SDGs implementation: Where does Bangladesh stand?

World map showing countries that are closest to meeting the SDGs (in dark blue) and those with the greatest remaining challenges (in the lightest shade of blue) in 2018.

Shamsul Alam | December 9, 2019

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a follow-up on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 and completed in 2015. However, SDGs differ from MDGs in many aspects. SDGs want to ensure that ‘No One is Left Behind!’. The new goals have been envisioned to enable countries to utilise their own financial resources and capacity and seek assistance from developed countries on areas where they fall short. SDGs also focus on quality rather than just quantity. For example, MDGs focused on high enrollment while SDG has targeted education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyle. In the global context, the MDGs fell short of meeting the expectation of developing a global partnership for development. Therefore, the SDGs envisaged itself as integrated, indivisible, multi-dimensional global set of objectives and endorsed the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA) and adopted the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), within its purview.

The United Nations (UN) Member States formally adopted the SDGs agenda on September 25, 2015. The 17 SDGs, and its associated 169 targets with 232 indicators, aim to end poverty, hunger and inequality; act on climate change and the environment; improve access to health and education; care for people and the planet; and build strong institutions and partnerships.

Out of the 17 SDGs, Bangladesh has made considerable progress on reducing extreme poverty (Goal-1) measured by $1.90 a day or by national poverty line. In 2018, the proportion of population living below the international poverty line (absolute poverty) was 11.3 per cent compared to 19.6 per cent in 2010. On the other hand, the proportion of population living below the national poverty line was 21.6 per cent in 2018 as opposed to 31.5 per cent in 2010. Similarly, the progress on expanding coverage of social protection and proportion of government expenditure on services as share of total government expenditure has been remarkable during the last decade. The trends of coverage of social safety net programme rose to 58.1 per cent (nationally) in 2019 compared to 24.6 per cent in 2010.

Bangladesh is moving steadfastly towards ensuring access of 100 per cent of poor household (by 2021) to electricity (Goal-7) well ahead of the target time in 2025; it reached to 92.2 per cent in 2019 which was only 55.26 per cent in 2010. The proportion of population with access to clean fuels and technology for cooking increased to 19.0 per cent in 2019. The combined effect of slow increase in renewable energy and fast increase in non-renewable energy is the main reason of low share of renewable energy in the total final energy consumption. However, the situation is improving gradually.

Bangladesh has made an upward shift in the average annual growth rate (Goal-8) to 7.0 per cent plus in the recent years (FY2015-FY2018), attained 7.86 per cent in FY 2018 and estimated to attain 8.13 per cent in FY 2019. This growth rate coupled with slower population growth led to increasing per person GDP (gross domestic product) growth and the country is nearly on track to achieve the 2020 target. The estimated unemployment rate in Bangladesh, on the other hand, has been closer to 4.0 per cent for a long time. Recent GED (General Economics Division, Bangladesh Planning Commission) Survey revealed that the unemployment rate in the country is 3.1 per cent (2018).

Progress on reducing stunting, which stood at 28.0 per cent in 2019, is on track at the current rate of reduction. Similarly, progress on reducing wasting, which stood at 8.4 per cent, is also on track. However, total official flow to agriculture sector is low mainly because of changing preferences of development partners in aid allocation over time. It will require alignment of aid policy in view of SDGs emphasis on international support to agriculture. Obesity is also being emerging as a problem among children. In 2011, overweight among children under 5 years of age was 1.9 per cent that increased to 2.4 per cent in 2019.

Bangladesh has also made good progress in SDG-5 in recent times. The proportion of female members in the Parliament has been slowly increasing over time reaching 20.88 per cent in 2019 which was 12.42 per cent in 2001. The situation of women empowerment and gender equality appears promising from this perspective. In a recent report by World Economic Forum (2018), Bangladesh is the only country in South Asia which has been ranked under 100 (48th) in women empowerment. However, still women and girls aged 15 years and over are subjected to different types of violence by their current or former intimate partners as well as by persons who are not intimate partners.

