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Every crisis brings several opportunities

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Every crisis brings several opportunities

Nazma Sultana Lily & Saeed Ahmed Siddiquee

Darwin noted, the most adaptive species are the fittest. Despite of having existing hoax, COVID- 19 has already created a deeper socio-economic disruption in our country. Pandemic may cause deep and lasting recession that will widen further monetary crises and economic gap between countries. The burning question is how countries are responding to this crisis on the varied context.

Bangladesh’s mandate is to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 by anticipating official ‘developing country’ status by 2024 through the upcoming 8th five year plan (fiscal year 2021-2025) and expectantly build a ‘developed country’ by fulfilling the vision 2041. Aiming to achieve SDGs in all countries will require additional global investments in the range of US$5 trillion to US$7 trillion per year up to 2030 (Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, 2019). Bangladesh would require USD 2,000 to USD 3,000 billion by 2030 to meet the SDGs (Bangladesh Development Forum, 2020). Besides, government’s General Economics Division under Planning Commission says, apart from internal financial contribution, an average share of around 15% is being projected from the external sources where the share of Foreign Direct Investment is 10% and Development Partners (DPs) financial contribution is 5% of total SDG financing including NGOs contribution of around 4%.

Let’s talk about the opportunities between 8th five year plan and DPs! DPs and CSOs can play vital roles in the 8th five year plan by supporting government in the domain of private sector engagement, utilization of youth and demographic dividend through innovative SME financing, climate financing, primary healthcare for all, smart urbanization, better citizen services, quality education for all, ensuring transparency and accountability as well. Therefore, prioritization of similar strategies by the DPs/CSOs would be required by synchronizing their respective developmental plans in line with the government’s priority.

To ensure the rapid transformation of rural Bangladesh, a major strategy and one of the electoral manifestos titled ‘My Village-My Town’ which aims to bring modern civic amenities to every village, has to be reflected by the government’s plan of action. The question is how these goals be achieved? Apart from the government’s approach of integrated rural planning, CSOs can take part to reach out the remote communities in hard-to-reach areas. Therefore, DPs can contribute to this particular theme by providing technical assistance on government’s delivery mechanisms (both in supply and demand side), sufficient funding and competent human resources.

CSOs may develop a strategy to monitor and participate in the implementation of Prime Minister’s stimulus packages worth of BDT 103,117 crore to address the impact of coronavirus. Just as a poke, currently only 4.2 USD (nearly 357 BDT) per person per year is spent on health from the government budget. Out of pocket expenditures on health account for a further 10.4 USD (nearly 884 BDT) per person per year (Health Care Financing Strategy, 2012-2032). Even if possible, DPs and CSOs can seek membership in the national level COVID-19 management committees to contribute holistically. Of course, the adoption and execution of the government’s ‘zero tolerance policy’ against corruption would be essential in this regard.

The government’s target is to create 1.13 crore new jobs in the next 8th five year plan by generating around 20-22 lakh new jobs each year from fiscal 2020-21 to 2024-25. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 2018, 60% of our population is of working age and 35% of it consists of the youth. Henceforth, the concept of job creations can be spread across the country by covering the number of jobs horizontally but with vertically also by ensuring job seekers financial opportunity. To perceive what kind of job opportunities will be created in the next five years, universities should give emphasis to research on this. Indeed, DPs extensive assistance is a must for fulfilling the government’s target of creating new jobs by 2025 aiming to remain country’s economic growth.

As of January 2020, more than 2500 CSOs are registered in Bangladesh according to NGO Affairs Bureau which was around 7000 in 2014. Drastically the number of CSOs has been shrunk. Only a small number of philanthropic DPs are being engaged in advocacy to challenge shrinking space, most do not. As recognized by the 2030 Agenda, CSOs can play critical roles in SDG implementation by several means like by raising awareness and mobilizing the remote communities, building capacity across the implementers, reviewing policies and hold governments accountable to their commitments to achieve the vision. Likewise, project proposal from the CSOs should be well aligned with national priorities and country’s agreed SDGs targets. It should also avoid duplication of interventions among the entities by covering maximum marginalized and vulnerable communities across the country. Presently CSOs are in an uncomfortable position by running out of funds and facing tighter scrutiny from the government- which needs to be minimized sincerely for ensuring a better balance between GO and NGOs. No goal or target can be achieved in isolation and to establish the concept of SDG forum ‘whole of society approach’.

Ultimately it can be assumed that, Bangladesh is going to be entered into another economic recession period due to COVID- 19 pandemic like the other low economic countries of the world. To overcome it, best combination of the economic, environmental and political approaches (termed as ‘rainbow stimulus’ by Overseas Development Institute) can be explored by the government. Meanwhile, DPs can contribute to more aid for trade, investment in infrastructure, support for green growth, improved social protection and ensure good governance.

Every crisis brings several opportunities! If we consider COVID- 19 as a catalyst for positive change then it might open several windows for changes. Moreover, if we sustain the lockdown for a longer period, the economic scarcity might be deeper as a result, the recovery of the country’s economy might also be slower. Direction from the GoB and dispersion of aids from the DPs, deployment of the tasks from the CSOs all together can achieve people’s final destination. We the common people can’t ever compromise our hope to achieve a widen, deepen and brighter future for the country.

Nazma Sultana Lily and Saeed Ahmed Siddiquee work in the development sector of Bangladesh.

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