Economic Consequences of Population Growth in Bangladesh

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Economic Consequences of Population Growth in Bangladesh


Population growth has traditionally been regarded as an index of economic buoyancy and material prosperity, but it was only after the spectacular success of the Industrial Revolution that lurking anxieties about such growth began to be dispelled. The Malthusian spectre seemed to have been exorcised by scientific incantations, and the incoming surge of human beings came to appear less as a threat than as a stimulus.

Yet, as the implications of this totally unprecedented demographic explosion began to sink in, the short-lived euphoria of technological mastery began to evaporate. For one thing, the sheer magnitude of growth without parallel in human history invoked some sobering and sombre thoughts about the capacity of the under-developed world to sustain the multiplying millions for whom medical death control had provided many additional years of life expectancy. In the 19th century, in the successfully industrializing nations such as Great Britain, death control had been brought about by a combination of urban hygiene, decontaminated nutrients and water, and a succession of medical advances of which vaccination was one of the early milestones. The process, although dramatic enough by comparison with earlier times, was to straddle a number of generations, and even during the high noon of Victorian population expansion the rate of annual growth remained little more than half that being experienced currently in most of the poor world. Moreover, some relief was afforded by migration to the new lands available for white settlement in temperate latitudes, while before the end of the century a further slackening of the economic strain came with the so-called ‘demographic transition’. Put simply, this marks a period of falling birth rates, when both motivation and technical skills combine to offset death control by deliberate family limitation. In effect, extra offspring are exchanged for a better quality of life for the (henceforth) largely surviving brood.

However, in the modern ‘developing’ world, this combination of circumstances is lacking. Migration is no longer possible on any large scale and the frontiers of the cultivated already press hard upon the potentially cultivable. The crisis is, in fact, fundamental. The processes of death control, far from evolving simultaneously with steady industrialization and economic transformation, have suddenly been visited upon the poor world in one fell swoop. Malaria eradication, the antibiotics, inoculation against diseases such as yellow fever and cholera, which once decimated the tropical world, have all arrived in a historical moment. They have arrived in countries where the social as well as the economic infra-structure is rudimentary and is often hostile to investment and accumulation of capital. Even if such domestic problems can be overcome, the international framework is hardly favourable to infant industries striving to penetrate the markets dominated by the entrenched producers. The steadily falling terms of trade against primary producers, and the wildly fluctuating prices of

key commodity exports, have further hindered balanced economic growth in the poor world. Yet without such balanced growth, the economies ofthe developing nations will continue to be distorted by the colonial inheritance ofspecialized and vulnerable trading roles.


It took roughly the first three-quarters of the Christian era for the human

Race to double in numbers (Table 1). The next doubling took 200 years, from the time of the Lord Protector to that of the Great Exhibition in the mid-19th century. Yet the next two doublings have together spanned a mere 125 years, and the present doubling time is little more than a third of a century. This is the equivalent (Table 2) of an annual rate of growth of 2%, which may not sound

too alarming until we translate it into an increment of three billion over three decades. Even if population increase were to be halved to a figure of some 1% annually, it is clear from Text-fig. 1 that this would give little more than an extra 150 years before there was one inhabitant per square metre. At the present rate, this ‘impossible’ state of affairs would be reached by approximately the beginning of the 23rd century; at the 1% rate, by the middle of the 25th century.

But this, of course, is simply playing a numbers game, and demonstrating the well-known terror of compound interest (or, as Malthus might have put it, Geometrical progression). What we have to consider is the reliability of such automatic extrapolations, and the likelihood of a demographic transition occurring in the poor world. More specifically, the question is not so much whether such a transition will eventually materialize, but how rapidly and effectively it will happen. And here, it must be admitted, our techniques of long-term forecasting are about as reliable as the use of tea-leaves to prophesy the arrival of strangers.

The basic problem is to assess the time-lag between death control and birth control, and this will clearly depend upon a host of mutually related factors ranging from educational advance and family motivation to contraceptive devices and economic stimuli. Such factors may be transformed by unforeseen and strictly unforeseeable changes, and it would be hazardous to peer very far into the future. Nevertheless, in the short-term, which means during the remainder of this century, it is possible to project population figures with reasonable confidence, if only because most of the potential parents of this century have already been born and enumerated. The spreading bases of the population pyramids for the poor countries, which mark the consequences of falling infant and maternal mortality, will inexorably move up the pyramid as the years go by. This will mean a substantially larger cohort of potential parents a generation hence than in the corresponding age range of today, and, unless family size is very sharply reduced from its present level, the next parental generation will in turn send a demographic impulse—through its own offspring—a further 30 years ahead into the 21st century.


The numerical implications of this growth, which lead us to anticipate about a billion extra people per decade between now and a.D. 2000, suggest that the major problem of the coming years will be that of coping with a multitude of economically unnecessary individuals. However much we stimulate intermediate technology in the developing countries and so far only China seems to have had much success in this—it seems distinctly optimistic to foresee anything but massive unemployment (and concealed under-employment) in the decades ahead. Manufacturing industry, which for predominantly agricultural peasant societies seems the prerequisite of economic transformation and higher individual wealth, works generally more efficiently with a high capital-labour ratio, and certainly if the developing nation wishes to penetrate competitive world markets it can hardly afford to ignore the advantages of highly echanized continuous flow techniques.