In SDG-9, the share of manufacturing value added in GDP in the country has been increasing significantly – exceeding the 2020 milestone in FY2017. The share of manufacturing employment in total employment increased up to 2013 and then leveled off in the last two years. Total international support to infrastructure has been increasing with some annual fluctuation. The proportion of population covered by 2G mobile network has reached close to 100 per cent, while the 2020 milestone has already been achieved in June 2019 in case of 3G technology. 4G coverage reached to 79 per cent in June 2019. On the contrary, the country is lagging behind in scientific research, sustainable and resilient infrastructure to support economic development.

In fighting against the climate change issue (Goal-13), Bangladesh has made a reasonable progress by approving Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies of Bangladesh (2016-2020) in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and other international protocol ratified by the Government of Bangladesh. Number of deaths, missing persons and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population was 12,881 in 2014 with a target of reducing to 6500 by 2020 and 1500 by 2030. Given the track record of Bangladesh in disaster management, this target should not be difficult to achieve.

Bangladesh has adopted a long-term integrated techno-economic plan i.e. Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100, for safety, food security, sustained economic growth and environmental sustainability with effectively reducing the climate change and other delta-related disasters through robust, equitable and adaptive strategies and governance. BDP 2100 is a long-term adaptation strategy emphasising nature-based solutions.

Bangladesh has recently gained a vast swath of marine territory (118,813 sq. km in total). This marine area is rich in natural gas resources and biodiversity. Conservation and sustainable use of these resources are essential for sustainable development (Goal-14). In recent times, two marine protected areas have been declared – one targeting Hilsa breeding ground and the other targeting Cetaceans. Major success has been achieved in Hilsa protection with production almost doubling in last 15 years. According to Department of Forest (2016-17), coverage of protected areas in relation to marine areas is 7.94 per cent.

In order to protect its very rich bio-diversity, the country has taken many steps under SDG-15, among which some are continuing moratorium on tree felling, declaring ECAs (Ecologically Critical Areas), creating special bio-diversity zones and creating two vulture safe zones. Strong implementation is required in order to safeguard the bio-diversity. The forest coverage of the country now stands at 14.47 per cent (Bangladesh Forest Department or BFD, 2018). Bangladesh has successfully brought large swath of newly accreted coastal lands under afforestation. Currently 140,000 ha of land is under mangrove plantation. Coastal afforestation programme has been accelerated to bring more lands under afforestation. Besides, Bangladesh currently has 40 Protected Areas (PA) in different locations. A total of 21 PAs (7 National Parks, 12 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 1 Marine PA and 1 Special Biodiversity Conservation Area) have been declared by the government to conserve wildlife and their habitats since 2010. In 2015, 1.7 per cent of the terrestrial area was covered under PA, which was increased to 3.08 per cent in 2018.

Achieving SDGs will critically depend on the availability of resources (including external resources) and global partnership (Goal-17). Data on ODA (official development assistance) indicate modest growth although its contribution to the national budget fell marginally in the recent years. Similarly, inflow of FDI (foreign direct invesetment) and remittance requires substantial increase. In this connection, Bangladesh government has emphasised the need for enhanced international cooperation and support for achieving 62 of the 169 targets. International community needs to provide adequate and timely support to Bangladesh to help implement a comprehensive and all-encompassing development agenda like SDGs by 2030.


n Effective coordination among ministries/divisions is needed for expediting implementation of the SDGs action plan.

n Resource mobilization, particularly from external sources, remains a big challenge.

n The National Social Security requires substantial increase in resources and streamlined efforts for implementation.

n Capacity of the National Statistical Organisation has to be accelerated to generate data required for tracking SDG progresses.

n Eradication of violence against women, prevention of child marriage and addressing gender digital divide.

