People's Republic of Bangladesh
CAPITAL: Dhaka (formerly Dacca)
FLAG: The national flag is a red circle against a dark-green background.
ANTHEM: Amar Sonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal).
MONETARY UNIT: The taka (t) of 100 poisha is a paper currency set on a par with the Indian rupee. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, and 50 poisha, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 taka. t1 = $0.01556 (or $1 = t64.26) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Bangladesh adopted the metric system as of 1 July 1982. Customary numerical units include the lakh (equal to 100,000) and the crore (equal to 10 million).
HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; National Mourning Day (Shaheel Day), 21 February; Independence Day, 26 March; May Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 16 December; Christmas, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Jamat Wida, Shab-i-Bharat, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Durga Puja.
TIME: 6 pm = noon GMT.
Situated in South Asia, Bangladesh, before it became an independent state, was the eastern province of Pakistan, known as East Bengal and, later, as East Pakistan. Bangladesh is slightly smaller than the state of Iowa with a total area of 144,000 sq km (55,598 sq mi), extending 767 km (477 mi) sse–nnw and 429 km (267 mi) ene–wsw. Bangladesh is bordered in the w, n, and e by India, on the se by Myanmar (Burma), and on the s by the Bay of Bengal, with a total boundary length of 4,246 km (2,638 mi). A border demarcation agreement was signed with Myanmar in May 1979. Demarcation of the marine boundary with India remained unresolved as of 2006. Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka, is located near the center of the country.
Bangladesh is a tropical country, situated mainly on the deltas of large rivers flowing from the Himalayas. The Brahmaputra River, known locally as the Jamuna, unites with part of the Ganges to form the Padma, which, after its juncture with a third large river, the Meghna, flows into the Bay of Bengal. Offshoots of the Ganges-Padma, including the Burishwar, Garai, Kobadak, and Madhumati, also flow south to the Bay of Bengal. No part of the delta area is more than 150 m (500 ft) above sea level, and most of it is but a meter or two (a few feet) above sea level. Its soil consists mostly of fertile alluvium, which is intensively farmed; mineral deposits are negligible. During the rainy season floodwater covers most of the land surface, damaging crops and injuring the economy. The northwestern section of the country, drained by the Tista (Teesta) River, is somewhat higher and less flat, but the only really hilly regions are in the east, notably in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the southeast and the Sylhet District to the northeast. Near the Myanmar border in the extreme southeast is the Keokradong, which, at 1,230 m (4,034 ft), is the highest peak in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate. Annual rainfall is high, averaging from about 119 cm (47 in) up to 145 cm (57 in). There are three distinct seasons. The winter, which lasts from October through early March, is cool and dry, with temperature ranges from 5°c to 22°c (41°f to 72°f); total winter rainfall averages about 18 cm (7 in) in the east and less than 8 cm (3 in) in the northwest. Temperatures rise rapidly in March, and during the summer season—March through May—average about 32°c (90°f). Rainfall also increases during this period. However, nearly 80% of the annual rainfall falls from May to September, the monsoon season, when moisture-laden winds blow from the south and southeast. Temperatures drop somewhat, seldom exceeding 31°c (88°f), but humidity remains high.
In April through June and from October through November, tropical cyclones, accompanied by high seas and heavy flooding, are common. There were cyclones in May 1963, May and December 1965, October 1966, and most notably during the night of 12–13 November 1970, when a storm and resultant flooding killed more than 200,000 persons. A cyclone on 30 April 1991 left over 131,000 people dead and nine million homeless. Monsoon floods in 1974, 1980, and 1983 also devastated the country and caused many deaths, and a cyclonic storm on 24–25 May 1985 took more than 11,000 lives. The monsoon in August and September 1988 left three-fourths of the country flooded, 1,300 persons dead, and over three million people homeless, with damage to the country's infrastructure estimated at $1 billion.
Bangladesh has the plant and animal life typical of a tropical and riverine swamp. The landscape, which for most of the year is lush green, is dotted with palms and flowering trees. The large forest area of the Sunderbans in the southwest is the home of the endangered Bengal tiger; there are also cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles, elephants, spotted deer, monkeys, boars, bears, pheasants, and many varieties of birds and waterfowl.
