AN ACCELERATED economic growth has contributed to a steady growth of the gross domestic product but has failed to narrow income inequality in Bangladesh. The World Bank’s poverty assessment report released Monday shows that higher economic growth in the past decade has not led to faster poverty reduction as the number of people in poverty in Bangladesh’s west has increased. The World Bank observes that the consumption of people in this region is close to poverty threshold of $1.9. The uneven geographical distribution of investments, as the report suggests, has eventually triggered re-emergence of the historical gap of poverty between the country’s east and the west since 2010. In the west, poverty increased in Rangpur and stagnated in Rajshahi and Khulna while in the east, poverty declined moderately in Chittagong and rapidly in Barishal, Dhaka and Sylhet. An earlier Oxfam global index on the inequality reduction shows that Bangladesh is performing poorly in reducing the gap between the rich and the poor despite posting more than a 7 per cent economic growth as it ranked 148 among 157 countries in the index. The socio-economic benefit of the government’s much celebrated economic model appears to have left half of the population behind.
Behind this visible divide in poverty reduction is a flawed economic policy that has failed to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth. The gulf between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural area and the west and the east has only widened over the years. The high economic growth rate that the government always speaks of has failed to reach the poor and middle-income people and has mostly endowed the rich. The Gini coefficient of income inequality has remained static at 0.482 since 2016, up from its previous mark of 0.458 in 2010. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics report on Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016 shows that the gap between the poorest 5 per cent and the richest 5 per cent has but widened. The World Ultra Wealth Report 2018 shows the number of ultra-high net-worth individuals in Bangladesh increased by 17.3 per cent, leaving Bangladesh at the top of the countries that saw quickest growth in ultra-wealthy people. The figures clearly bear the sign of income inequality and unequal development which have left a half of the population vulnerable to poverty.
Realising the fact that a high economic and GDP growth does not necessarily narrow the gap in income inequality, the government must review its existing development plans and must aim at developing a socio-economically inclusive, ecologically sensitive development plan. In doing so, it must address the pervasive problem of corruption, enable an investment-friendly political environment and discourage the concentration of investment and development programmes in particular districts.
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