Despite its poor-country status, increasing numbers of tourists have visited Bangladesh, a new but minor source of foreign exchange earning. Tourism in the early 1980s amounted to some 49,000 visitors per year, but by 1986 more than 129,000 tourists–mostly from India, the United States, Britain, and Japan–visited Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Parjaton Corporation (Bangladesh Tourism Corporation), some Tk44.6 million in foreign exchange was earned in 1986 from the tourism industry.
PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS
The Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Aid Group have taken seriously the idea that Bangladesh is the test case for development.
In the late 1980s, it was possible to say, in the somewhat patronizing tone sometimes adopted by representatives of donor organizations, that Bangladesh had generally been a “good performer.” Even in straitened times for the industrialized countries, Bangladesh remained a favored country for substantial commitments of new aid resources from a strikingly broad range of donors. The total estimated disbursement for FY 1988 was estimated at US$1.7 billion, an impressive total but just US per capita.
Half of that total was for food aid and other commodities of limited significance for economic growth. Even with the greatest imaginable efficiency in planning and administration, resource-poor and overpopulated Bangladesh cannot achieve significant economic improvements on the basis of that level of assistance.
In examining the economy of Bangladesh, wherever one turns the problems crowd in and threaten to overwhelm the analysis. Underlying problems that have threatened the young nation remain unsolved. These problems include overpopulation and inadequate nutrition, health, and education resources; a low standard of living, land scarcity, and vulnerability to natural disaster; virtual absence of valuable metals; and inadequate government and bureaucratic structures. Yet the brief history of independent Bangladesh offers much that is encouraging and satisfying.
The World Bank, leader of the Bangladesh Aid Group, described the country in 1987 as a success story for economic development and expressed optimism that the goals of the Third Five-Year Plan, and longer term development goals as well, could be attained. Government policies had been effective in stimulating the economy. The private sector had benefited from an environment of greater economic freedom and had improved performance in banking and production of jute, fertilizer, ready-made garments, and frozen seafood. The average growth rate of economy had been a steady, if unspectacular, 4 percent since the beginning of the 1980s, close to the world average for developing countries.
The picture of day-to-day and even year-to-year performance of the economy of Bangladesh is a mixture of accomplishment and failure, not significantly different from that of the majority of poor Third World countries. The government and people of Bangladesh are entitled to take some pride in the degree of success they have achieved since independence, especially when one contrasts their success with the gloomy forecasts of economists and international experts. The international donor community, led by the World Bank, similarly can be proud of the role it has played in assisting this “largest poorest” nation to become a respected member of the family of nations.
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Works that are useful for gaining a basic understanding of the Bangladesh economy include Bangladesh: Emergence of a Nation by A.M.A. Muhith and The Political Economy of Development by Just Faaland and J.R. Parkinson. Rehman Sobhan’s The Crisis of External Dependence provides an insightful critique of the foreign aid sector. Kirsten Westergaard’s State and Rural Society in Bangladesh provides information on agricultural development in the context of the relationship between the state and rural society. Articles by Abu Muhammad Shajaat Ali and Akhter Hameed Khan provide agricultural case studies on the village of Shyampur and the Comilla Model, respectively.
The Far Eastern Economic Review and Economist both carry timely reports on the state of the economy. Among the most important sources of information on the economy, however, is the documentation provided by various agencies of the governments of Bangladesh and the United States and the World Bank. Important among these is the annual Statistical Yearbook of Bangladesh published by the Ministry of Planning. The Bibliography of Asian Studies each year carries numerous reports on the macroeconomy of Bangladesh and should be consulted for details. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)