In the era of sustainable development goal (SDG), one of the debatable questions is, how do we know if we are develop, or at least our country is in the right track toward development? This question is triggering research, discussions and debate for long, and there is no chance that it will end soon. Luckily, there are several indices to compare and monitor national, regional and global development (like World Development Indicator, World Governance Indicator, SDG Indicators, Index for Risk Management and etc). Governments and international development partners often focus on the process and techniques to improve these indicators for policy formulation and implementation.
It is only the countries with updated statistical and technical capacity in national level, as well with the independent academic and research capabilities can make sure that national data and statistics are accurately representing its development scenario. Additionally, with the advancement of data analysis, cloud computing and big data, monitoring and comparison are far accessible now. Unfortunately, inadequacy and lack of data is still a big problem for many developing and less developed countries, where the major sources of data is national census and surveys only, which often suffer from unsatisfactory quality due to limited resources and expertise. Additionally, there are often accusation of data manipulation to favour certain government agenda. So, in Bangladesh, should we only look upon these indicators and annual report presentation the country ranking; and satisfy or debate?
Dr Deborah Potts of King’ College London argue that if in a society we open the [water] tap and can drink the water directly from the tap (without any pre or post in-house processing), that will mean the society is developed. There are several aspects of this “Tap Water” notion. First, drinkable tap water means there is minimum corruption and mismanagement in any stage of this water production. Corruption or negligence in any stage of infrastructure development, management and maintenance will definitely result in undrinkable water. Second, as clean water is essential in every moments of our daily life, for the sake of health safety, the system need to be maintained and monitored rigorously. Although, tap water supply system has similar structure to any other utility service systems, however, unlike any other, here the system is tested every moment for quality and standard. Third, clean water supply systems are spatially large in scale and expensive to maintain. Therefore, it can represent society’s’ (especially of urban) capacity to build and maintain large systems with both technical and financial efficiency. Air pollution, women right, democratic participation etc. could be other examples of what we should watch for and as well endeavour to improve to attain SDG.
Unfortunately, despite of having abundance sources of fresh water and networks of urban and semi-urban water supply system in cities of Bangladesh, our tap water is undrinkable. Thus, it represents a less developed state of our society. As an inhabitant of Dhaka, it is also quite hard for me to imagine any foreseeable when I can get access to such drinkable water, mostly due to inefficient management and corruption.
We often see news reports highlighting Bangladesh’s position in global ranking, and later comes the debate. In Bangladesh, national data are often inadequate and as a result, system of monitoring country progress toward SDG is far less satisfactory than required. Non-government watchdog organization like CPD, TIB, BAPA etc. are sometimes playing vital role in monitoring and portraying pieces of country development with their research. However, often failure of government to handle criticism are creating a constrained environment for these organizations. To understand state of our development, we need to look around us. Do we see waste in our streets? Children working instead of going to school? We do not need to wait until the end of year for someone to tell us that we are far behind of achieving SDG.
Undoubtedly, economic growth, employment generation, poverty reduction, education and basic indicators like this should be at focus for monitoring development, but, if we fail to see development holistically, our fate could be like China, where narrowly focused development policy prioritising economic growth and population control left China with a frustrated generation with fragile economy. We should not make the same mistake. In addition to looking into digits and data, we should observe, and attempt to improve issues, which touches our life and livelihood intimately.