Beyond the Paradox of Plenty: Battling Bangladesh’s Burdens
Since becoming a sovereign republic in 19711, Bangladesh has faced a surfeit of widespread crises. These encompass broader, mainstream issues, such as national poverty and natural disasters2. Principally arguing that these matters must be resolved, is a surface-level way of attempting to tackle them. Rather, we must delve further, and address the countless ‘sub causes’ that are intrinsic to each umbrella problem. In doing so, we can sever the ropes tying down Bangladesh’s development, and create an ever-prosperous society.
As per Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative Index, Bangladesh is considered the 28th least ready country for climate change3, which may come as a surprise, considering her rich agricultural sector, and scenic beauty. Citizens live in a constant state of fear, unable to predict the next flood, the next downpour of monsoon rain, or the next cyclone. To combat the civil unrest, displacement and destruction accompanied by such natural disasters, a combination of fiscal, financial and structural policy implementations is necessary.
When considering fiscal policy, Bangladesh is likely to benefit from environmental tax reforms, by imposing them on larger industrial corporations. Take, for example, Akij Group, one of the leading manufacturing syndicates in Bangladesh4. They conduct business in both domestic and global markets, employing an extensive fleet of vehicles to transport their goods. Given the magnitude of their operations, it is easy to imagine the significant amount of air pollutants they generate and their impact on the already fragile environmental conditions in Bangladesh. However, Akij Group is just one of the countless industrial giants dominating the country. By introducing environmental tax reforms, the tax revenue-to-GDP ratio would rise, loosening financial constraints, and increasing the government’s climate spending ability, creating fiscal space.
Effective financing is the next step towards an environmentally healthier Bangladesh. More specifically, investment towards infrastructure and remedial measures, such as reconstruction. Poor housing is the main infrastructural problem that needs addressing. UNICEF estimates there are 4 million slum dwellers in Dhaka alone5, residing in one-room huts made of bamboo floors and thatch roofs. These materials are far too weak to withstand powerful floods and storms, explaining the high displacement levels following natural disasters. Preventive adaptation is required to finance better housing, which can be achieved via adaptive financing. However, the World Bank estimates that annual funds of $5.7 billion would be needed by 20506to reach this goal. With the increasing frequency of natural disasters, it would be more efficient to act in a quicker, cost-effective manner. This can be done by using materials readily available in Bangladesh- namely, the discarded material of the shipbuilding industry.
Shipbuilding is one of the country’s most successful industries and is accompanied by high amounts of metal wastage. Scrap pieces that aren’t recycled for vehicular purposes can be bought by the government for cheap prices and used to manufacture homes made of metal alloys. Steel is the prime component of ships, and has been proven to withstand turbulent conditions7, hence making it the ideal component for sturdier infrastructure.
To pave the way for a green economy in Bangladesh, financing is crucial. Investment in low carbon technology, such as solar photovoltaics in factories, would refresh the industrial sector, promoting efficiency. Furthermore, vulnerable coastal areas require protection through investment in hard engineering techniques like sea walls and gabions. However, these measures come at a high cost and necessitate the support of international partners, like the World Bank or IMF. Thus, concessional loans could be taken out to provide leniency, smoothening the path towards a greener Bangladesh.
Nationwide poverty is another factor burdening Bangladesh’s development. As of January, 35 million people are struggling below the poverty line, fighting for financial freedom8. Although it would be difficult to eradicate poverty entirely, measures can be taken to suppress it. Bangladesh is eligible to receive concessional funding from the IMF, hence this can be secured. A portion of the funding could be used for microfinancing, and distributed amongst impoverished groups, encouraging them to purchase land and begin commercial farming, producing agricultural stock for the market. Currently, most agricultural activity is characterised by subsistence farming9 which doesn’t contribute as much to the economy. By pushing commercial farming, individuals can repay microfinance loans via agricultural produce, whilst also expanding the primary sector, and feeding money back into the economy. The capital made can also be used to diversify Bangladesh’s export basket, which is heavily concentrated in the Readymade Garment (RMG) sector. With the combined capital and concessional funding, other non-RMG sectors can be tapped into, such as light engineering. Despite how lucrative light engineering can be, the labour shortage of specialised workers restricts progress10. To resolve this issue, public work schemes can be established, whereby the required training and education for specialised industries is provided by the government (using concessional funding), and in return, individuals agree to work for corporations, innovating products to be exported. Providing free higher education would close the skill gap amongst Bangladeshi youth, giving them the ability to work in better paying sectors, thus improving the economy.
To chase the vision of a utopian society would be quite trivial. However, improvement, as far as realism allows, can be achieved by establishing a society based on economic strength. Although money cannot buy happiness, it can buy civil security, improved living standards and financial freedom, all of which citizens of Bangladesh deserve.
1 U.S. Department of State. The South Asia Crisis and the Founding of Bangladesh, 1971. Retrieved from The South Asia Crisis and the Founding of Bangladesh, 1971 (state.gov) (accessed online 3/6/23)
2 Human Rights Watch. (2022). World Report 2022: Bangladesh. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/world
report/2022/countrychapters/bangladesh#cc86be (accessed online 3/6/23)
3 University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. Country Vulnerability Index. Retrieved from https://gain.nd.edu/our work/country-index/rankings/ (accessed online 3/6/23)
4Business Inspection BD. (2022, June 15). Top 10 Groups of Companies in Bangladesh. Updated May 25, 2023. Retrieved from https://businessinspection.com.bd/top-group-of-companies-in-bd/ (accessed online 3/6/23)
5Habitat for Humanity GB. Housing Poverty in Bangladesh: Facing Slums & Disasters. Retrieved from
https://www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/country/bangladesh/ (accessed online 4/6/23)
6The World Bank. (December 2011). Bangladesh Development Series: The Cost of Adapting to Extreme Weather Events in a Changing Climate. Retrieved from World Bank Document. See chapter 6, pg.31. (accessed online 4/6/23)
7 CDMG. (2019, September 11). Can Steel Buildings Stand Up To Natural Disasters? Retrieved from https://www.cdmg.com/building-faqs/steel buildings-and-natural-disasters (accessed online 4/6/23)
8Mavis, M. (2023, January 22). Report: 35m Bangladeshis still live below poverty line. Dhaka Tribune.
https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2023/01/22/report-35m-bangladeshis-still-live-below-poverty-line (accessed online 4/6/23) 9International Trade Administration. (2022, July 20). Bangladesh - Agriculture Sectors. https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/bangladesh agriculture-sectors (accessed online 4/6/23)
10Majumder, Sacchidanand & Dey, Soma. (2020). Light Engineering Industry Sector in Bangladesh: Challenges and Prospects. 48. 46-57. (accessed online 4/6/23)