n LNG (liquefied natural gas) imports expose Bangladesh to international gas trade price which has several consequences. The weighted average of Bangladesh gas tariff is estimated to jump from $ 1.7 per gigajoules to at least $ 3.1 per gigajoules. Building huge infrastructure, including port, rail transport and coal stocking structures, to handle this massive volume of coal is a challenge.

n Energy pricing and subsidies present a challenge to the economy.

n Inconsistency between skills demand and supply, high cost of migration etc.

n Highly educated women face high unemployment rates.

n The net FDI flow has been low and concentrated on a few sectors.

n Recent influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar is putting pressure on forests in Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar range. Already 6000 acres of forest land have been allotted for temporary housing of the refugees.

n LDC (least developed country) graduation may pose additional challenges in future in terms of losing international trade preferences and support mechanism.

n Skill issue with potential migrant workers requires substantial attention.


n The current Five Year Plan (FY2016-FY2020) emphasises on employment generation for increasing labour force by fostering creation of productive and inclusive jobs in the economy.

n Concerted efforts and policy supports to agricultural diversification.

n Accelerated investment in agricultural research for development of stress tolerant crop varieties and technological innovation (Tk 1.0 billion or 100 crore earmarked in the last budget).

n Encouraging private investment through infrastructure development and promoting Special Economic Zones.

n Expanding social protection programmes and microfinance programmes.

n The government is introducing highly efficient power plants to the national power grid. Eligible single cycle power plants are being upgraded to combined cycle power plants.

n All the upcoming coal power plants are being equipped with latest ultra-supercritical technology, flue gas desulphurisation and electrostatic precipitator to minimise the impact on environment.

n Floating Storage Regasification Units (FSRUs) are under construction for importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

n The government is giving assistance to the private sector in terms of incentives for implementing renewable energy-based generation facilities.

n Increased flow of FDI as part of its strategy to mobilise significantly bigger amount of resources for achieving accelerated growth, poverty reduction and employment generation with renewed emphasis on domestic resource mobilisation.

n In facing the climate change scenarios, Bangladesh is well prepared with a number of climate change-related strategies, plans and actions. Through Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), it has spent around Tk 27 billion (2700 crore) over the last eight years in climate change adaptation measures. Bangladesh has adopted a hundred-year Delta Plan to face up climate change adverse impacts.

n The government has already imposed a 2-month fishing ban in the Bay of Bengal during fish breeding season in order to conserve fish resources. In order to assess the fish stock of the Bay, a fish stock assessment survey has been started this year.

n An estimated 50000 ha. land of hill forest and 5000 ha. of plain land forest will be planted during the 7th FYP period. An area of 3000 ha. will be planted and replanted in the coastal areas.

n The existing mature coastal plantations will remain for reinforcing green belt.

n Focus has been given to raise tax base and revenue collection.

PROSPECTS OF REGIONAL COOPERATION ON ACHIEVING SDGS: The General Economics Division (GED) of Bangladesh Planning Commission made an exercise in 2019 on assessing international cooperation for SDGs implementation for the remaining period (2019-2030). The goals and targets that have scope for international cooperation have been identified in this report. The analysis reveals that all 17 SDGs and 62 targets have scope for international cooperation and accordingly cooperation has been asked for.

International cooperation can also be strengthened in South Asian region (so far the least integrated region in the world) as the importance of South-South and triangular cooperation in international development cooperation has grown significantly in recent times. Moreover, the Asia-Pacific region offers some good examples where triangular cooperation has been undertaken within and outside the UN platform (for example, ESCAP Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness in Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian Countries).

In case of regional cooperation, the following recommendations could be considered:

n Establishment of regional platform for exchanging SDGs implementation experiences and best practices by the countries.

n Collaboration among the countries for attaining regional commitment for addressing the challenges faced in SDGs implementation.

n Exploring opportunities for creating regional financing support to achieve SDGs.

Dr. Shamsul Alam, Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division, Bangladesh Planning Commission. General Economics Division is Government Focal Point for SDGs and Poverty, and responsible for preparing medium and long term Plans.

The article appeared in the Financial Express on 8 December 2019