What We Can Learn from Bangla Desh:

The “Little Land of Big Things”

By Shlomo  Maital

   Bangla Desh (the Country of Bengal, or Free Bengal) is a very poor country that rarely attracts attention (except when there are floods, famines or other catastrophes).  It was created in 1971, when it fought and won independence from Pakistan, at a time when many doubted it would survive as a nation.  Pakistan in turn was created when the British left India in 1947 and maliciously fashioned, out of one united country (India), two separate ones, Hindu and Muslim, guaranteeing conflict for generations.  Pakistan’s two separate parts, West and East,  eventually saw the Eastern part split off as Bangla Desh.  Thanks, Britain!

  Without fanfare, notes The Economist, Bangla Desh has now lifted itself out of what Henry Kissinger called “basket cases”. (See Briefing, Nov. 3, 2012, p. 19).  Its GDP per capita is still a very low $700, in part because its population, 150 m., is extremely dense, packed into a small amount of land.  But here is evidence of its progress.  

    • It is a democracy, having returned democracy in 1991.  Between 1990 and 2010 life expectancy rose by 10 years, and it is now 4 years longer than that of India, even though India is twice as rich.  That improvement in health has been as great among the poor as among the rich. This is one of the most dramatic improvements in human health in history
    • More than 90% of girls are in primary school, a higher percentage than for boys. This rate doubled since 2000.  Infant mortality was halved between 1990 and 2010.Since 1990 Bangla Desh’s GDP has risen by an average of 5% yearly. Moreover, that growth has been accompanied by massive poverty reduction, from half the population under the poverty line in 1990 to less than one third in 2010.

Why has this happened?  According to the Economist: a) family planning, b) rural development (pushing growth outward from the cities); c) BRAC, or Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee, an NGO that has an expanded role beyond microfinance and is now the world’s largest NGO.

  Bangla Desh has the lowest labor costs in the world — $35 a month.  It still has massive problems.  But it is angering that the world pays attention to it, only when it suffers catastrophes.  Other countries with similar difficulties can learn much by benchmarking Bangla Desh.  I believe even my country Israel can learn from its poverty reduction measures and NGO’s and from the impressive way it has empowered women.   

    Consider visiting Dakka, Bangla Desh, and the countryside, when you’re next in Asia.  We can learn a lot from it.