Again, in contrast to the experience of the present ‘rich’ world, the urbanization process in the poor world is only tenuously related to successful transition to industrial economy. As shown in Table 3, which is based on United Nations (1969) data, there has been a spectacular increase in the number of major urban concentrations in the poor world during the middle decades of this century; yet many of these cities are little more than aggregations of the unwanted. As agriculture proves incapable of sustaining the growing peasant masses, they move to the town where they huddle in squalor, poverty and idleness. The shanty towns and the favellas are the symptoms of a quasi-urbanizing process

which seems destined to produce social deprivation and political violence.

The lack of employment, in turn, curtails the domestic market and discourages investment by both local and external entrepreneurs. Investment instead tends to focus on the ‘bonanza’ areas of rich mineral strikes, where high profits and capital-intensive extraction are the norm. Nevertheless, however poverty stricken the urban masses are, and however unproductive, they continue in aggregate to consume the resources of the poor country. As their numbers swell, so the already slender economic surplus is eroded further. Against this summary background of the predicament of the developing world, it is increasingly difficult to avoid the sense of a looming catastrophe as the century draws

towards its close.

It must be accepted, of course, that the developing world is far from a homogeneous unit. Guyana, say, with its 800,000 people clustered on a narrow coastal strip backed by an empty interior, may seem a far cry from India whose numbers rose from 439 million in 1961 to 547 million 10 years later. Yet at the risk of over-simplification, in most of the inter-tropical world there are common problems of climate, soils and inherited social structures which make all these countries incapable of reconciling a 2% rate of population growth with economic transformation and material improvement for the bulk of their people. In such countries, with few if any exceptions, population restraint is urgently required in the coming decade if disaster and bitter disappointment are to be avoided.

This plea, however, is now very much the conventional wisdom, and it has been reiterated only to remind us that wisdom without appropriate action becomes folly. And it is still the case that few of the influential decision-makers in the affluent world have grasped the magnitude of the population crisis which is inevitably bound to deepen in the immediate future. As Dr Malcolm Potts shows in his account of the work of the IPPF (p. 475) the priority given to family limitation internationally is lamentably low and, as we know, the Roman Catholic Church is still (officially) hostile to contraception.

Perhaps this mood of official complacency or indifference will change as

population begins to move into the main-stream of political controversy in the rich countries. For the population crisis is, in the ultimate, indivisible, and the case for population restraint is no less urgent in the rich world than in the poor. Economy, in the final analysis, is a relationship between man and his environment, and if the poor world needs to ease demographic pressures for the sake of that relationship, so too does the rich world.


Before turning to the environmental aspects of population growth in the high consumption economies, it may be noted that there are many different facets to the demographic dilemma facing such countries. For example, the demographic transition of earlier decades in the United Kingdom has resulted in a steadily rising ratio of elderly dependants to the population of working age. As Table 4

shows, this has risen from 110/1000 in 1911 to 259/1000 in 1969, and the figure will continue to rise to a maximum of 276/1000 in 1981. Thereafter it will fall slightly, partly owing to the impact of the post-1955 rise in the birth-rate (itself an unexpected and certainly unforeseen bulge which remained pronounced until the mid-sixties) upon the working population of the eighties and nineties. The economic implications of these changing patterns are difficult to assess, but it may be suggested that the increasing tendency towards premature retirement is a hint that people in the affluent world, no less than in the poor, are becoming unnecessary to the economic process—and even a hindrance to its efficient operation. Yet, at the very time when such labour-shedding is being encouraged (perhaps the steady raising of the school-leaving age has a similar role in reducing explicit unemployment), increasing numbers of people survive to old age. One hesitates to speculate on the size of the redundant population let alone its functions—should the ageing process ever be mastered.

This is not, of course, to argue that people should not be allowed to live out their full term—but it does raise the question whether the human race is well advised to strive to extend its personal life-span. Human clustering in Britain has produced exceptionally dense urban populations, particularly in the ‘axial belt’ which straddles England from the Thames to the Mersey. Within this area of dense population, accentuated by inward migration and (more recently) by substantial growth in situ, we have seen the motor vehicle ‘activate’ the residents in a way which has worsened the man/land relationship. It is instructive, in this matter of crowding, to compare England and Wales as a whole—and not simply the axial belt—with the famous ‘Megalopolis’ defined in the north-eastern U.S.A. As Table 5 shows, the entire area south of Hadrian’s Wall is already broadly comparable with the American region; on this basis, the axial belt deserves a term all to itself.

Meanwhile, a process of micro-geographical sifting within the cities has

mirrored the wider regional sifting which led to marked economic disparities and social gulfs within the British Isles as a whole. As the towns explode across the former countryside, the inner areas are left as ghettos of the socially and economically—which often means mentally inadequate. For such ghetto denizens, the economy of affluent meritocratic man can find little use, except in menial and poorly paid jobs; in effect, the favella mentality takes root in the decaying cores, rather than in the outskirts, and the experience of the United States shows how grave this sifting can become when allied to racial differences.


Population growth and flux, in other words, have presented the rich world with a crop of problems, some of which have analogues in the poor world. But the essential case for zero growth, and a less frenetic and thrusting economic society, rests on environmental arguments. The Malthusian thesis, it will be recalled, held that, where land was finite, the law of diminishing returns would inevitably operate to constrain the size of the population subsisting upon that finite resource. It also held that population would tend to exist at subsistence level only, since any surplus available would be swallowed up by the increase in numbers which it had evoked. Thus, in Text-fig. 2, at the technology level represented by the food production line OR, the population is restricted to Xb. Any increase above that would mean that the food supply Sb failed to increase sufficiently to maintain the subsistence level represented by OS, and by definition the surplus population would die. If the population fell below Sb, there would be a surplus food output above subsistence level, and the population would tend to rise accordingly.

