Bangladesh a dynamic nation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 1994, 12:00am

I REFER to the editorial which appeared in the South China Morning Post on August 5, headlined, ''Intolerance hurts all''. I thank the Post for its appreciation of the Bangladesh Government's efforts to protect Taslima Nasreen from physical harm.

However, I would like to lay before readers, a few facts as regards ''poverty and despair'' in Bangladesh, mentioned in the opening paragraph of the editorial.

Bangladesh's poverty is often exaggerated. It has a serious image problem, as the country is often viewed as one plagued by poverty, over-population and natural disaster.

It is often overlooked that there are 26 countries where real per-capita income measured in terms of purchasing power is lower than that of Bangladesh.

The country was branded as a ''basket case'' as it emerged as an independent state in 1971 with a war-ravaged economy in the wake of a sanguinary War of Liberation.

However, the story of Bangladesh's quiet revolution ever since, remains by and large unnoticed.

Despite the fact that Bangladesh is the most densely populated country of the world and that it has to fight constantly with nature for survival, Bangladesh's achievements in its short life of 23 years are not negligible. Since its birth in 1971 the country has doubled its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Bangladesh today produces enough food to feed its 116 million people and is left with a surplus for export.

Food production has been doubled in 20 years. Bangladesh is among the top 10 exporters of ready-made garments in the world. It earned over $2 billion in 1993 by exporting garments only. Bangladesh's exports have been rising at a pace of 15 to 20 per cent during the last few years.

In macro economic management Bangladesh's performance has earned the admiration of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others. The inflation has been contained at two per cent. The currency has maintained remarkable stability during the last decade and is convertible in the current account. The GDP growth has averaged around four per cent during the last two decades. In 1993-94 it was 4.9 per cent and the target for 1994-95 is six per cent.

In the social sector, the population growth is declining. The average number of children per family has come down from 7.5 to 4.5; 75 per cent of the children in Bangladesh are immunised against the major childhood diseases. Smallpox and leprosy have been eradicated and malaria is under control. Primary education has been made compulsory and female education up to 8th grade has been made free; 37 per cent of the annual budget of Bangladesh in 1994 has been allocated to the health and education sector.

There is a misconception about Bangladesh's aid-dependence. Bangladesh is not as dependent on aid as is generally believed. In 1991 foreign aid contributed seven per cent of Gross National Product in Bangladesh which, in per capita terms, was US$14.8. In the same year it was US$217.8 in Nicaragua, US$106.3 in Zambia, US$47.4 in Sri Lanka, US$23.4 in Nepal and US$42.7 in Tanzania.

In 1991 there were 57 countries receiving higher per-capita aid than Bangladesh.

Though still poor Bangladesh is a forward-looking and dynamic nation. Not many countries of the world can claim achievements at the level of Bangladesh within 20 years of independence. There is no reason to doubt that the rate of progress in Bangladesh will be further enhanced in the coming years and in the next century it will join the ranks of the ''Asian tigers''.

MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN Ambassador Republic of Bangladesh Embassy Beijing