SDGs and Bangladesh: Progress, challenges, missing links

‘Despite various challenges Bangladesh is on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goals’, a recent government report claims. The report titled Sustainable Development Goals: Bangladesh Progress Report 2018 says, Bangladesh is performing well in various aspects including poverty reduction, gender equality, electricity, sanitation and annual GDP growth.
The first three SDGs pertain to ending poverty, hunger and improving public health and Bangladesh has made good progress on all three and is on track to achieve the targets. Of the 17 targets under the three SDGs, four have already been met, six are on track and five need more attention.
Among the challenges identified so far, one of them is the lack of proper data. Bangladesh has data for only 70 indicators out of the 232 prescribed by the United Nations to assess progress of SDGs.
Bangladesh government also highlights the need for improved international cooperation and support to meet 41 of 169 targets that fall within the 17 SDGs.2 Even though the government official report shows Bangladesh is likely to achieve almost all the SDGs within the stipulated timeframe, there are some challenges which will be hard for the government to overcome. There are some issues which are not getting adequate focus in the development discourse in Bangladesh. Lack of proper data and quality of the existing data are one of the major concerns. Secondly, inequality between the rich and the poor, as well as urban and rural people is evident, but this is not getting proper attention. Next, illicit finance flow is eating a huge chunk of Bangladesh potentials but people are reluctant to discuss more. Likewise, youth unemployment is another big hurdle which is hard to address. The subsequent paragraphs highlight these hurdles for Bangladesh in achieving the SDGs within the stipulated time. Additionally, it highlights Bangladesh’s success in achieving the MDGs. This may be inspiring and encouraging to achieving the SDGs too. Another theme the report discusses is SDGs the government level initiative, especially integration of SDGs in government policies.
Bangladesh Progress in SDGs: Need of international cooperation
According to Bangladesh progress report, the progress on reducing extreme poverty measured by $1.90 a day and proportion of government expenditure on services (health, education and social protection) as share of the total government expenditure is on track. The country is likely to achieve the SDG on clean water and sanitation. Currently, 87 percent of the population has access to safe water sources and 61 percent has access to safe sanitation.
Bangladesh has made an upward shift in average annual growth rate to more than 7 percent in recent years from the above 6 percent rate over the last decade. This coupled with slower population growth has led to increasing per person GDP growth and the country is on the track to achieve the 2020 target.
The SDG 9 pertains to providing resilient infrastructure, sustainable industrialization and innovation and much still needs to be done. However, the proportion of population covered by mobile network has reached close to 100 percent in case of 2G technology.
The 2020 milestone in case of 3G technology was achieved in 2017. The SDG 10 entails reducing inequalities and the government has not fared well on this front. The government has been following a pro-poor development strategy, which includes acceleration of economic growth and reduction of poverty and inequality. The country is on the track to achieve SDG 14, 15 and 16. The goals entail conserving the oceans, seas and the terrestrial ecosystems. 3 SDGs Integration in Government Policies Bangladesh government is positive and enthusiastic regarding the SDGs.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh has already demonstrated her commitments towards the SDGs. She has established an Inter-Ministerial Committee on SDGs Implementation. The Committee comprising secretaries from 20 Ministries/ Divisions coordinates SDGs monitoring and implementation. The Principal Coordinator (SDGs Affairs), a newly created high level position in the Prime Minister’s office, heads the Committee. GED is the secretariat for the committee to coordinate implementation at the policy level along with monitoring and reporting SDGs status.
Commitment and enthusiasm of the Prime Minster has been also reflected in the policy level. One of major important development policies of Bangladesh is its Five Year Plan (FYP); all the 17 goals of SDGs are already integrated into the running 7th FYP. Among the 17 goals, 14 goals (82%) are thematically fully aligned, 3 goals (Goal 14, Goal 16 and Goal 17) of the SDGs (18%) are partially aligned with the 7th FYP4. It is rationally expected that achievement of the FYP objectives and targets will contribute towards achievement of SDGs. Bangladesh’s achievement in implementing the 7th FYP will be rewarding internationally for fulfilling the global commitments. The 7th FYP has made a reflection on the core goal of SDGs especially in ending poverty in all its form. Bangladesh has achieved remarkable success in reducing the poverty in last few decades. Nevertheless, about a quarter of the population of 160 million is still living below the poverty line, hence setting that target is a necessary condition to eradicate poverty with delineating 7.4% expected annual growth rate that was suggested by SDGs (SDG 8.1). The following table reflects the major SDGs’ targets that are integrated with government 7FYP. The government has also developed a mapping document including all ministries, divisions and agencies by SDGs and target for fast track implementation.
Bangladesh’s long-term development plan (7FYP) and SDGs were both launched in the same year of 2015. Hence opportunities have been created for government to align the development strategies in view of 2030 global goal. The mapping document includes the development ministries, divisions, agencies and authorities by SDG targets for them to implement and achieve.
The 7th FYP has made a primary financing estimation which is amount of US$ 403.8 billion from both public and private sectors for the fiscal year of 2016-20206. But this amount does not reflect the need or demand based financial allocation to achieve the SDG targets. Experts say that in achieving the SDGs in Bangladesh, domestic resource mobilization need to be raised at least by 18 percent from the present 12.1 percent over the next 5 to 10 years, but the projection of domestic resource mobilization is far behind (14.2-16.2% of GDP) in the 7th FYP7.