If the food production were increased by an improved technology OR1,

however, a fresh population ceiling, Xc, could be attained, but this too would live only at subsistence level. Without wishing to accept all the assumptions of this model—particularly that which alleges a maximizing rather than an optimizing of population size at a given technology level it is possible to see a link between Malthus and the modern concept of a world of finite resources where the law of diminishing returns holds sway. The question which remains, however, is whether the OR lines can be indefinitely raised to permit increases in the population ceiling despite the finiteness of the planet.

To this there can be no easy answer, since future scientific and technological discoveries cannot possibly be foreseen. But it must be recognized that the human loading upon the planetary habitat is already on a scale beyond all previous experience, and that environmental degradation is being caused by both the input demands and the output discharge of consumer society. As Text-fig. 3 shows, the size of the arcs which represent the environmental degradation will vary with greater efficiency in the use ofresources, better re-cycling, and changes in per-capita exploitation. But whatever changes may take place in such respects, it is self-evident that population increase will over-ride all the likely economics and improvements in the decades ahead. Moreover, as the poor world strives to emulate the affluence of the present-day rich world, and as that rich world continues to increase its GNP, so the environment will be subject to much greater potential strains than those of today.

To tackle this planetary crisis will require a co-ordinated approach which recognizes, as Text-fig. 4 tries to summarize, the interdependence of the institutional forces and constraints which bear upon it. The variables are allocated under three major headings, with the sensitive action areas listed accordingly. Flanking the key decision-making political and economic structures of the given society we see a symmetrical grouping of critical resource and population components. The symmetry is deliberately intended, and each of the action areas has its twin under the opposite heading. Thus we can draw a parallel between the input (and conservation) of resources and the birth-input (and limitation) of human beings. Similarly, the transformation of output, by reducing wasteful effluent, is reminiscent of efforts to eliminate death as the great waster of human life.

The diagram, despite its obvious simplification of a complex situation, points to the multi-dimensional character of the population/resources predicament which different societies apprehend in so many different ways. In some countries the major attack by conservationists and birth controllers may have to be directed initially at the unrestricted and mindless market pressures which produce conspicuous waste and extravagance. In all probability, however (and this is a plea for recognition of the inherent complexity of the crisis we face as a species), there will be need for concerted attack on a broad front, with recognition that the struggle will not be easy in any sector.

Bangladesh Perspective

The population of Bangladesh has been passing through a difficult phase of transition. The population has already grown to a size that poses a formidable difficulty for the policymakers to plan for a sustainable development. The policies for education, health, industrialization, energy, social welfare and all other sectors have to take into account not only the prevailing population size but also the absolute size of the population during the next forty to fifty years. The population of Bangladesh may exceed the size of 200 millions during the next forty to fifty years due to population momentum even if replacement level is achieved in near future. This implies that without integrating the population concerns into the economic growth of the country, the problems will be multiplied in the future. Another concern that has gained importance during the past two decades is associated with the environmental issues. It has been observed that environmental concerns need to be linked with the population and economic growth factors, otherwise the survival of the population will be at stake. However, in the past, the linkage between population growth, economic growth and environmental degradation factors have not been examined critically in the setting of Bangladesh. This is of utmost priority for the policymakers now to delineate policies for sustainable development in the light of growth of population and environmental degradation.

The main objective of this paper is to highlight the issues concerning the interrelationship between Population and economic growth (P-D) as well as the relationship between population growth and environmental degradation (P-E) factors. These relationships can be examined within the broad framework of interrelationships among population growth, economic growth and environmental degradation which is known as PDE approach. The theoretical developments, mostly based on empirical findings from cross-national data, have been reviewed critically in view of the prevailing constraints in Bangladesh. Then some of the issues related to these linkages have been discussed in different sections. It is noteworthy that although a large number of research works have been conducted in the past separately in the broad fields of population and economic growth, however, very little is found concerning the linkage between population growth and economic growth. Similarly, any substantial contribution regarding the linkage between population growth and environmental issues is, almost non-existent in Bangladesh. However, there is a growing urgency to formulate and implement policies interlinking population growth, economic development and environment as was expressed in the ICPD, 1994. This is more important for a country like Bangladesh where achievements in economic growth and human resource development have been very slow but the rate of population growth was very fast in terms of absolute increase of the absolute size of the population. In addition, the natural resources of Bangladesh have been exploited almost to the level of their maximum potential particularly in the agriculture sector. Hence, the supply of food, as also many other socioeconomic necessities, will pose formidable challenge to the policymakers in the near future.


The inter relationships between population and economic growth and the environmental degradation factors have been examined within the broad framework of PDE approach. The theoretical developments based on the empirical findings of cross-national data are critically reviewed in view of the prevailing constraints in Bangladesh.


The paper gives an overview of the two schools of thought about population and development interlinkage i.e. the alarmist and revisionist views. According to the alarmist view the finite natural resources strictly limits the growth of human population and consumption, and when such limits are exceeded poverty and social breakdown will be the obvious outcomes. On the other hand, according to the revisionists the real problem of scarcity can be attributed to the maldistribution of resources and wealth. A third view, supported by Boserup, claims that the pressure of population growth against natural resource endowments is an important source of technological transfer in agriculture in preindustrial societies.