Overpopulation has severely strained Bangladesh's limited natural resources. Nearly all arable land is already cultivated and forest land has been greatly reduced by agricultural expansion and by timber and firewood cutting. Between 1983 and 1993, forest and woodland declined by 12.5% to 1.9 million ha (4.7 million acres). As of 2000, about 10% of the total land area was forested.
Bangladesh's environmental problems have been complicated by natural disasters that add to the strain on an agricultural system which supports one of the world's most populous countries. Water supply is also a major problem because of population size, lack of purification procedures, and the spread of untreated contaminants into the usable water supply by flood waters. To ease these problems, the government has established drainage, irrigation, and flood protection systems, and has drilled thousands of tube wells to supply safe drinking water in villages. As of 2001, safe water was available to 100% of the population.
Despite passage of the Wildlife Preservation Act of 1973, wildlife continued to suffer from human encroachment. Only 0.8% of the country's total land area is protected. The Sunderbans is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar international wetland site. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 22 types of mammals, 23 species of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 8 species of fish, and 12 species of plants. Threatened species included the Asian elephant, pygmy hog, Sumatran rhinoceros, Bengal tiger, estuarine crocodile, gavial, and river terrapin.
The population of Bangladesh in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 144,233,000, which placed it at number 7 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 35% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 104 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 1.9%, a rate the government viewed as too high. In 2004–06, the government carried out a program aimed at reducing population growth. The projected population for the year 2025 was 189,971,000. The population density was 1,002 per sq km (2,594 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 23% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.45%. The capital city, Dhaka (formerly Dacca), had a population of 11,560,000 in that year. Other major towns are Holetown, Speightstown, and Oistins.
Since 1947 there has been a regular interchange of population between India and what is now Bangladesh, with Hindus migrating to India and Muslims emigrating from India. There was also substantial migration between Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and West Pakistan until the 1971 war. Before and during the war, an estimated 8 to 10 million Bengalis fled to India; most of these refugees returned after the independence of Bangladesh was firmly established.
In 1993, repatriation began of an estimated 56,000 Chakma refugees from the Indian state of Tripura to the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. They had fled unrest in this area. As of May 1997, 47,000 Chakma refugees still lived in northeastern India. In 1991–92 about 265,000 Rohingyas—Muslims from Myanmar—fled to Bangladesh to escape repression. Beginning in 1994, over 200,000 of these refugees returned home to Myanmar (Burma). However, as of 1999, around 22,000 Myanmar refugees still resided in southern Bangladesh in two camps. The United Nations urged the governments of both Bangladesh and Myanmar to accelerate the process. In 2004 the refugee population numbered around 5,500.
Bangladeshi long-term migration to industrialized countries in the West began in the 1950s to the United Kingdom, and in the 1960s to the United States. Labor migration to the Middle East and Southeast Asia began in the 1970s on short-term bases. As of 2004, the preferred Middle Eastern countries for labor migration were Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. The flow of remittances to Bangladesh has increased dramatically. In 1976, us$24 million entered the country through official channels, by the first nine months of 2004, this sum had increased to us$2.35 billion. However, Bangladeshis sought asylum in fourteen countries, mainly South Africa, Cyprus, and France in 2004.
As of 2000, there were approximately 988,000 migrants living in Bangladesh. In 2003, there were 150,000 to 520,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) within the country. Estimated for 2005 the net migration rate was -0.69 per 1,000 population. The government viewed the emigration level as too low, and the immigration level as satisfactory.
Residents of Bangladesh are called Bangladeshis. About 98% of the people are of the ethnic group called Bengalis (or Banglas). About 12 tribes inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts, collectively totaling less than one million people, are ethnically distinct from the Bengalis; their facial features and language are closer to the Burmese. The government's policy of resettling Bengalis in the region, which is much less densely populated than Bangladesh as a whole, led to racial and religious disturbances and a small-scale tribal insurgency in the early 1980s. About 250,000 of the national population consists of Biharis, non-Bengali Muslims who migrated from India to what was then East Pakistan after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. In the coastal areas of Bangladesh, Arab, Portuguese, and Dutch settlers have gradually come to adopt the Bengali life style.
