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Striving to achieve the MDGs with equity

© UNICEF Bangladesh/ 2010/Khan
At Dhaka launch of 'Progress for Children', Bangladesh Minister of Finance Abul Maal Abdul Muhith (centre) is flanked by State Minister of Women and Children Affairs, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury and UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, Carel de Rooy.

By Christine Jaulmes

22 October 2010. How can Bangladesh achieve the Millennium Development Goals with equity? This question was at the heart of the national seminar jointly organized in Dhaka by UNICEF and Bangladesh Economic Association on 21 October and attended by the Minister of Finance, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith and the State Minister of Women and Children Affairs, Shirin Sharmin Chawdhury. A timely debate as the Government of Bangladesh is in the process of developing its 6th 5-year National Development Plan.

As highlighted by all the experts present, Bangladesh has made tremendous progress with regards to both economic growth and human development. However child poverty and socio-economic disparities remain a grave concern. Almost half of the country’s 68 million children live below the upper poverty line and one-quarter lives in extreme poverty. Those children are deprived of basic social needs, such as food, education, health, information, shelter, water and sanitation. Data from the 2009 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), also show that considerable disparities exist between districts and within districts between sub-districts in progress made to achieve MDGs.

 In its recent report Progress for Children: Achieving MDGS with Equity, which was launched at the event, UNICEF argues that if such inequalities were addressed, progress towards the MDGs and poverty reduction would be accelerated.

 ‘UNICEF is an agency that likes to innovate. In 1984, it launched the concept of "adjustment with a human face"; now, in 2010, UNICEF is introducing the concept of "development with equity”," said the Minister of Finance, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, who also referred to other initiatives supported by UNICEF that made a huge difference in the lives of children in Bangladesh. ‘The recent award that Bangladesh received for its progress towards achieving MDG 4, is in a great part attributable to the  widespread promotion of ORT and the Expanded Programme of Immunization in the 1980s.’

© UNICEF Bangladesh/ 2010/Khan
UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, Carel de Rooy, presenting a recent publication of UNICEF Bangladesh, A case for Geographic Targeting of basic social services', at a national seminar jointly organized in Dhaka on October 21 by UNICEF and BEA

During the seminar, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, Carel de Rooy, presented two new studies produced by UNICEF Bangladesh, in complement to the global report: A case for Geographic Targeting of Basic Social Services and Investing in Vulnerable Children. These two papers examine how equity-focused strategies could be used in the Bangladesh context and translate into policies, programmes and budget allocations.

The first study uses a composite deprivation index to identify the geographic areas where the worst deprivations occur and clearly shows which districts and sub-districts are lagging behind in terms of human and social development. The study suggests that by better targeting investment towards these areas, Bangladesh could achieve MDGs with equity and reduce poverty at a faster pace.

The second study makes a case for investing in vulnerable children. Taking into account the cost of social interventions, the paper argues that it would be feasible to progressively providing basic services to the most vulnerable children of Bangladesh. On average, this would require a budget allocation of only of 0.37 per cent of the national budget over a period of 10 years.

“Bangladesh should consider incorporating these equity-focused strategies in its 6th 5-year development plan which is currently being prepared”’, said Carel de Rooy. “Targeting the least performing geographic areas with adequate provision of basic social services and increasing investment in the most vulnerable children could mitigate the widening socio-economic inequalities and consequently accelerate poverty reduction.’

Evidence from a World Bank study, he said, clearly shows that reduction of economic inequalities measured through the GINI coefficient is much more effective than economic growth in reducing poverty. The World Bank study is based on a comparison between China, India and Brazil, showing that Brazil made impressive progress towards poverty reduction with a much slower economic growth than China and India.

In his speech, the Minister of Finance committed to find ways of accelerating poverty reduction through a more equitable developmental approach. The Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, Shirin Sharmin Chawdhury, underlined that investing in marginalized and vulnerable children would help break the cycle of inter-generational poverty and that it was necessary to look at proper utilization of resources, beyond the issue of resource limitation.
"Socio-economic inequality is the key barrier to development, particularly, in reducing poverty’, said Prof. Barkat, president of Bangladesh Economic Association, as he concluded the seminar. ‘When it comes to children, the barrier increases manifolds as it prevents them to reach their full potential. Inequality also perpetuates poverty from one generation to the next. This is why it is so crucial for the Government to invest in the most vulnerable children as part of the poverty reduction strategy."

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