reality is that in Bangladesh, as also in India and Nepal, poor living standards are yet the biggest factors in poverty. And close on their heels come health and education. The good news here is that for all its backwardness, Bangladesh seems to be doing better in education than some other countries in South Asia. It is ahead of India, Pakistan and Nepal in this area, though Sri Lanka remains by far the leading performer in the field. Even so, progress in education does give us reason to think Bangladesh can do better in the times ahead. And it can do that because it also happens to be doing better than India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in health.
The good thing about reports like the MPI, particularly when they indicate progress made by nations in certain critical areas, is that they boost a society's confidence in its ability to achieve its goals. In the present instance, Bangladesh's performance is of course a matter of happiness. But the MPI, it must be noted, does not take into account such vital matters as cost of basic needs (CBN). It is in this area that a big majority of Bangladesh's people remain hamstrung by a lack of purchasing power. Which poses the interesting question: how does one define poverty and how does one measure its expansion or decline? In the present context, all the average indicators regarding poverty may be fine. But there remains too the contradiction of an increasing rich-poor gap in Bangladesh, which clearly militates against the creation of an egalitarian society.
Be that as it may, the MPI report in question is a fairly reasonable report card for us. It is also an invitation to do better.
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