Bengali (Bangla), part of the Indo-European language family, is the official language of Bangladesh and is spoken by about 98% of the population. The successful move to make Bengali coequal with Urdu as an official language was a hallmark of Bengali nationalism in the early 1950s. Non-Bengali migrants from India still speak Urdu (and Hindi) today, and this language is widely understood in urban areas. A few tribal groups, notably the tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, also speak distinct Tibeto-Burmese languages, akin to Burmese and Assamese. Among those speaking Bangla there are differences of dialect according to region. The people of Chittagong, Noakhali, and Sylhet are known for their distinctive dialects. Although today Bangla is the official language, English is also used for official and legal purposes and widely used in business.
Nearly 88% of the people are Sunni Muslims, making Bangladesh one of the world's largest Muslim countries. About 10% of the population are Hindu; the remaining are mainly Buddhist or Christian, the latter being mostly Roman Catholics. There are small numbers of Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Baha'is, Ahmadis, and animists.
Islam was established as the state religion in 1988. Freedom of worship is provided for in the constitution; however, in practice there have been reports of social, political, and economic discrimination against non-Muslims.
The large number of rivers and the annual flooding hazard make it difficult to build and maintain adequate transportation facilities in Bangladesh. Railways and waterways are the chief means of transportation. The railways are managed by the government and reach most districts of the country. The Bangladesh Railway operated 2,706 km (1,683 mi) of narrow and broad gauge track in 2004. Of that total, narrow (1.000-m) gauge is the most prevalent at 1,822 km (1,133 mi), followed by broad gauge (1.676-m) at 884 km (550 mi). The quality of service has declined because of the expense of importing new equipment. Enlarging and improving the railway system is also costly, partly because of the number of bridges needed.
The country has two deepwater ports: Chittagong, serving the eastern sector, and Chalna, serving the west. There are five main river ports—Dhaka, Nārāyanganj, Chandpur, Barisal, and Khulna—and more than 1,500 smaller ports. The inland water system has 8,372 km (5,023 mi) of navigable waterways, including 2,575 km (1,600 mi) of main cargo routes. The oceangoing merchant fleet in 2005 consisted of 41 ships of 1,000 GRT or over, with a combined capacity of 319,897 GRT.
Road connections are inadequate, but conditions have improved significantly in recent years. There were 239,226 km (148,799 mi) of roadways in 2003, of which 22,726 km (14,135 mi) were paved. A large part of the highway system becomes submerged in the rainy season; bridges, ferries, embankments, and dikes are therefore necessary to the inland transportation system. Because of the diffixsculties of land travel, the number of motor vehicles remains relatively small. As of 2003, there were 31,700 passenger cars and 60,200 commercial vehicles that were registered.
Bangladesh had an estimated 16 airports in 2004. As of 2005, a total of 15 had paved runways. Zia International is the principal airport, located at Dhaka. Bangladesh Biman is the national airline. It has an extended network connecting major cities and operates international flights from Dhaka. In 2003, airlines carried 1.579 million domestic and international passengers.
In ancient times, the area now known as Bangladesh was the eastern portion of a huge river delta region called Bang, where the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems empty into the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The region became known as Bengal in more modern times, but recorded history of the region can be traced to the 4th century bc when it was home to an apparently flourishing riverain civilization. The oldest surviving remains of this civilization are the ruins of the city of Mahasthan, the ancient Pundranagar, which continued to flourish for more than 1,500 years, even though the region was conquered by the Hindu Maurya empire that reached its height under Emperor Asoka around 207 bc. From this time onward, the history of Bengal was part of the wider historical experience of the Indian subcontinent, and during most of India's classical Hindu period—ad 320 to ad 1000—Bengal was a loosely incorporated outpost of empires centered in the Gangetic plain.
Islam came to South Asia in the years following ad 800 but did not reach Bengal until Muslim invaders from the west secured a foothold there around ad 1200. In the 13th and 14th centuries, after successive waves of Turkish, Persian, and Afghan invaders, Islam began to take a firm hold in the area that is now Bangladesh. The region was annexed by the Mughal Empire in 1576 under Emperor Akbar and ruled by his successors into the 17th century. The fealty lesser Nawabs (or Nabobs) of the Bengal area paid to the Mughals ensured the political stability and economic prosperity of the region, which became known for its industries based on the weaving of silk and cotton cloth.
