Human Development Report 2021-22: Takeaways for Bangladesh

By Stefan Liller, Resident Representative, UNDP Bangladesh.

September 27, 2022

Gender parity is an area where Bangladesh still has significant room for improvement. FILE PHOTO: STAR

The Blog was first published in The Daily Star. Click here to read the original publication.

The world has plunged into a confluence of calamities such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the cost of living crisis, which are stacking up on the persistent threat of climate disaster. These are adding new layers of uncertainty that are quickly becoming the new normal. Three novel sources of volatile and interacting strands at a global scale are driving uncertainty: dangerous planetary pressures, sweeping societal transformation, and increased polarisation. With almost everyone everywhere feeling distressed, six out of seven individuals in the world feel unsettled and insecure today.

This was the key message coming out of the Human Development Report 2021-22, "Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World," which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently launched. The report also presents an index of human development for every country. The Human Development Index (HDI), which measures a country's average achievement along three basic human development dimensions – a long and healthy life, education, and decent living standards – saw nine out of 10 countries worldwide slipping in their performance for the last two years in a row. With human development falling back to 2016 levels, this indicates worrying reversals in progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

How is Bangladesh faring in these turbulent times? On the one hand, the country saw its HDI scores persistently improve over the past consecutive years, including in 2021. With a current value of 0.661, it ranks at 129 out of 191 countries and places among medium human-development countries. Bangladesh is also one of South Asia's better performers, with its HDI value above the regional value of 0.632. But additional indices in the report that add equity and sustainability perspectives unmask mixed results. Inequality is a major challenge: Bangladesh's HDI value falls to 0.503 when adjusted for inequality, resulting in a loss of 23.9 percent of its original HDI value.

Bangladesh fares quite well when accounting for planetary pressures. Findings from the report reaffirm the country as one of the world's lowest carbon emitters and with little material footprint. At COP26 last year, Bangladesh laudably pledged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 6.73 percent by 2030. The energy sector is set to account for the bulk of the reduction. As one of the world's most climate-vulnerable countries and as a second-time chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), this step reinforces Bangladesh's commitment to international solidarity and the cause of climate change. Nonetheless, it will require significant investments, especially in the energy and transport sectors, and the country is still far from attaining its national target for transitioning to clean, renewable energy.

On a more sobering note, gender parity is an area where Bangladesh has significant room for improvement, despite efforts over the years. A closer look into the Gender Development Index – a measure of disparities in the HDI by gender – presents stark findings. While women are likely to live longer than men, they trail behind when it comes to education and income per capita. On average, women receive 6.8 years of schooling compared to eight years for men. Also, gross national income per capita for Bangladeshi women stands at USD 2,811, compared to USD 8,176 for men.

Moreover, Bangladesh ranks 131 on the Gender Inequality Index (GII), a measure of gender inequality along the dimensions of reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market. Globally, progress along these dimensions of GII has stagnated over the last three years with overlapping crises contributing to setting women back. In Bangladesh, women's participation in the labour market was stagnating even before the pandemic. Social norms are also influencing persisting gender inequalities: 88 percent of women and 91 percent of men worldwide show at least one clear bias against gender equality along political, economic, and educational dimensions, as well as in areas such as intimate partner violence and women's reproductive rights.

For Bangladesh, progress in its human development performance weighs heavily for Covid recovery and for realising ambitious goals. It is set to graduate out of the Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2026. The country has also expressed strong commitments to achieve the SDGs, become an upper-middle-income country by 2031 and a developed nation by 2041. In this context, how can UNDP in Bangladesh continue to support development initiatives to maintain and advance hard-won development gains, while exploring sustainable pathways from crises and vulnerability during uncertain times?

The future does not have to be bleak. Rather, in line with the recommendations of the report, UNDP has been working to promote policies and programmes around the three "I"s – investment, insurance, and innovation – to support the country to thrive in a world in flux. For example, with climate change presenting an existential threat to Bangladesh, we are supporting rural communities in climate-vulnerable areas to adapt to the impacts of climate change. and through an ongoing urban poverty programme across 19 cities and municipalities nationwide, efforts are undertaken to address the interrelated challenges around climate change, migration, and urbanisation, and ensure sustainable and inclusive development.

We are also supporting Bangladesh's ongoing national social security strategy reform agenda as it gradually adopts a lifecycle-based approach. The pandemic has already highlighted fractures in the current system, and has underscored the need for shock-responsive, urban social protection that includes developing national social insurance schemes. Much more remains to be done in expanding care systems. A gender-responsive social protection system will also be vital to promote gender equality by providing a lifeline to women to improve their income security and help narrow gender gaps in poverty rates.

There is no scope to be complacent as we strive to support Bangladesh in its efforts to double down on human development. Given the complex challenges confronting Bangladesh and humanity all over the globe, upholding human development through uncertain times will require new ways of engaging and working, connecting partners from across multiple sectors, reflecting the specificities of national and subnational contexts, and finding bridges between short and long-term imperatives. In the words of many of those attending this year's HDR launching, "The best world is ahead of us if we make the right choices." The same applies to Bangladesh.