An independent inquiry report by the Australian government shows that there is no strong evidence of a relation between population growth and global resource use for the current generation. But there may be a carry over effect on the future generation because of improper use of exhaustible resources. This paper emphasises that this issue needs to be researched in Bangladesh. Issues like linkages between enrolment in schools, population pressure and impact of population growth on renewable resources are worth addressing in the Bangladesh context. For Bangladesh where the population size is quite high, the positive impact of population growth is not sufficient to offset the negative associations in the long run. The expenditures on health, nutrition and education of children generally show signs of decrease in the context of rapid growth of population and this can be a crucial factor in the relationship between population growth and economic growth in Bangladesh.

Population and Environment

According to the alarmists there is a close link between population growth and environment. However, the revisionists do not believe such an idea. The major criticism by them regarding the P-E approach is that although there might be some sort of linkage between population growth and economic growth, particularly in the developing countries, there is no such relationship between population growth and environmental problems. A 1986 report of the National Academy of Sciences termed population growth as the cause of resource exhaustion, but further argued that markets would eventually solve the problem of population growth and environmental degradation. Bangladesh has been increasingly confronting issues such as greenhouse effect, impact of climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, air and water pollution, energy crisis and its impact on the population. In addition, the country is facing growing problems arising out of urbanization due to rural over-population which has contributed to the emergence of urban slums and on floating population which have led to a particular variety of environmental problems such as deteriorating living standards in over crowded places, extensive use of polythene, lack of safe drinking water, Drainage.

Population and Economic Growth

The paper demonstrates that the relationship between population growth and economic growth can be explained to a great extent by the human capital accumulation factors of education, health and nutrition. In other words, the improvement in human capital accumulation factors can reduce the rate of population growth and can provide the necessary impetus to improve the economic growth of Bangladesh.

Population of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has achieved remarkable success in family planning programmes and thereby controlling population growth without much change in socio-economic conditions. FFYP, NIPHP and HPSP initiated a new strategy to integrate health and population programme, which need massive restructuring of the traditional organisational set up. The impact of these policy changes without any pilot test may significantly influence the existing level of achievement. In Bangladesh appropriate government policies and strategies are yet to be put in place in order to integrate the population concerns in the economic growth perspective. Four important factors associated with economic growth – age and sex composition, education and labour force participation – need to be examined on a priority basis in the context of Bangladesh. There are 2 major issues yet to be resolved for a smooth sustainable development process in the country which are (i) the heavy dependency on the donors which makes the whole population programme vulnerable, and (ii) the integration of population growth factors with the socio-economic factors that make the whole process more efficient and sustainable. The paper emphasises the need for a targeted approach to improve reproductive health conditions by putting in place a maternal health component in the integrated health and family planning service providing system, and thought that this required implementation on a priority basis.

Population Growth and Poverty

There is a relationship between population growth and the extent of income inequality. A decline in population growth results in a reduction in income inequality, and leads to an increase in the share of income for the poorest group of the population. In Bangladesh education has close association with income and that large families are likely to be poorer because of the higher dependency burden. Moreover, poverty is transmitted from one generation to another as poor families invest less in the development of their children. The paper suggests that the growth of non-farm sector can be one of the ways for reducing income inequality in rural areas.

Population Growth and Agriculture

The experience from the agricultural sector of Bangladesh reveals that the country has reached a point of maximum utilization in terms of potential arable land and intensity of cropping and the only option left is to improve the agricultural production through modernization of agriculture. It is also argued that without improving the human capital accumulation such a technological transformation may not be feasible.

Major variables:

In this paper three independent concepts are being used as major variables. These are poverty, sustainable development and environment.


The World Bank defines poverty as “the inability to attain a minimal standard of living” (World Bank, 1990:26). Poverty is generally defined in the following two ways: 1. lack of “means” in relation to “needs” and 2. lack of “means” in relation to “means” (Sen, 1999:12).

Sociologists distinguish between relative and absolute poverty. Absolute poverty occurs when people fail to receive sufficient resources to support a minimum of physical health and efficiency, often expressed in terms of calories or nutritional levels. Relative poverty is defined by the general standards of living in different societies and what is culturally defined as being poor rather than some absolute level of deprivation. When poverty is defined relatively, by reference to the living standards enjoyed by the bulk of a population, poverty levels vary between societies and within societies over time (The penguin dictionary of Sociology, 1994:328). Poverty is a complex problem and is product, at least, in part, of political process and policy development. As such it is also a political and a moral concept, which calls for political action. Poverty is thus not the same as inequality although the two concepts are interrelated.

Sustainable Development

The idea of sustainable development has attracted both developed and developing world with very different interests. Now-a-days, the term ‘sustainable development’ is used over a wide range of affairs from the world of commerce to the realm of social and human welfare in both developed and developing countries. The questions often asked are: “to what extent is to be sustained?” or “how the idea of ‘sustainable development’ be translated into principles on which practicable and effective policies can be based and which will reverse current unsustainable trends of resource depletion and human oppression in developing world?” (Hossain, 1998).

The idea of “sustainability” received serious attention in the so-called Brundtland Commission Report, ‘Our Common Future’ (1987). The report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” Brundtland’s way of seeing the ends of sustainability has many attractive features (Sen, 2000:2). In broad terms the concept of sustainable development encompasses: a) help for the very poor because they are left with no other option but to destroy their own environment; b) people centered initiatives are needed; c) human beings are the resources (Tolba, 1987). In fact it is a kind of development that is likely to achieve lasting satisfaction of human needs and improvement of the quality of human life (Allen, 1980).


