Between 1990 and 2020, average life expectancy rose by ten years to 69. (This is four years longer than life expectancy in India, despite Indians being on average twice as rich.) And though the growth in Bangladesh’s economy has been modest, the percentage of its people below the poverty line has dropped significantly, from 49% in 2000 to 32% in 2010.
Bangladeshis have also seen impressive gains in health and education. Over 90% of girls are now enrolled in primary school and Bangladesh is one of only three low-income nations where girls outnumber boys at secondary school (see the article 'Developments for school children in Bangladesh'). And child mortality rates have dropped significantly. In 1990, 139 children under the age of five died for every 1,000 live births; in 2011, the figure was 46.
In a special feature on the country, The Economist looks at Bangladesh’s development, which has been disproportionately great given the country’s fairly moderate economic growth of around 5% per year (GDP in real terms) since 1990. Its success in improving the lives of its citizens is attributed to four main factors; the high number of women with access to family planning which has reduced population growth, the boosting of harvests and rural household incomes, the establishment of microcredit lending for the poorest and the introduction of social programmes such as food-for-work and cash transfer schemes.
Social welfare schemes have also been supported to a great extent by well-run non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like BRAC. Beginning its life by distributing emergency aid in eastern Bangladesh after the war, BRAC is now one of the largest NGOs in the world. In Bangladesh, the organisation runs many vital schemes to assist poor households and reduce child mortality, such as a programme which shows mothers how to mix salt, sugar and water in the right proportions to rehydrate children suffering from diarrhoea. A huge inoculation campaign against tuberculosis was also supported by BRAC, which deploys over 100,000 health volunteers across the country.
Of course, Bangladesh still faces many challenges, with increasing urbanisation and one-sixth of the population undernourished. But considering more than a third of the population was underweight or stunted just two decades ago, the success of the nation in helping its citizens improve their lives can clearly be seen.