Nov 10, 2011

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Impoverished Regions Halt Dhaka’s MDGs Efforts

Despite Bangladesh’s progress in achieving the MDGs, some regions are still far behind the rest of the country, denoting the need for development and economic benefits to be more equally distributed.

Below is an article by The Daily Star:

Following the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, world leaders agreed on a farsighted declaration to meet the needs of the world's poorest people. That declaration gave birth to eight goals, and fixed 18 targets and 48 indicators to be achieved by 2015. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting equality between men and women and empowering women; reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds, and reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths; stopping the spread of communicable diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating a global partnership for development.

Bangladesh achieved gender parity in primary and secondary schooling in 2005. It is also on track to halving the proportion of population below national poverty line, ensuring minimum level of energy consumption, achieving universal primary school enrolment and reducing the under-five child mortality and infant mortality rates.

Several areas lagging behind are primary school completion rate, adult literacy rate, access to safe drinking water by the rural people and maternal mortality ratio. The participation of women in wage employment is still low.

Bangladesh's march towards achieving the MDG's has been possible largely due to its steady economic growth of nearly 5% on average annually in the 1990s and nearly 6% annually on average now. Although necessary, higher growth cannot in itself ensure that the MDG targets are met. Some shortcomings are due to its failure to make growth processes sufficiently pro-poor. The share of the poorest quintile in both national income and consumption has been reduced over the years, which shows that the poor are not benefiting greatly from the growth process. Bangladesh risks missing the target of 14% in 2015 if it fails to sustain the present trend of economic growth or if the extreme poor continue to get lesser benefit from economic growth.

The present progress in increasing net enrolment in primary education is satisfactory, and if this trend continues the target of enrolment in primary school can be achieved. But the ultimate achievement is threatened by poor performance in primary school completion rate, which impacts adult literacy negatively. To increase the number of children completing primary education, more resources need to be given to primary schooling through, for example, monetary and material benefits for students, parents and teachers. Improvement of secondary level education needs significant increase in the education system's capacity in both formal and informal education.

The under-five mortality rate in Bangladesh declined from 151 deaths per thousand live births in 1991 to 59 deaths in 2010, which is on track to achieving MDG Goal 4. But there are distinct regional variations that need to be addressed. Urban slums, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, coastal belt regions and other ecologically vulnerable areas are falling behind. The government with the support of development partners must ensure that its efforts reach all the people and that the excellent progress to date is sustained.

Bangladesh needs to reduce its maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by three-quarters, from 574 per one lac live births in 1991 to 147, if it is to meet this target by 2015. There has been adequate success in reducing MMR to 298 in 2010. This goal (MDG 5) has thrown up some steep hurdles, because it is inextricably linked with complex social and economic factors related to health beliefs and practice, education and poverty. Bangladesh must improve service delivery and health sector governance -- specially primary and maternal health services -- and needs an extensive training programme to increase the number of skilled birth attendants.

For reversing the spread of communicable diseases MDG 6 has two targets -- (a) halting and reversing the spread of HIV/ AIDS by 2015, and (b) halting and reversing the incidence of malaria and other major diseases by 2015. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in our country is very low, but effective surveillance of the potential sources is essential. The country needs to develop strong mechanisms to monitor outbreaks of malaria in high-risk districts and to develop effective treatments for drug resistant malaria strains. This demands stronger and improved governance of the health sector, particularly in communicable disease prevention and control mechanism.

There are three targets that must be achieved to ensure environmental sustainability (MDG Goal 7) -- (a) integrating the principles of sustainable development into the country's policies, (b) halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, and (c) achieving a significant improvement of the situation of slum dwellers.

The government has taken significant steps to incorporate sustainable environmental development into policy as well as programmes. Reforestation through the social forestry movement and increasing access to drinking water are being achieved successfully. The government should take immediate steps to maintain bio-diversity, increase access to sanitary latrines in rural areas and improve service delivery in rapidly growing urban slum areas.

The prime minister informed the UN General Assembly recently that Bangladesh was on track on poverty alleviation, universal primary education, gender equality and reducing maternal mortality. She stated that Poverty Reduction Strategy of Bangladesh was in line with the MDGs and intends to raise 12 million people out of poverty by 2015. On women empowerment she said education for girls was free up to Class 12 and steps were on to give free education till graduation. She sought international support to pursue the efforts being made to change the fate of the people and develop socioeconomic security.

Bangladesh needs to make sustained efforts to attain the MDGs by 2015. There is a critical need for complementary external resources for financing the progress towards these goals. The gap between commitment of financial support by development partners for meeting MDGs and actual availability of such resources has been quite glaring.

The long-term Perspective Plan (2010-2021), under preparation by the government, should provide goals for the future and chart out the course of action to achieve MDGs and the vision of the government. For directing the course of action, the government should implement the Sixth Five Year Plan (SFYP). This plan will contribute to the process of implementing MDGs as well as the Perspective Plan and provide an indicative forecast for the nation, which will reflect the government's development philosophy.

Implementation process of MDGs as well as SFYP, and the monitoring and evaluation system, needs to be clearly articulated to ensure effective implementation.