It is difficult to define environment. The word ‘environment’ is a vast one: ranging from microbic action to the size of world population (Nasreen, 2000). Environment has been defined as “the aggregate of all the external conditions and influences affecting the life and development of an organism” (The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). The aim then, with either individual organism or communities, is to distinguish between factors arising from outside the system and factors inherent in the system itself. This sounds simple enough, but in practice the distinction between organism and environment is not always easy to make (International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1984:91).

Sustainable development: Theoretical Perspective

Sustainable development first came to prominence in World Conservation Strategy (WCS) in the year 1980. It achieved a new status after the publication of ‘North and South: a programme for survival and common crisis’ in 1983 (popularly known as Brundtland Commission Report) and ‘Our Common Future’ in 1987. In June 1992 sustainable development gained greater attention at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The last World Summit (August-September, 2002) further emphasized the importance of the issue of sustainability. In Bangladesh, as in many developing countries, the concept ‘sustainable development’ is a highly discussed topic but very little action is taken on the basis of these discussions.

The definition given by Brundtland Commission, while useful in drawing attention to the concern with the long term implications of present day development, ask as many questions as it answers. What constitutes “needs” and how will these change over time? What reductions in the options available to future generations? What options are acceptable and what are not? The operational aspects of sustainable development were not answered by the Commission, although the report itself gave strong hints that the environmental degradation resulting from today’s economic policies was a major source of concern from a sustainability view point (Markandya, 2001:2). Here we have found serious economic and environmental debates. From economic perspective, some of the earlier contributors (Pearce, Markandya, and Barbier, 1990) suggested sustainable development should imply that no generation in the future would be worst of than the present generation. In other words society should not allow welfare to fall over time. In the last 170 years or so, some OECD countries have achieved a slow rate of economic growth of 1-2 percent per capita annum increase in terms of Gross Domestic Product. (Maddison, 1995). Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, is advocating a high increase of GDP, but the number of landless people is increasing, unfit for the high rate of GDP. According to GOB, 57 percent of rural people are landless and live below poverty line. This is amply demonstrated in the data below.

Table 1. The Rate of Landless People in Bangladesh

Year LandlessPeople(in percent)
1947 14.30
1970 19.80
1975 32.00
1984 46.00
2001 68.8

Economists have turned to looking at changes in the stock of wealth, where wealth is defined to include natural, human, physical and social capital (World Bank, 1997). If society’s wealth per capita is declining, future generations have to live with less resources with the present level of consumption. Unfortunately it is quite difficult to measure all these forms of capital for any one country and even more difficult to do so in a way that permits comparison across countries (Hamilton and Clemens, 1999 and Hamilton, 2000). To show that the present tendencies in consumption behavior are unsustainable it supplements the idea of sustainable development by indicating that many consumption habits would have to be changed because they would interfere with the requirements of sustainable development (Sen, 2000:6). In the instrumental context, sustainability of consumption can help to illuminate the constraints that operate is pursuing long run development in general and improving sustainable development in particular. Indeed, even the danger of over population can be optimistically viewed. In this context, Bangladesh and other developing counties that have high population could follow the sustainable consumption policy to alleviate poverty to overcome the population problem itself. Sen (2000) further argued that it is also true that the rate of population has been falling too, and while fertility rates have declined unevenly across the globe, the lessons from the more successful cases can be learned and used in other countries as well. Thus the traditional concept of sustainable development provides some warnings about human capital, natural resources and environment. The modern economic development, on the other hand, that occurred through technological advancement jeopardizes the ecological and economic sustainability. Lopez (1992:74) also refers to both “external” factors and “internal” factors that degrade the environment. Markandya (2001) further refers that per capita economic development degrades the environment and natural resources, a function of population policy changes and changes in institutional arrangement.

A popular line of reasoning among researchers begins by noting that a number of undesirable agriculture related policies have been introduced in the recent past, especially in developing countries. As a consequence of these policies, according to this line of argument, there had been an increased proliferation of environmental degradation causing miseries to the poorer communities. Following this line De Janvry and Garcia (1998) list the proximate causes of environmental degradation by the poor as presented below:

• Soil erosion due to excessive agricultural crop and serial production.

• Semi-proletarianization of the rural population and a collapse of local institutions due to agricultural modernization.

• Degradation of natural resources including forestry as a result of migrants seeking law (Janvry and Garcia, 1998:7).

According to Dasgupta (1995, 1996), ‘as common resource management system break down, individuals are more able and willing to make family size decisions that does not take full account of social costs of child rearing with use of common resources treated as a free good’ (Dasgupta,1996:8). It may be stated that a “self correcting” mechanism can exist, which implies that institutions evolve so as to respond to a deteriorating rural environment by increasing the level of cooperation over common resources (Markandya, 2001:9). Undoubtedly the most controversial of the internal factors is that of population growth. Many commentators point to the effects of increases in overall population in terms of pressure on land and increase in environmental degradation (Janvry and Garcia, 1988). From the experience of Kenya the colonial policy in the developing world and the load of population could be explained by a number of factors (Tiffen, 1994). The problem is to know how much of this was due to a) the opening of land for all users, b) investment in infrastructure, c) access to non farm employment opportunities, d) technological development that were brought in from outside the region, and e) price incentive for products that were relatively environmentally benign. This inevitably leads to the question as to whether the reduction of population growth into half lends to consequential change in land that could be more environmentally beneficial.