The arrival of the French and British East India Companies in the early 18th century coincided with Mughal decline, the death of Emperor Auranzeb, and an intense period of competition and conflict between Britain and France. By the middle of the 18th century, the British emerged supreme in what they created as the Bengal Presidency, establishing themselves in Calcutta and expanding with alacrity into all of what is now Bangladesh, as well as the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa. From Calcutta, British traders and administrators successfully played off rivalries among the satraps of the late Mughal empire to gain control of most of the subcontinent in the years between the Battle of Plassey in 1756 and the assumption of the company's domain by the British Crown in 1859. Calcutta remained the seat of British power in the subcontinent and the center of British control over the Indian Empire until 1931 when the capital was moved to the new city of New Delhi, adjacent to the traditional seat of Mughal power in old Delhi.
Well-to-do Hindus in Bengal generally prospered under the British, apparently taking more easily to British ways and British law than the numerically dominant Muslims. The Muslim aristocracy of eastern Bengal—feudal barons under the Mughals—resisted British rule. By the turn of the 20th century, both communities had begun to develop a political-cum-cultural consciousness of their own in reaction to the Western culture brought by the British. They took offense at British efforts to impose western educational systems on local universities, reducing their independence. Hindus were further enraged by the British decision in 1905, in an effort to improve administration and to placate Muslims, to divide the overly large Bengal Presidency in two, with the Muslim-dominant area of eastern Bengal and Assam to be a separate province. The 1905 partition was the first acknowledgment of a sense of separateness among Muslims by the British and foreshadowed events of 42 years later when Bengal was divided between Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority districts to create East Pakistan.
The 1905 action resulted in increasing acts of violence. Th is lasted until it was undone six years later in favor of reuniting Bengal and instead separating out what would become the provinces of Orissa and Bihar. But the agitation provoked by the 1905 partition and the Hindu-Muslim enmities it left behind continued to provoke terrorist actions against British rule until nonviolence emerged as a mode of political struggle, under the leadership of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi of the Indian National Congress.
British reforms in 1909 and 1919 expanded local self-rule in their Indian domains, but the pace fell short of the pace of demands put forth by the rising tide of nationalists espoused by the Indian National Congress, which in 1929 committed itself to the goal of complete independence. As the struggle gained momentum, differences between Hindus and Muslims widened. While the majority Hindu community saw a single Indian polity committed to secularism and diversity as the goal of the independence movement, Muslims came to fear that their community would be a permanent electoral minority, an anxiety they saw borne out in the 1937 elections held under British auspices. To look after their unique cultural interests, they formed the All-India Muslim League, and under the Muslim League leadership, sentiment began to coalesce around the "two nation" theory propounded earlier by the poet Iqbal, a belief that South Asian Muslims and Hindus were and should be two separate nations, i.e. that Muslims required the creation of an independent nation of their own—Pakistan—in which they would predominate. In 1940, the Muslim League adopted this as its goal, under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Mumbai (formerly Bombay) attorney who resisted all efforts at compromise through all the difficult days leading up to the grant of independence in 1947.
In language, culture, ethnic background, population density, political experience, and economic potential, East and West Pakistan were totally disparate. The primary bond was Islam. Pakistan's early years as a nation were dominated by unsuccessful attempts—punctuated by bouts of authoritarian rule—to create a national polity that would somehow bridge these differences. Larger in population and in economic importance than the west wing, the Bengali east wing chafed under national policies effectively dominated by the leadership residing in the west wing. When its influence was further reduced under repeated bouts of martial law and by the reconstruction of West Pakistan as a single province, demands for autonomy in the east began to mount. Th is demand proved more than the fragile sense of Islamic nationhood could sustain. The new state of Pakistan, made up of Muslim-majority districts in both eastern and western reaches of formerly British India, was at best an unwieldy creation. It cut across long-established lines of trade and communication, divided families, provoked a mass movement of millions of refugees caught on the "wrong" side of the partition markers, and forced the creation of a new but divided polity. Pakistan consisted of two distinct territories, separated by 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of secular but predominantly Hindu India. West Pakistan, with a population of 34 million, consisted mainly of the former provinces of Baluchistan, Sindh, the Northwest Frontier, and (partially) Punjab (which, like Bengal, was also partitioned). East Pakistan, its 42 million people including nearly 9 million Hindus, encompassed the eastern half of Bengal province as shaped in 1912, plus the Sylhet District of Assam.
After a round of martial law in Pakistan in 1969, national elections were scheduled for 1970. But when the popular verdict in those elections—even in the national assembly—supported greater autonomy for East Pakistan than the West Pakistan-dominated national leadership was prepared to accord, the results were set aside.
