The gap between the rankings of Bangladesh and Pakistan widened on the latest human development index (HDI), with the former being 21 spots ahead.
Cementing its place in the medium human development category, Bangladesh climbed two notches up to 133rd out of 189 countries whereas Pakistan ranked 154th in the HDI rankings released in the 2020 Human Development Report.
The previous edition of the report revealed that Bangladesh was 17 spots ahead of Pakistan and ranked 135th while Pakistan's ranking was 152nd.
The 30th edition of the report titled "The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene" was published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Tuesday. It was based on the performance of the countries in 2019.
Bangladesh's HDI value rose by only 0.018 in a year, reaching 0.632 in 2019 from 0.614 in 2018.
Commenting on Bangladesh's small improvements in both rank and score, Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, told The Business Standard, "I think the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita played the main role here. The progress can be considered a positive development."
"However, whether the progress is at a satisfactory level or not is relative," he added.
Speaking about future human development considering the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the economist said health and education are two big indicators of human development.
"Our schools are still closed. After reopening schools, all learners may not return. So, there can be a decline in primary and secondary enrolment and an increase in dropout. As a result, human development will be negatively affected," he explained.
Zahid said the loss resulting from the long-term closure of educational institutes was not recoverable.
So, there will be a damage in human capital formation, he added.
Giving recommendations for handling the situation, Zahid said, "We can control the damage by reopening educational institutes following proper hygiene rules. As our student to teacher ratio is high, there can be stimulus packages for teachers."
Also, classes may be organised in two to three shifts, including on Friday and Saturday, he said.
He further said the pandemic had revealed the sorry state of the country's health sector.
"Besides investment, there is a need for management, technology, skilled workforce, and good governance in this sector."
The eminent economist pointed out that vaccination could be the biggest challenge in human development.
"There is a need to vaccinate at least 12-13 crore people out of 17 crore. So, a national strategy is needed in this regard and without that, gaining herd immunity may be impossible.
"Other nations have a national strategy to determine who will be vaccinated first, how vaccines will be delivered and how logistics will be handled. Bangladesh should also have one and frontline workers should get priority," Zahid said.
All these factors are related to HDI, he added.
Bangladesh's HDI ranking in South Asia unchanged
Bangladesh's HDI ranking in South Asia remained the same as the previous year, with the country ranked fifth in the region.
The gap between the 2018 and 2019 rankings of Bangladesh and India came down. Bangladesh's score difference with India was 0.013 in the latest report, which was 0.033 in the previous one.
Sri Lanka (72nd) topped the latest index in South Asia, followed by the Maldives (95th). Bhutan (129th), the only South Asian country that improved its position in the regional ranking, surpassed India.
Nepal (142nd), Pakistan (154th) and Afghanistan (169th) were placed at the bottom in the region.
Sri Lanka and the Maldives were placed in high human development category, while Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan secured their positions in the medium human development category. Afghanistan was in the low human development category.
HDI, which is measured based on health, education and standards of living, included two more elements this year – carbon dioxide emissions and carbon material footprint.
Bangladesh improved in key elements in all three dimensions on the latest index compared to the previous one. Life expectancy increased from 72.3 years to 72.6 years in 2019. Moreover, expected years of schooling increased from 11.4 years to 11.6 years.
Bangladesh's GNI per capita (at 2017 purchasing power parity) increased by $919 between 2018 and 2019, reaching $4,976.
Norway retains top position
With an HDI value of 0.957, Norway retained its top position, followed by Ireland and Switzerland, with both countries' HDI value (0.955) being the same.
Niger, Central African Republic, and Chad ranked at the bottom of the index with HDI values of 0.394, 0.397 and 0.398 respectively.