The End of Poverty In Bangladesh

By any measure Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations on earth. Sixty four million Bangladeshi’s live on less than $1.25 a day; forty three percent of children are under-nourished; five percent of children die before their fifth birthday; almost half the population lack access to decent sanitation.

The human stories behind these statistics are heart-breaking.

But there is good news. Bangladesh has made amazing progress in it struggle with poverty. Check out the chart below.

$1.25 a day is the standard income measure for extreme poverty, and the number of Bangladeshis living below it is falling, both as a proportion of the population and in numbers of people.

If we look at non-income measures of well-being the trend is equally positive. Child mortality rates have plummeted and access to improved sanitation is steadily growing. Both of these have contributed to a rise in life expectancy, from 48 years in 1960 to 68 years by 2010.

Bangladesh is a nation with shocking levels of poverty, but this should not blind us to the reality that poverty is declining. In fact, if over the next twenty years Bangladesh can keep reducing income poverty by the same amounts it did over the last twenty years by 2045 no-one in Bangladesh will live on less than $1.25 a day.  If Bangladesh can continue its rapid reduction in child mortality, within a couple of decades child mortality levels will be at Australia’s low leve.

Now these are very big if’s – climate change, for example, could undo many of the gains Bangladesh has made; there may be structural limits to economic growth in Bangladesh. But seeing these figures makes me believe that it is possible to imagine an extreme-poverty-free Bangladesh in the lifetime of my children.

All the more reason to redouble our efforts in doing what we can to help Bangladesh grow its economy, facilitate grassroots community development and act on climate change.  Poverty is not fate.

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