Poverty and development

Poverty has devastating effects on people’s life especially on physical, psychological and economic aspects. Poor people suffer from physical pain that comes with too little food and long hours of work; emotional pain stems from the daily humiliations of dependency and lack of power; and the moral pain comes from being forced to make choices such as to use limited funds to save the life of an ill family member, or to use the same fund to feed children (Narayan, 2002:3). Poverty remains a major challenge for our planet in the new millennium in spite of global efforts for poverty alleviation. The global poverty discourses over the last 30 years have been shaped by meta narratives of high radicalism, a massive head count ritual, a less visible drama of exclusion and an elusive search for program impacts. Poverty has been viewed as “individual deficits”, social disadvantages and denial of specific rights or access to minimal resources. Poverty studies have thus mostly focused on the change in such deficits or disadvantages (Islam, 2003:1).

There have been different estimates on the level of poverty in Bangladesh. Poverty studies mainly concentrate on the measurement of poverty and the estimation of its magnitude. For this purpose, two methods are used to estimates poverty line, a) calorie intake and b) cost of basic needs (CBN) method. Two types of poor are distinguished under calorie intake, a) hard core poor; having less than 1,805 kcal per person per day and b) absolute poor; having less than 2,122 kcal per person per day. (GOB, 2001:55).

The CNB method constructs poverty line, which represent the level per capita expenditure at which the members of households can be expected to meet their basic needs, food and non-food. The allowance for non-food consumption yields two poverty lines, a) lower, which incorporates a minimal allowance for non-food goods for those who could just afford the food requirement, and b) upper, which makes a generous allowance for non-food spending for those who just attain the food requirement (GOB, 2001:55-6).

In a study of the Asian Development Bank (1997), urban absolute and hardcore income poverty lines are determined at Taka 3,500 (US$88 equivalent) and Taka 2,500 (US$63 equivalent) per household per month respectively. Thus the concept of poverty and its measurement has remained heavily economic and all poverty measurements ultimately boil down to income poverty. Even human development index (HDI) and gender related development index (GDI) have an income component. Thus a cultural construction of poverty has remained in oblivion.

Reducing poverty is the central theme of development dialogue in Bangladesh. According to government statistics poverty has declined in the 1990s, but still it remains at the greatest challenges to the nation. Both the lower and upper poverty lines indicate a statistically significant decline in poverty after 1991-92. The incidence of the very poor declined from 43 percent of the population in 1991-92 to 36 percent in 1995-96; the incidence of the poor declined from 59 to 53 percent. Although poverty has declined in both rural and urban areas, rural poverty is still higher than urban poverty. Reducing the poverty of the very poor in rural areas (which was 40 percent of the rural population in 1995-96), remained a massive challenge. The growing inequality associated with economic growth in Bangladesh does not imply that growth should not be pursued. Rising inequality has reduced the rate of poverty reduction. Over the period 1991-92 to 1995-96, inequality raised the least with agricultural growth, and as a result the net elasticity of poverty with respect to growth was the largest in agriculture. Public expenditures reduced poverty, but their targeting and efficiency requires further improvement. Government programs, such as Food for Education, Vulnerable Group Development, Test Relief, and Rural Maintenance are well targeted. A detailed assessment of Food for Education, the fastest growing program, shows that it raised primary school attendance and is also cost-effective, as measured by its long term impact. The role of NGOs in Bangladesh is unique: vital resource for faster poverty reduction can be achieved by them, but more is to be done to support partnership with Government. Bangladesh is pioneer in innovative NGO programs. The report made by World Bank that was presented as executive summary of the 1998 on Bangladesh poverty assessment. This report is part of a long term process of capacity building and mainstreaming of poverty analysis in Bangladesh. Its findings suggest five pillars of a possible poverty reduction strategy accelerating economic growth, promoting education for the poor particularly primary education, and more specifically for girls; investing in poor areas to take advantage of strong location effects on poverty reduction; improved targeting of public expenditures and safety nets to reach the poor better; and forming further partnerships with NGOs to reach poorest and not-so-poor in ways designed to make a stronger attack on poverty (

The Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has noted that in recent times Bangladesh experienced an unusual sharp reduction in fertility rates. This is associated, it appears, with a variety of factors, including the expansion of family planning opportunities, greater involvement of women in economic activities (for example, through micro-credit movements), and much public discussion on the need to change the prevailing patterns of gender disparity, the greater social and economic role of women in Bangladesh has been widely noted (Sen, 2000:10).

A convenient starting point for a strategy of poverty reduction would be initiated if the multi-dimensional nature of poverty is taken into consideration. Consequently, it would call for sub-strategies to address four problems: a) lack of economic opportunity, related to low economic growth, the level and distribution of physical assets such as land, human capital and social assets, and market opportunities which determine the returns of these assets b) low human capabilities, related to improvements in health and education indicators, especially among specific socio economic groups. c) low level of security, related to exposure to risk and income shocks, which may arise at the national, local, household or individual level and may be due to natural disasters as well as socio economic factors, and d) lack of empowerment, related to the capacity of poor people to influence state institutions and social processes that shape resource allocations and public policy choices. (Frederick and Zaidi, 2004:1). These are the most common features of Bangladesh poverty alleviation scenario without the notion of environmental concern.

The major portion of the development scenario has been prescribed by the World Bank, IMF and other development agencies as a part of top-down approach, which is obviously not environmental friendly. Here the question of sustainability has been raised to a greater extent.

