Bangladesh : Development, dreams and demographic dividends

BANGLADESH: Development, Dreams and Demographic dividends

By Zahirul Alam

A World Bank report predicted that by 2025, six major emerging economies – – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Russia — will account for more than half of all global growth. One might be curious about where we will stand by 2025, beyond our golden jubilee, and in which direction we are moving forward.

Looking at all the recent statistics and analysis, I really do not see that the future for Bangladesh is so dismal and bleak. What are the reasons behind being so religiously optimistic? Well, it has already been recognized that Bangladesh’s standing now is among the first 60 economies of the world. The Euro-Monitor International has placed Bangladesh among the next 11 emerging economies; Goldman Sachs has included us in their list of “Next Eleven”; J.P. Morgan, in their “Frontier Five”; and Standard & Poor (S&P) and Moody’s have placed Bangladesh ahead of all South Asian nations, except India. Even Japanese economic observers have praised our sound fiscal and monetary management. Once portrayed as an international basket case, Bangladesh has now an economy whose GDP size is close to 100 billion US dollars, that is larger than half of all Africa’s 54 states taken together. And despite having chronic political confusion, the poor international image the country has made significant progress in many areas. There are hopes that investors will be encouraged to take advantage of the prevailing investment opportunities in Bangladesh. Even the global financial crisis presents unique opportunities for us. “As economic power shifts, successful economies will help drive growth in lowerincome countries through cross-border commercial and financial transactions,” the World Bank said in a study entitled, “Multipolarity: The New Global Economy.”

Overhauling domestic institutions is a key challenge for Bangladesh if we want to sustain growth. Bangladesh faces “institutional and governance challenges” while human capital and access to education is also a big concern.

The greatest weakness of Bangladesh is its incredibly small proportion of educated people. Our neighbor India has attained remarkable success with respect to its annual output of graduates in engineering, medicine and business. But in Bangladesh, for many years, a number of best graduates left the country to pursue opportunities in the US, Europe and elsewhere. In India, even in Pakistan, this trend appears to be reversing somewhat and growing number of Indians and Pakistanis are returning to their homeland and bringing with them knowledge, experience, international connection and capital.

People are something that Bangladesh has plenty of. But if you ask any business leader that what is the biggest problem of Bangladesh today and the chances are there that he or she will say it is finding the right people and getting them to work productively and one of the most important challenges facing Bangladesh government is creating and implementing successful strategies for educating it current and future workforce.
We never take into account the enormous dividend of population rather than see it as a burden. We have never been looking into the matter seriously to translate and transform the population burden into a population dividend. Our population is now close to 150 million people. Out of the total size 60 percent are now at their full working age. Unfortunately, due to lack of pragmatic steps to turn them into a productive force the section of the population is seen as dependant population. We could not exploit the potential to make them a useful work force. I read an article on demographic dividend by Kausik Basu, an Economics professor of Cornell University, USA who said that a nation’s “dependency ratio” is the ratio of the dependent population to the working-age population. In the case of India this turns out to be 0.6. Bangladesh’s dependency ratio is 0.7, Pakistan’s 0.8, Brazil’s 0.5. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan; and, by 2030, India’s dependency ratio should be just over 0.4. According to a recent study, the working age population in China is set to decline. The study also predicts that by 2050 China will have the oldest population of all the emerging so-called BRICS nations. Comparing to these countries Bangladesh is now embarking into a golden opportunity to take the population dividend. The opportunity has arrived as an engine of growth with this economically active age group which usually appears once in a history of a country or in a region.

Bangladesh has the world’s seventh largest population, one of the largest Diaspora and labor forces, eight largest remittance earners as well. Now the time has arrived to take stock of our advantage and strength of the demographic structure. A large working age population could certainly be beneficial for Bangladesh – imagine if Bangladesh could train even 20% of these youngsters in high paying fields such as engineering, medicine or business what impact it would have in boosting the economy and employment. Starting in around 2013, Bangladesh will enter the best period for realizing the demographic dividend, with the lowest levels of combined child and adult dependency in its history. Demographicdividend theorists say this golden period will last until around 2033, but cautioned “having a larger, healthier and bettereducated workforce will only bear economic fruit if the extra workers can find jobs”. If jobs are not available, a country may even see riots and rebellion from the boom generation. Therefore, we need to passionately look into these potentials and the areas hindering our growth and development. In 2021, we will celebrate our 50 years of independence while Singapore will celebrate its golden jubilee of independence in 2015 and within short span of time they have accomplished much having built a robust economy and a world class living environment. If we compare the nations that became independent in the 1950s and 1960s and chart how the development paths have taken place it is charming to see that how Singapore moved ahead than rest of the countries. They have nurtured a spirit of development for their current and future generations. So, as we approach a milestone of 50 years in our journey as a nation, it is timely to reflect on what Bangladesh really means to us, by commemorating our past achievements, remembering our liberation heroes and their supreme sacrifices for the glorious independence. We must not fail to accomplish our responsibility and achieve our ultimate goal, a poverty-free, prosperous and a democratic country. If we fail to make best use of our golden years ahead we shall have to face demographic danger or even demographic time bomb instead of cherished prosperity.

Zahirul Alam is Chief News Correspondent, NTV,

August 26, 2012

About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..

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