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Taking Stock

Can Bangladesh maintain high-growth in the post-pandemic period?

By Dr. Farida Khan | March 2021


The month of March 2021 marks 50 years of Bangladesh becoming a nation. It has been hailed as a “rocketing economy”, a “growth leader in South Asia”, etc. Much of this is based on Bangladesh’s estimated GDP growth rate of 8% in 2020, making it one of the fastest growing countries in Asia, and the IMF forecasts that its GDP per capita (or average level of income) is likely to exceed that of India in FY 2020.
So, how did this happen?

This economic leap by the country can be traced back to various early initiatives such as economic liberalization starting in the late 1970s and carried out under donor initiatives during the 1980s and 1990s.

Some of the less talked about facts is the social development in the country. Substantial effort has been given to lift millions out of poverty, cutting the poverty head count rate from 51.7% in 1985 to 21.8% in 2018. Infant mortality was cut by 79%, and the mortality of children under five by 83%, gender parity was attained in primary and secondary education, reaching impressive rates of primary enrollment rates at 92% and completion rates of 72%. This social development forms an important foundation for economic growth.

Another aspect of social development, also a prerequisite for growth is the country’s transition to democracy in 1991. Studies find that measures such as law and order, the quality of bureaucracy, political rights, and civil liberties improved immediately after the end of military rule and advent of democracy and political freedom.

Beginning in the 1990s, the pace of public investment in infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, increased. This investment occurred through the provision of power, roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, and administrative offices around the nation. Building a bridge over the river Meghna in 1991 and the Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna river in 1998, provided a key infrastructure connecting the different parts of the country that were divided by these vast rivers. The current construction of the Padma bridge, which is likely to be in place soon, will complete road and transport connectivity that has facilitated market development and labour mobility, both key for economic success.

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The writer is Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She is the Editor of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies and has written extensively on Bangladesh economy on topics such as trade, labour, and gender. She can be reached at

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2 thoughts on “Taking Stock

  • March 30, 2021 at 10:59 am

    Thanks a lot Dr. Farida Khan, for writing good article about Bangladesh.

  • March 30, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you South Asia for presenting our PM, doughter of our Father of The Nation, Sk Mujibur Rahman in your Magazine as Hero of South Asia.