Published:  01:56 AM, 26 March 2017

Bangladesh: Profile of a nation state

Bangladesh was born out of a war for freedom , democracy, social justice  and  self reliance,  what Andre Malraux once called "the last noble cause." Since seceding from Pakistan and acclaiming as an independent and  sovereign nation state  in 1971, our densely populated nation at the head of the Bay of Bengal has swung between hope and despair, between mass apathy and violence in the streets. Many economic growth oriented development models which create both the gross and net happiness for the national elites, yet to bring genuine and lasting happiness for the broad national majority. The premises of a self-reliant social development model have remained an ardent desire for Bangladesh, a country whose population always maintains the spirit of rejuvenation for political, economic and social emancipation.  

In 1971, Bangladesh had 75 million people and its per capita annual income was $100. In 45years, its population has increased to 160 million and per capita income to $1357. Since 1991, its average annual growth rate has improved at the rate to 5.3 percent, compared to the 5.1% average of all South Asian countries for the same period. Irrespectively of this achievement, the average income still remains at $1.45 per day. Bangladesh was a self-reliant country in the past so long  it depended entirely on the efforts of its own people but with the overture of external aid  caused a sharp change in its self-reliance stance.

 A country that makes development plans which utterly depend on the receipt of substantial foreign aid may do much damage to the spirit of self-respect and self-reliance of its people. Even in the narrowest economic terms or in academic sense either, its loss is greater than its gains. Resources, particularly money, are not value free. They bring certain baggage with them, depending on their origin and culture . They will not be available to you in the future, they have significant disadvantages that outweigh their advantages. 

Understanding self-reliance from a sustainability perspective is crucial for such a lifestyle to be encouraged as an alternative to the western model of development for traditional communities in developing countries in the world, including Bangladesh. It also allows for the concept of poverty alleviation to be perceived differently by reframing the achievement of material possessions to living wholesome life styles in a happy social environment within a healthy ecology. The following five characteristics of self reliance show the close links between this philosophy and the sustainability concept.

(1)Simplicity - this concept comes from the original idea of the value and pride in the things and ideas that are present, in essence the care for the future is built in the glory of the present and the acceptance that the future is secure if we do the right things today. "The more I have, the less I am" Another implication from simplicity is the nature of technology that a community uses or in Gandhi's words technology has to be  swadeshi  or "home-scale". This allows full control by people over the technology, avoids technological determinism, dominance and dependence and most importantly protects the natural environment.

(2) Responsibility - A self-reliant community takes the responsibility for its actions in creating and using goods as much as possible in a self-sufficient circle. Related to the technology used, responsibility translates into reduced dependence on fossil fuels, rejection of nuclear power and introduction of renewable energy (solar, biogas)  Innovative appropriate technologies, either created locally, imported or a mix, is the option for rural people's self-reliant sustainability. However, it is important that rural communities have the full responsibility for the management of these technologies which implies that they need to be able not only to operate them but also understand, adapt and develop further according to their own requirements.

(3) Respect - The respect is practised in a culturally appreciable framework without harming the environment, and this links to the environmental and social aspects of sustainability. The Baul philosophers in Bangladesh are deeply respected and people are prepared to follow their advice. Respect of social cultural norms and traditions is also an important component of self-reliance and the long-term sustainability of Indigenous societies.

(4) Commitment - a community needs to be committed to working and should not rely on help from outside to guarantee the provision of its needs and economic security. From an economic point of view, the long-term equitable access to resources needs to be guaranteed by replenishing of any resources used. An implication from this characteristic of self-reliance is the choice of resources used and the preference for renewable resources that can be replaced in a reliable way.

(5) Creativity -. New innovative solutions are the key to success for implementing such a change. The concept of self-reliance implies that a community is a constant source of creativity and ideas about how the present can be made better. People are, as they always have been and ought to be, the real protagonists of their own development and future. The search for sustainable solutions should involve the people who are affected by these solutions. Neither the government nor the private sector nor the foreign NGOs can provide jobs or wage-based work for the entire population, particularly in rural areas.

Transformation should occur in peoples' behavioral attitude: Once people realize they are the key change agents for the end of hunger, they are empowered to take action.  Several thousand families have been mobilized take actions to end their own poverty. A strong partnership may be established between Government and the grassroots people. The Millennium Development Goals are global targets but the solutions to achieve them must be worked out locally. The only way local people can ensure that this happens is through strong, accountable local democracy. Micro credit program of Bangladesh has been taken part a significant role in the world. Self-reliant Bangladesh realizing the significance of poverty alleviation has been disbursing the loan to poor people of the village by organizing them from 1978. The objectives of this program was to reduce poverty and increasing GDP up to minimum 10-11% for sustainable development of socio-economy of the country by women empowerment.

The diverse development endeavors of the current era have shown mixed sign of sustainable development so far; in some cases they have contributed to the depletion of natural resources. The current 158 million population of Bangladesh has a much smaller impact compared to countries such as Australia or USA whose populations consume and waste per capita more than 10 times the natural resources used by Bangladesh people.  The writer is former Secretary and Chairman, NBR

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