I am extremely happy to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia at the invitation of Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN. On the eve of my 3-day visit, on behalf of my countrymen and myself, I would like to extend heartiest greetings to the people of Cambodia.
Bangladesh and Cambodia enjoy excellent relations founded on strong bonds of friendship, mutual respect, shared history and culture, and common values and customs. I recall the memories of my meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit to Bangladesh on 16-18 June 2014.
Despite geographical proximity between our two countries, there was a big detachment between our two peoples. The visit of Prime Minister Hun Sen helped reduce the gap significantly with increasing contacts between the people, especially the business people, of our two countries.
People of Bangladesh and Cambodia had to endure almost similar atrocities while earning their self-determination. Bangladesh is now on a steady path of advancement in terms of socio-economic progress as is the case of Cambodia. Overcoming enormous odds, Bangladesh becomes a lower middle-income country with its economy standing on a firm footing. I am happy to see Cambodia today is also a lower middle-income country with sustained economic growth.
The journey of Bangladesh, however, was neither smooth nor without obstacles and hazards. Bangladesh was born through a bloody war led by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Three million people had sacrificed their lives and 2 hundred thousand women lost their honour in the war. An existing secular ideological value was replaced by a totally diverse ideology. The whole nation was not in the same tone with the process; some people had even opposed Bangladesh’s independence.
Within 3 and a half years of the independence, my father and Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with 18 family members on 15 August 1975, while the war-ravaged country was going through a huge reconstruction phase. I along with my younger sister Rehana survived as we were abroad.
Those who opposed the creation of Bangladesh became the partners of the state power after assassination of my father. The spirit of independence and war of liberation was assailed. The people of Bangladesh were under military rule for more than two decades. Domestic and foreign conspiracies were there so that Bangladesh could not thrive in upholding its sovereignty and dignity.
After six years in exile, I returned home in 1981 and started movement for restoration of people’s basic rights and democracy. We formed government in 1996. After a gap of five years, my party Bangladesh Awami League was victorious again in 2008 elections and is still in office for the second consecutive term.
Bangladesh is one of the most populous countries in the world where people’s livelihoods depend on the cultivable land and nature’s will. Natural resource is scarce. Arriving at the present economic growth and getting a leap in the socio-economic indices were only possible owing to the flourishment of democratic political forces, people’s unlimited resilience, courage and initiatives.
How was the living standard of the people of Bangladesh a decade ago? Poverty rate was 41.5% in 2005 which dropped to 22% at present while per capita income rose to USD 1,610 from a mere USD 543 in 2005. It is expected that poverty rate will go down below 16-17% by 2021. Bangladesh’s position is well ahead among its South Asian neighbors in terms of child and maternal mortality, and average life expectancy. Child mortality rate was reduced to 28 per thousand and maternal mortality to 1.7 per thousand. The total fertility rate has fallen from 3.4 to 2.3 (slightly above the “replacement level”). Average life expectancy has risen to 72 years from 65 in only 8 years.
Last year our GDP posted a 7.28 percent growth and inflation was below 6 percent indicating the robustness of our economy. Food security for 160 million people has been ensured. Bangladesh has topped the South Asian countries in gender equality for the third consecutive year, ranking 47th among 144 nations.
Rural Bangladesh has remarkably been transformed with metalled zigzag roads connecting one village to another even in the remotest areas. Corrugated tin-shed houses have replaced the thatched ones. Electric bulbs have taken the places of lanterns at night as most of the villages were covered by electricity. About 4.5 million solar home systems supply electricity in areas where power transmission line is yet to be established.
Our government has laid priority on human resource development through ensuring education and vocational training. Cent percent school-going children are now enrolled in the schools. Special stipend has been introduced for girl students of insolvent families and girls’ education has been made free of cost. Free textbooks were distributed among students upto secondary level from the first day of the year. The farthest villages have been connected with digital network.
My government has put Bangladesh on a stable and firm position. I always mention poverty as the main enemy of human kind. We have almost conquered hunger. We have been trying to reach proper medicare facilities to the grassroots people through nearly 18,500 community clinics and rural health centers.
Bangladesh aspires to become a middle-income country by 2021. It is not far away when the people of my country will get the taste of a sustainable and improved livelihood if the current trend of progress continues.
Bangladesh is currently faced with an unprecedented crisis over providing humanitarian assistance to over a million Rohingyas displaced from Myanmar. We have given them shelter on humanitarian ground but it is difficult for us to give them food and shelter for long. Myanmar must take back its citizens at the earliest and we are seeking assistance of the world community to help resolve the crisis.
Many predicted that Bangladesh is going to be a fertile ground of militancy in South Asia after Pakistan as a lot of elements were there for breeding the menace. Terrorism and violent extremism of late has become a global phenomenon. No country is immune to this threat. Our greatest success is to contain the spread of terrorism with a zero-tolerance policy. The capability of our law enforcers has been enhanced to deal with terrorism. Moreover, majority of the people of our country don’t support destructive activities in the name of religion. We have also launched a concerted campaign involving religious leaders, teachers and opinion leaders against terrorism.
There are many commonalities in socio-economic aspects between Bangladesh and Cambodia. Both of us are striving to improve people’s living standard. Bangladesh and Cambodia signed four broad-based agreements in 2014. Mutual cooperation in the fields of agriculture, trade and commerce, science and technology, and education and culture should be boosted in order to benefit our two peoples. This time too 10 more Agreements and MOUs will be signed.
Both Bangladesh and Cambodia have developed a strong and mutually beneficial partnership at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels and are working closely for fostering greater regional cooperation for the socio-economic development, peace and stability in the region. I hope that the fraternity and cooperation between Bangladesh and Cambodia would be bolstered further through my visit.
Author Sheikh Hasina is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh and winner of the UN Environmental Award Champion of the Earth, 2015