The World Bank has projected Bangladesh's GDP growth to come down to only 1.6 percent in the current fiscal year ending on June 30
Pundits love to say many things for us mere mortals. One of them is "Knowledge is power."
Taken at face value, we understand the inherent message in this nugget of wisdom. To fight something as virulent as the Covid-19, we need to understand it completely, we need to figure out how it works and how to control its spread. But the message between the lines may not be clear to us all the time, which is, the knowledge must be reliable on which we can take pragmatic actions.
Over the past few months, we have been warned time and again by local and global epidemiologists on the various aspects of Covid-19. Some of them are plain contradictory throwing us in more confusion.
This is a dilemma for us now. We do not know who to trust anymore. We don't know whether any of the many sources making many statements are reliable or not.
The problem gets even more confusing when it comes to the question of our economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.
We are being hit with contradictory statements and predictions regarding our economic growth from different sources, all of which are, no doubt, being prepared by highly qualified professionals.
For instance, just this past April, the World Bank made a chilling prediction about our GDP growth or rather the drop in growth of this vital number necessary to understand the health of the economy.
In the report it said the coronavirus pandemic was set to bring down Bangladesh's gross domestic product growth from a high-flying 8.15 percent last year to just 2 percent this year ending on June 30. The highest growth range was predicted to be a bleak 3 percent.
Two months later, it has come up with an even more shocking forecast. In its June 2020 Global Economic Prospects released on Monday, the World Bank has projected Bangladesh's GDP growth to come down to only 1.6 percent in the current fiscal year ending on June 30.
Earlier, its April forecast was rejected outright by our finance and planning ministers. They termed the forecast "unrealistic" and "unacceptable".
The planning minister at that time claimed that it was expected that the impact of Covid-19 could reduce our GDP growth by about two percentage points from the projection.
In his opinion, the GDP growth should be over 6 percent in the current financial year.
On his part, the finance minister was even more optimistic. Based on figures of the last eight months, he forecasted, our projection is that growth will be 7.8 percent or more in the current fiscal.
Nevertheless, in its latest report, the global lender also says Bangladesh may witness drastic declines to only 1 percent in the next fiscal year. This forecast is nowhere near our own target for the next year. The government hopes for a quick recovery of our economy and targets 8.20 percent GDP growth in the next fiscal year.
The government's optimism somehow matches, to some extent, with an IMF forecast made in April, only three days after the World Bank's prediction.
After slumping to only 2 percent growth this year, the IMF said, Bangladesh's economy will see a great recovery next year with a record growth of 9.5 percent. The IMF's prediction was, however, subject to an all-important condition. It said the economic growth will see a big jump provided the pandemic fades in the second half of this year and economic activities return to normal.
But there is no sign of the pandemic getting tamed in the second half of this year. The virus curve is still climbing steeply. Nobody knows when it will be under control. Tuesday, the country posted the highest number of cases and deaths. The government's move to reopen the economy by ending the more than two-month general holiday seems to have not worked well.
One thing is however certain without being a wild prediction. The pandemic has cruelly and efficiently flattened our GDP curve. The figure is subject to debate.
Another important lesson has been re-emphasised by this pandemic that fat GDP numbers do not reflect the people's well-being as many renowned economists have been arguing for years.
Bangladesh has achieved on average around 7 percent GDP growth in the last decade. It registered a record high 8.15 percent GDP growth in the last fiscal year. Emboldened by this number, the government had set a target 8.20 percent GDP growth in the outgoing fiscal year.
Just three months ago, when the virus was yet to hit Bangladesh, the growth data made all of us starry eyed. Bangladesh was one of the five fastest growing economies in the world.
But the reality has been exposed by the pandemic, that our healthcare system is in a fragile state. People are struggling to get tested for coronavirus and the treatment system for other non-communicable diseases has broken down.
Hospitals keep turning away patients with even everyday healthcare needs despite repeated warnings by the government of stern actions for refusal to treat patients. Our brilliant economic growth could not ensure a strong health care system for people who are the engines of that growth.
The pandemic has also exposed the vulnerability of the social safety net. Millions of people were thrown out of work becoming the "new poor". They have lost their source of earnings. They have no financial insurance. Numerous people have faced pay cuts. The poverty rate, according to experts, has doubled and reached 40 percent in just three months.
The shining story of our star studded GDP growth over the last decade is now sounding hollow facing a new reality.