Subsequent civil unrest escalated quickly to civil war in East Pakistan. Swamped with a million refugees from the fighting, India intervened militarily in December 1971, tipping the scales in favor of the rebels and facilitating the creation of Bangladesh in 1972. Sheikh Mujibur (Mujib) Rahman, leader of the Awami League and of the fight for autonomy, was released from prison in West Pakistan (which became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and became prime minister of the new nation of Bangladesh.
The 1971 civil war undid much of the limited progress East Pakistan had made in recovering from the 1947 partition. Mujib faced a task for which his administrative and political experience was lacking. He fought and won a massive victory at the polls in 1973, but two years later, he suspended the political process and took power into his own hands. Bangla opinion turned against Mujib, coalescing two main opposition groups that otherwise shared little in common besides their opposition to Mujib and to Indian influence: they were the ultra conservative Islamic groups, led by the Jamaati-Islami, and the radical left, led by Maoists, who opposed both Indian and Soviet influence.
On 15 August 1975, a group of young military officers seized power, killing Mujib and many of his family members and imposing martial law. A countercoup three months later produced a new military government with Gen. Ziaur Rahman at its head. In 1978, with limited political activity permitted, he was elected president and lifted martial law. In February 1979, he restored parliamentary government after elections gave his new party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
Zia's assassination during an abortive military coup in May 1981 set back the progress he had made. He was succeeded in power by his vice president, Abdus Sattar, who was deposed the following March by his army chief, Gen. Hussain Mohammad Ershad. Declaring martial law, Ershad became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), suspended the 1972 constitution, and banned political parties.
Ershad gained support by cracking down on corruption and opening up the economy to foreign collaboration. In 1983, he assumed the presidency, and by January 1986, he had restored full political activity in which his own party, the Jatiya (People's) Party took a prominent part. He retired from the army and was elected president without opposition in October 1986, but in July 1987, mounting opposition to his often dictatorial rule among the united opposition parties led him again to declare a state of emergency, dissolve the assembly, and schedule new elections for March 1988. His Jatiya Party triumphed in those elections, due mainly to the refusal of the opposition parties to participate. At the end of 1990, in the face of widespread demonstrations and some Hindu-Muslim violence, his opposition had grown so strong that Ershad was forced to resign the presidency, turning the government over to Supreme Court Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, the unanimous choice of the opposition parties.
An interim government scheduled elections for February 1991, and the result—in what has been described as the fairest polling ever held in the country—was the election of an assembly in which the BNP, headed by Begum Khaleda Ziaur Rahman, Zia's widow, held a plurality. However, the BNP lost popular support by March 1994, when opposition parties walked out of Parliament and boycotted the government, claiming the BNP had rigged a regional election. The main opposition groups—the Awami League (AL), Jatiya Party, and the Jamaat-e-Islami—continued the protest for two years, boycotting February 1996 elections swept by the BNP. Amid further charges of vote-rigging, Khaleda Zia resigned, the BNP dissolved Parliament, and a caretaker government conducted new elections in June 1996. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of the Sheikh Mujid, gained control of Parliament in the elections, contested by all parties and monitored by international observers. Although initially dependent on the support of the Jatiya Party to form a government, by late September the Awami League held an absolute majority of seats in the legislature.
Prime Minister Sheik Hasina had no easier time ruling Bangladesh than her predecessor. Her government faced continuing protests, strikes, and often violent demonstrations organized by the BNP and other opposition parties. Targets for such actions included the government's historic agreement with India in December 1996 over sharing the waters of the River Ganges, higher taxes imposed by the government in July 1997, and problems of law and order in the country. During September 1997, Islamic militants took to the streets demanding the arrest and execution of controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. November 1998 saw a general strike organized by the BNP over alleged government repression and clashes between police and protesters over alleged electoral fraud. Tensions were heightened by the conviction and death sentences passed on several people involved in the assassination of Sheikh Hasina's father, Sheikh Mujib.
In August 1998, Bangladesh also saw some of the worst flooding in the country's history. Over 1,000 people died and flood waters covered some 60% of the country. Loss of crops raised the specter of widespread famine, and the total damage to the country's economy and infrastructure was estimated at over us$2 billion.