The 7th FYP states that all these spending plans will essentially entail that the budget size be increased to about 21.1% of GDP8. At least 5 percentage points financial allocation will be needed to increase in relation to GDP at the terminal year of the 7th Five Year Plan. The overview and analysis of budgetary expenditures says that the investment in social sector (poverty, health and education) was less than 9% of GDP in last year during MDGs and it would be increased by 13.9% during the 7th FYP (Page-167). So it easily can be said that government projection of financing is insufficient indeed. The investment from private sector was also found to be stagnant and moving around 24-25% of GDP in last couple of years which needs to be at least 35% per annum during implementation of the 7th FYP.
Challenges: Difficult but not impossible to address Bangladesh is one of the most affected and vulnerable countries due to climate change in spite of the fact that it is one of the least carbon emitting countries. Per capita carbon emissions rate (in 2015) in the United States is 15.53 metric tons, 10.19 metric tons in Russia, and 6.59 metric tons in China9. In 2016, a CO2 emission per capita for Bangladesh was 0.46 metric tons! It is sensibly proven that Bangladesh is the victim of consumerism of rich countries. A recently released World Bank report says that by 2050 the temperature of Bangladesh will increase from one to one and a half degrees and approximately 134 million people will be affected due to that. During this period, the loss of Bangladesh will be about 174 billion dollars. Due to climate change the life expectancy of the people of the country can fall below 6.8% by 2050.11 According to Germany-based international organization German Watch, Bangladesh is the 9th most affected countries in the world due to climate change.
To ensure appropriate investment to achieve SDGs, Bangladesh needs to focus on internal resource mobilization. To do that, Bangladesh needs to control the illicit finance flow. Illicit financial flow of $5.9 billion was out of Bangladesh in 2015, as estimated by the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity.
The research group has estimated the 2015 illicit capital flight, calculated to have ranged from $2.7 billion to $5.9 billion. The 2014 illicit capital fight is estimated to have ranged from $6.06 billion to $8.97 billion. The 2019 report placed Bangladesh in the top 30 countries, among 148 countries.13 The Central Bank of Switzerland observed that while overall, the level of illicit financial flows from developed countries to Switzerland is declining, at the same time it is skyrocketing out of Bangladesh.11 At the end of 2014 total of Swiss Franc 0.50 billion (Tk.4,554 crore) were deposited by Bangladeshis14.
Country like Bangladesh will need huge investment for basic infrastructure like roads, rail and ports; power stations; water and sanitation and also for the sector like agriculture and rural development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, health and education. But recent trends of Bangladesh in investing to the important sectors are not up to desired level. Budgetary allocation on social security is about 2% of GDP in FY 2010-2015 period, average allocation for the health sector is about 0.7% of GDP during FY 2003-2014. WHO suggests the allocation should be 5% of GDP. Education gets 2% of GDP during FY 2003-2014, while UNESCO suggests the allocation should be 6% of GDP. Average allocation for the agriculture and food security was 10.3% while it was around 1.3% of GDP during FY2010-2015.15 If the economic growth is not shared equally and fairly, and if the resources are not distributed properly, sustainable economic growth is not possible. Rather it creates other types of economic crises. Development and income inequality are much evident in Bangladesh, creating another challenge for the sustainable development. The incidence of poverty is higher in rural areas than that of the urban areas and the rate of poverty reduction is also higher in rural areas (1.24 percent) than that of the urban areas (1.13 percent).
The Household and Income Expenditure Survey of 2010 estimates incidence of poverty at 31.5 percent at the national level, 35.2 percent in rural area and 21.3 percent in urban area. Regional disparities are also apparent. It has been found that, the highest decline in poverty incidence occurred for Dhaka division; after Dhaka it is Chittagong and Sylhet. Poverty in Barisal is found stagnated and it is found to have increased slightly in Khulna17. Gap between individual incomes is also evident in Bangladesh. The HIES 2010 shows the clear gap between bottom 5% (the poorest of the poor) and the top 5% (richest of the rich). The survey shows that the income accumulating to top 5% of the households was 24.61%, and it was only 0.78% for the bottom 5% households. Gaps are also evident in the social indicators for the poorest and richest quintiles in Bangladesh. For example, one research finds that households which have less than Tk. 2,000 income per month ($29) are sending almost 25% fewer of their children to school than those who are in the Tk. 8,000 ($115) and above income group. 12% of children from households living on incomes below Tk. 2,000 per month had never been enrolled in school, while a quarter had started school but dropped out. Among families earning more than Tk. 8,000 per month, 2.6% of children had never been enrolled and 10.6% had dropped out of school.18 Child malnutrition rate in poorest quintile is 50 while it is 21 in richest quintile. Likewise, primary school completion rate in poorest quintile is 65 and it is 97 in the richest quinine19. So, inequalities and regional disparities issues must be addressed in order to ensure proper and adequate implementation of the SDGs.
(Taken from: Tackling Challenges to Achieve SDGs in South Asia – Perspectives of Civil Society Organizations)