Bangladesh ranks eighth in the Happy Planet Index, 2016. Now this ranking should not be confused with the World Happiness Index (Report). In the World Happiness Report, usually the Nordic countries with their high per capita income, robust lifestyle and well-being top the ranking. Next come the advanced Western countries. But a different gauge is applied here to measure a people's well-being and longevity of life as against the distribution of wealth with the minimum possible cost to the environment. On that count, a country's population lives long and a happy life, retaining a sound ecological footprint of it. In other words, the living standard is sustainable.
Costa Rica has topped the list for the third time. Here is a country that, according to a recent Gallup poll, was found to have the highest level of well-being in the world. People live long in this Central American country with life expectancy at 78.5. What is amazing is that the country spends only one-fourth of resources the Western nations do to achieve this feat. To its credit, Costa Rica produces 99 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy. Its government has announced to make the country carbon-free -- a feat no nation even dare dream, by 2021. The country also has enough to invest in social sectors such as health and education -- all because it does not have to spend on armed forces. It has abolished the national army way back in 1949.
Then how does Bangladesh feature among the top 10 in the list? The country has not an enviable track record of preserving its environment. Its rivers are either drying up or getting polluted. Already many tributaries and even a few rivers are no longer there. There is controversy over the percentage of forest cover. That the forestation programme has raised the percentage of forest cover to 16 per cent has been disputed by environmentalists -- and not for nothing. Then there is random encroachment of forests, khas (owned by government) land and water bodies including rivers.
The country's dependence on fossil fuel for generation of electricity and chemical fertilizer for growing its staple and other crops does not quite put it in an enviable position. Even one would not claim that its resource distribution is rational. More worryingly, Bangladesh is a country that is going to be one of the first victims to climate change. Still the country is at the top tier of the countries. What is the miracle then?
This is rather baffling. Unlike the measure of Word Happiness where the size -- small as it is -- of the respondents to the queries can actually influence the results, this Happy Planet takes into consideration bare facts. Well-being and happiness are not the same thing but still there is some link between the two. Perhaps contentment would better express the average people's opinion on the life they lead. Well-being covers a wide range of measurable factors by which a population's living standard can be denoted. Happiness involves a mental state which can even revolt against too much of wealth and luxury. The Hippies movement in America was not for nothing.
The Happy Planet Index stresses on making the available resources to the optimal benefit of the largest number of people. When nations arm themselves to the teeth, they do not have the amount of wealth they would like to for investment in social sectors. The United States of America cannot have health insurance for all its citizens but it can wage numerous wars against Vietnam, Iraq, support warring parties in Afghanistan and Syria. Thus the Obamacare could not get through the Senate and Congress. Against this, the health programme in resource-poor Cuba is one of the best in the world, if not the best.
Bangladesh has revolutionised a few social sectors such as child mortality, sanitation and lately on the food front. Its social safety net for the most vulnerable has been quite effective in arresting hunger at the grass-roots level. Expanded maternity and health services with all their weaknesses have been delivering the goods. This has been fairly complemented by the highly successful immunisation campaign for child health. Life expectancy is therefore well over 70 years now. With limited resources, the country has outperformed its neighbours in social indices.
Progress made in terms of human development has gone to its credit. Along with poverty alleviation, gender disparities in education at the lower levels have adequately been addressed. The average years spent in schools for both boys and girls have increased from five and a half years in 1990 to 10 years in 2014.
Sure enough these are measurable factors but there are some others immeasurable too. The majority of the population in this country still live a simple life not greatly affected by consumerism. Their resilience, however, is phenomenal. A good portion of their supplies for living a modest life comes from Nature. Although natural resources are wantonly exploited and spoiled by a segment of population, there are others who have traditionally known to preserve Nature by their inherited knowledge. This perhaps makes the case of Bangladesh unique.