During the 1970s, when Bangladesh come into existence as an independent nation, many scholars and observers either termed it a baskets case or were worried about its economic viability(Kissinger,1973;Arthur and Nicoll,1975; Khan and Hossain, 1989) But the nation ,since then has made some progress in population control, food self-sufficiency, and innovative community level approach to poverty alleviation and economic and social development, in addition to the restoration of the democratic system of governance (:Khandker et al,1994;World Bank, 1998.)

Most of the Governments of Bangladesh have concentrated on a vigorous countryside program of poverty alleviation. Firstly, fundamentalists may sometimes oppose the poverty alleviation program such as women employment and women emancipation. But the overwhelming majority of the rural people from all walks of life are highly appreciative and supportive off all poverty alleviation programs. Second, making foreign aid available is the key concern of foreign donors in poverty alleviation program, and the availability of simple, cost effective, and modern technologies have made poverty alleviation program a viable proposition. Money and resources themselves, though necessary, are not sufficient for an effective poverty alleviation program, since political and economic inequality distort its actual implementation capacity. Therefore the process is slow in showing progress in poverty alleviation (Amin and Pierre, 2002: 26).

The overall performances of the public sector, the largest leading sector concerned with delivering basic public services in health, education, agriculture and poverty alleviation in rural Bangladesh, is far from satisfactory. Many of these government agencies are inefficient,

ineffective, with no accountability, and therefore, unable to deal with the backlogged and emergency needs of the people.(The World Bank,1998). As Blauner and Wellman (1973) poignantly observe in a not altogether different contexts, the authority of the poor and the powerless to diagnose group problem and interpret culture and lifestyles (Pivots around notion of group self definition and self-determinations [and is] central to the consciousness of the racially oppressed. This means that the rural poor of Bangladesh must be treated as subjects and not, as it now seems to be the case, objects.

It may, however be mentioned here that many of the NGOs who prefer to practice poverty alleviation, in effect have turned themselves into business organizations which help them to accumulate capital. In fact from the very initial stage of capital formation foreign assistance played a dominant part and thereby raises questions as to their bonafide in proposed aim of alleviating poverty.

Environment and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper

Being directed by IMF and the World Bank, Government of Bangladesh has finally produced the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in October 20053. Although Government declared that the PRSP has been finalized in a participatory way, many believe that such participation was restricted to bureaucratic dependency. The non-participation of politicians in the process has been identified as one of the major weaknesses. Because poverty has been identified as a political issue, the non-participation of political leaders and of people in finalizing PRSP makes Government’s good wills questionable. However, the discussion on environment in the PRSP has been done under the ‘Supporting Strategy IV: Caring for the Environment and Sustainable Development’. PRSP has been emphasized on the achievements in reducing poverty and way forward through different activities.

The issues included in PRSP on environment are: Conservation of Nature, Agricultural Land Degradation and Salinity, Biodiversity, Public Commons (resources), Rural Energy and Afforestation (including tree plantation) and Urbanization Related Environmental Issues. To combat pollution PRSP also included discussion on air pollution, water pollution, rural water and arsenic pollution, noise pollution and International aspects of environment. Some policy agendas for 2005-2007 have been identified in the strategy paper such as ensuring sustainable employment for the poor, coordinating among all the policy and planning related to environment, emphasizing the environmental analysis while planning and implementing projects and focusing on achieving main goals such as increasing the opportunities of poor for production, collection of :

3 Unlocking the Potential: National Strategy for Accelerate Poverty Reduction, General Economic Division Planning Commission, GoB, 2005. Natural resources to improve health and nutrition, increasing access of poor to common resources and increasing the participation of poor in forest resource management. The processes of implementing such strategic goals have already been started through projects under NEMAP and SEMP.

Implementing Act for saving environment, proper utilization of environmental law, decreasing deforestation, saving bio-diversity, controlling air pollution, improving the waste management system, improving the livelihood and environment of slum dwellers, mainstreaming environmental issues with other relevant policies, activities and projects are the other aims of PRSP related to environment. Some process and policy agendas have already been taken to achieve such goals.

However, whatever hope PRSP raises, there are limitations regarding its discussion on environment. For example, by the name of saving biodiversity such areas were identified (be it Sundarban or Hakaluki haor or Gulshan-Baridhara), where many of the poor people live and maintain their sustenance. PRSP does not provide any suggestion regarding the alternative for their sustenance or ensuring their participation in the process. The possibility of poor people’s access to village common property resources is hardly possible as either there is no common resource in rural areas or the poor do not have access to it.

Although the discussion on environment in PRSP has been included as a supporting strategy, it has included ‘social forestry’ under the major strategic block. However, there is no clear direction in PRSP on various debatable issues related to forestry such as the negative impacts of foreign tree species on environment, Eco-park etc. Increasing the intensity of cyclone and rising of sea level as a result of global climate change also did not receive due attention in the PRSP.

There are some highlights on the water management in the strategy paper which includes the limitations of using underground water or encouraging using surface water. However, the increasing marketing system of water and people’s continuous dependency on bottled water have been ignored by the PRSP. Moreover, the problem of arsenic contamination in groundwater, one of the major concerns of most people in Bangladesh, has not received proper attention and is restricted to three sentences only.

The discussion on rural energy resources in PRSP did not provide any specific direction on how to encourage people to use renewable energy through reducing dependency on non-renewable energy. The participation and access of the poor to alternative techniques of energy use has not been elaborately discussed. Moreover, PRSP did not give importance to implementing the renewable energy policy 2002 of GoB, where the use of biomass, hydro electric power, and solar energy has been emphasized.