Among the AL government's achievements, however, were the Ganges water-sharing treaty, the December 1997 accord that ended the tribal insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in southeastern Bangladesh, and a restructuring of local government to increase grassroots involvement in politics. On the international stage, Bangladesh was elected to serve a two-year term on the Security Council of the United Nations, effective 1 January 2000.
In December 2000, Bangladesh expelled a Pakistani diplomat for stating that the number of dead in the 1971 war was 26,000, whereas Bangladesh holds that nearly three million were killed. Bangladesh wanted Pakistan to apologize for the alleged genocide it says Pakistani forces were guilty of during the 1971 war. In July 2002, Pakistan's president Gen. Pervez Musharraf visited Dhaka, and made an apology for excesses committed in Bangladesh's war for independence.
A series of bombings beset Bangladesh during 2001, in April, June, and September. In total, 155 people were killed and more than 2,500 were injured in violence leading up to the October 2001 parliamentary elections. In July, Prime Minister Hasina stepped down, handing power over to a caretaker authority that supervised the upcoming elections; she became the first prime minister in the country's history to complete a full five-year term. Former prime minister Khaleda Zia won a landslide victory on 1 October 2001, campaigning against lawlessness and corruption, in an election in which 75% of the registered voters went to the polls. The Awami League boycotted Parliament, protesting alleged rigging of elections and the persecution of religious minorities.
In March 2002, the government enacted tough laws to combat the use of corrosive acid to disfigure and sometimes kill individuals, mostly women. The death penalty was set as the maximum sentence in some cases. In 2001, 338 acid attacks were carried out in Bangladesh, 90% of them against women. Most of the acid victims have had sulphuric or hydrochloric acid splashed on their faces.
In June 2002, the Awami League ended its boycott of Parliament, and attended for the first time since losing in the October 2001 elections. Also in June 2002, President Badruddoza Chowdhury resigned, after being criticized for not visiting the grave of the BNP's founder, Ziaur Rahman. That October, Prime Minister Zia called out the army to contain terrorist attacks throughout the country in the absence of adequate logistic support from the police. The army was also directed to curb crime and corruption. As many as 44 people died in custody in the drive lasting from 16 October 2002 to 9 January 2003. Zia granted immunity to the armed forces for their actions during that period, a decision that was highly criticized by the opposition Awami League.
Bangladesh's history of political violence continued through 2004. In 2002, bomb explosions in four cinemas killed 17 people and injured 300 among families celebrating the end of Ramadan. The government arrested 39 members of the Awami League in connection with the explosions. Two years later, in August 2004, a bomb exploded at a rally being held in the capital city of Dhaka by the Awami League. The blast, believed to be an assassination attempt against Hasina, killed 12 people and wounded more than 100 others.
The majority of Bangladesh's 141 million people are Muslim, and the country like many other Muslim-majority countries in Asia saw an increase in Islamic militant activity following the attacks on the World Trade Center in the United States on 11 September 2001. Although the nation remains officially secular, calls to adopt Islamic law have grown since 2001. In 2002 and 2003, editions of the newsmagazine Newsweek were banned in Bangladesh because they contained articles that the government deemed offensive to Muslims. The threat of militant violence continued to grow throughout 2005. On 17 August of that year, about 100 small bombs exploded across the country, mainly at government offices, bus and train stations, and in public markets. Two people were killed and at least 125 others were wounded in the blasts. Leaflets from the Islamic group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, were found at many of the bomb sites, calling for Islamic rule in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh inherited the provincial government under which first the Dominion, then Republic, of Pakistan was governed, a parliamentary system based on the Westminster model with a unicameral legislature. Following this model, the constitution of December 1972 established a unitary, democratic republic, with an indirectly elected president as nominal head of state and a prime minister as head of government and chief executive. The prime minister and his government are responsible to a unicameral legislature—the Tatija Sangsad—elected no less frequently than every five years and composed of 300 members. (A constitutional amendment reserving 30 additional parliamentary seats for indirect election of women expired in May 2001.) The constitution incorporated four basic principles of state policy: nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy. With considerable controversy, because of its impact on the nearly 17% of the population which is non-Muslim, Islam replaced secularism as a state principle by constitutional amendment in 1977.
The constitution was amended in 1975, at the initiative of Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman, to abrogate most guarantees of civil liberties, to establish a one-party polity, and to make the presidency, rather than the prime ministership, the chief executive of the government. Mujib's assassination later that year, and the countercoup that occurred three months later resulted in a four-year suspension of the constitution by Bangladesh's martial law ruler, Gen. Ziaur Rahman.
