Diaspora-driven development: how to turn wealth to health in Bangladesh

From Global development | The Guardian Tue Feb 5 2013, 06:00:01

Policymakers need to understand the diaspora and incentivise its involvement in the country's development

Sylhet division in north-east Bangladesh, where around 95% of all British-Bengalis trace their origin to, should in theory be the wealthiest and healthiest part of country. The region receives around US $1bn in remittances every year from expatriate Bengalis in the UK alone.

However, wealth hasn't translated to health in Sylhet. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Sylhet has worse literacy and school enrolment rates than all other regions, child malnutrition rates are well over the WHO emergency threshold of 15%, fertility rates are the highest in the country and expectant mothers are more likely to die during child birth in Sylhet than any other part of Bangladesh.

"While remittances play a significant role in Bangladesh's development, most of it is transferred to individual households rather than to charity or community development," ex-Bangladesh foreign minister Farooq Sobhan explains. "Amongst key concerns are issues of corruption and red tape, the political schism between the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party, and resulting instability, insecurity and a feeling of not knowing how to help," said Sobhan, who currently heads the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, a research and advocacy organisation that focuses on the growth of private enterprise in Bangladesh.

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