Finally, PRSP ignored the international context of environmental problems. In many occasions poor people are blamed as the polluters of environment, which should not be accepted. This is because the degradation in the environment is done more by the industrialized countries than the poor/non-industrialized countries. There is no such discussion in the PRSP. Moreover the reservation of rich countries in implementing the Quito protocol and regional problems, such as planning of river linking project, constructing Tipaimukh or other barrages by India , have not been mentioned.

Environment and economic development

Economic development should help reduce poverty and improve the environment. But the unplanned development activities contribute to severe environmental degradation in developing countries. A significant problem in environmental regulation in developing countries arises from difficulties in controlling small scale enterprises, because of their limited financial and human resources, and low-level of technology.( Markandya,2000:12). The vulnerable are often the users of marginal resources and also dependent on the common resources of the community in which they live. (Dasgupta, 2001:10). Hence it is these groups that are most impacted when deforestation, soil erosion and other negative incidence occur, often as a result of natural disasters. (Dasgupta, 2001:10). We can here show a silent feature of infrastructure development activities such as construction of roads, railways, set-up of modern industrial units, massive industrial plantation, plantation of exotic trees, tea plantation, construction of office buildings, settlement of people in the hilly areas, unplanned and haphazard urban and industrial development process, modern agricultural production system and trade and commerce and business etc. that created tremendous ecological imbalance due to indiscriminate utilization and destruction of natural resources.

Moreover, excessive and indiscriminate use of pesticide and chemical fertilizers have negative externalities as they adversely affect agricultural land as well as environment. Also these chemical pollutants through runoff and seepage contaminated ground and surface water.

The unplanned development activities have a serious negative impact on capturing fisheries due to substantial reductions in flood prone areas, which get inundated regularly. Unplanned intensive tourism causes severe threat to forest and affects the daily life of the local people including adivasi community. It also means that it affects our environment.

A gas field was discovered just beside the boundary of the west Bhanugach forest reserve (WBFR), an area of about 10 hector was cleared and fenced off within 100 meters of the forest.

4 Nasreen, Mahbuba, PRSP and Environment, Poribesh (BAPA Newsletter), 4th year, First issue, January-February, 2006.

There a narrow metal road was constructed inside the forest, which has become extremely busy. As a result the whole area has become crowded because of this massive activity. After one and half years of experimentation with digging for gas, the whole gas field exploded. The gas burned for nearly 15 days. This explosion had adverse effects on the wild life and the environment, the only the cause of which was exploitation and not real development activities.

More recently, Government of Bangladesh has taken an initiative to establish a number of eco-parks in Modhupur of Tangail district and CHTs. But it would really have a devastating effect for the indigenous people of the territory. It will uproot hundreds and thousand of adivasi people along with the loss of sustainable livelihood for the sub center.

Development, environmental issues and global politics are highly interrelated. Environmental degradation in the developing countries is associated with several factors: urban congestion, industrial pollution, toxic waste disposal problems, sewage pollution, over grazing, denudation of forests and above all political unwillingness. There is increasing pressure on the environment due to activities of farming of marginal lands, gathering fuel wood supplies by the poor for commercial use in towns and for personal consumption, or even exports to the developed world. (Shiva,1992:118). Being at the bottom of the socio-economic structure the poor get the worst of everything including pollution. To these problems of population growth and poverty we can trace almost all our major environmental problems. Various environmental problems are being found in the third world countries due to: 1. a major drawback of the third world countries is that their political process involving environmental issues are not considered relevant data thoughtfully gathered, and these restrains the flexibility needed to move towards achieving specific objectives.2. Absences of consensus on environmental goals leave us with different perceptions of environmental protection. With the limited awareness in these countries “priorities” is a word that carries all diverse economic, political and religious beliefs. 3. The design of law itself is also a problem and very often the people pay without receiving environmental or social benefits of corresponding values. 4. Regulatory agencies are battered from all sides by interest groups and very few bureaucrats are fired if they fail to act appropriately (Shiva, 1992:135-6). Economic growth is not necessarily good. Underdeveloped and effects of development have led to a series of environmental problems in Third world countries which even if local in nature can lead to multifarious effects at the regional and global levels as environment operates in the forum of an integrated system.(Shiva, 1992:126). Developed countries are blaming the Third world countries for environmental degradation. But the 80 percent of global resources are consumed by the developing nations with the consequent harmful environmental degradation. From the eco-political point of view, the top down approach of poverty alleviation caused this ecological imbalance. Governments of the poor countries are not capable of taking the right decision to

protect their environment due to tariff barrier, foreign aid, grants, loans, and the politics of international trade. If the people of the developed world change their consumption pattern, it would balance the ecology and environment of world system.

Gender, poverty and sustainable development

The concept ‘gender’ is widely used in the development discourse in Bangladesh. In the highly stratified society the relational analysis of gender inequality and development is still far from the desired goal. In Bangladesh poverty is gendered and women are the poorest of the poor. Women face number of problems due to their gender identity.

It is evident that globalization has failed to address the issues of economic and environmental sustainability, particularly in the agricultural and informal sectors. Moreover, globalization tends to increase income inequality between different sectors and groups. The rising tide of Globalization has not lifted all women. The poor, less educated and credit-constraint women may not see most of the benefits of globalization at all. Majority of women are unlikely to benefit from liberalization policies because these programmers do not take account of gender specific impacts (Nasreen,