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Bangladesh the ‘Golden Boy’ of South Asia: Global UNDP Report

Dhaka, Nov 9 (www.bdnews24.com) – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report for 2006, launched globally Thursday, revealed that Bangladesh had shown impressive gains in water and sanitation sector although Asia’s emerging giants were lagging.

“Income matters, but public policy shapes the conversion of income into human development,” said the report, entitled “Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis.”

“India may outperform Bangladesh as a high growth globalisation success story, but the tables are turned when the benchmark for success shifts to sanitation: despite an average income some 60% higher, India has a lower rate of sanitation coverage. Similar gaps between wealth and coverage are observed for water,” the report revealed.

Since 1975, Bangladesh has steadily improved life expectancy, education, and the standard of living. The nation moved into the medium developed countries’ category in the Human Development Index from 2003, which ranks 177 countries according to achievements.

In 2006, Bangladesh again ranked among the world’s medium developed countries at 137, which is two steps up than last year’s. Ten years ago, Bangladesh was at the lowest level in the world so far as access to proper sanitation in its rural areas was concerned.

Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, it is now close to achieving nationwide sanitation coverage by 2010, thanks to a ‘total sanitation campaign’ promoted by NGOs and local authorities.

According to the report, poor farmers face a potentially catastrophic water crisis from the combination of climate change and competition for scarce water resources. Intense competition for water is now one of the gravest threats to sustained human development.

Rising industrial demand, urbanisation, population growth and pollution were placing unprecedented stress on water systems —and on agriculture. There is a substantial group of countries that stand to be affected by climate change.

Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria and Thailand have large populations living in delta areas threatened by saline intrusion. The low-lying regions of Bangladesh support more than 110 million people in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, and more than half of Bangladesh lies at less than 5 metres above sea level.

The World Bank has estimated that by the end of the 21st century sea levels for the country could rise by as much as 1.8 metres, predicting worst scenarios with land losses of 16%.

The probable affected area supports 13% of the population and produces 12% of GDP.

Challenging predictions that increasing competition for water will inevitably provoke armed conflicts, the HDR said that cross-border cooperation over water resources had already been far more pervasive and successful than been commonly presumed, offering many models for the resolution of future international water disputes.

In the past 50 years, there have been 37 cases of reported violence between states over water; all but seven incidences took place in the Middle East.

Yet over the same period, more than 200 treaties on water were negotiated between countries, said the Report.

For countries like Bangladesh, which depends on India for 91 percent of its water to irrigate crops and replenish aquifers, the report said that the case was clear for cross-border cooperation on water.

The report recommended that everyone should have at least 20 litres of clean water per day and the poor should get it for free.

“Governments should aim to spend a minimum of one percent GDP on water and sanitation, and enhance equity,” it recommended.

It also called for an extra US$3.4 billion to $4 billion annually as the development assistance has fallen in real terms over the past decade. To bring the MDG on water and sanitation into reach, aid flows will have to double, said the report.

The 2006 HDR estimates the total additional cost of achieving the MDG on access to water and sanitation—to be sourced domestically and internationally—at about $10 billion a year.

“The $10 billion price tag for the MDG seems a large sum —but it has to be put in context. It represents less than five days’ worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water,” said the Report.

The report was launched from Cape Town of South Africa Thursday at 7 pm (BST). Kevin Watkins is the Lead Author of the 2006 report, which includes special contributions from U.K. Chancellor Gordon Brown, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Ok onjo-Iweala, President Lula of Brazil, former US President Carter, and UN Secretary -General Kofi Annan.

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