Rahman himself was assassinated in 1981, and in the turmoil that ensued, Gen. H. M. Ershad seized power. Ershad declared himself president in 1982, and held office until 1990, when increasing antigovernment protests and violence resulted in his resignation. He was later jailed on corruption charges. The interim government then conducted what most observers regard as the most free and fair elections ever held in Bangladesh, in 1991.
Begum Khaleda Ziair Rahman, widow of General Rahman and the head of his Bangladesh Nationalist Party, became the first woman to hold the position of prime minister in Bangladesh following the elections in 1991. Among her first acts, she reversed from her former position in favor of retaining a strong presidential system to restore the parliamentary system of 1972 and to return to the prime ministership the powers removed by Mujib in 1975. She led the campaign with strong Awami League support, which resulted in overwhelming parliamentary approval of a constitutional amendment. Kahleda Zia was forced to step down in March 1996, after two years of political turmoil following an opposition boycott of Parliament and elections. The opposition AL, which claimed the BNP had rigged two elections, was swept into power in the internationally monitored elections of June 1996. Sheikh Hasina Wajed then formed a coalition majority in Parliament with the Jatiya Party. By September 1996, with several victories in by-elections, the Awami League controlled an absolute majority of seats in Parliament. The government was thus unaffected by the Jatiya Party's withdrawal from the coalition in March 1997.
Parliamentary elections held 1 October 2001 resulted in a return of Kahleda Zia to power. The BNP took 201 seats, the AL held 62, Jamaat-e-Islami held 18, and the Ershad faction of the Jatiya Party took 14 seats. The majority BNP government aligned with three of the smaller parties, Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party. Elections were scheduled to be held in 2007. The Jamaat-e-Islami party is sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, a position that was controversial, especially after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States attributed to him. Zia attempted to quell domestic and international unease resulting from this position, asserting that Bangladesh would not become a fundamentalist Islamic state. However, her three coalition partners advocated replacing Bangladesh's secular laws with Islamic law, or Shariah.
From 1947 through the end of 1971, East Pakistan—now Bangladesh—was governed as a single province, one of the two wings of Pakistan. In all, there were more than 30 political parties operating in the east wing, most of the them small, fractious, and with few elected members. The major parties at that time operated on the all-Pakistan level as well, and included the moderate Pakistan Muslim League (PML), a national movement that became the party of independence and the ruling party of Pakistan; the moderate socialist Awami (Freedom) League (AL), a spin-off from the Muslim League and the advocate of Bengali autonomy, with the bulk of its support in the east wing; the ultraconservative Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), grounded in Sunni Islamic orthodoxy (in Pakistan as in India) and initially opposed to the 1947 partition; and the leftist peasants and workers party, the Krishak Sramik Party (KSP) of Fazlul Haq. The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was banned in 1952 and remained illegal until its east wing component became the Bangladesh Communist Party (BCP) after 1971.
The PML governed East Pakistan from 1947, but in elections in 1954, the Awami League and the Krishak Sramik, supported in a United Front by the Jamaat, ousted the Muslim League from office. After four years of political instability, however, the two parties were displaced by the central government under "Governor's Rule," and the emergency provisions of the 1935 Government of India Act, then Pakistan's constitution. When the East Pakistan government was restored in August 1955, the KSP ruled in its own right until displaced by an AL government headed by Maulana Bhashani in 1956. Loss of Hindu support in 1958 cost the AL its majority in 1958, but "Governor's Rule" was again imposed, the provision having been carried over into the 1956 Pakistan Constitution. Martial law was imposed in Pakistan in 1965 and in elections held thereafter, under a limited political franchise, the Muslim League, now a shadow of its former self and the vehicle for General Ayub Khan's entry into elective politics, came to power briefly. Imposition of martial law in 1969 suspended political activity again until the scheduling of elections in 1970 restored political activity.
By 1970, the moderate-to-left populist Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Zulfikar Bhutto, and the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, now advocating far-reaching autonomy for East Bengal, had become the dominant political forces, respectively, in West and East Pakistan. Elections confirmed this position, with the AL winning 167 of East Pakistan's 169 seats in the National Assembly and absolute control in East Pakistan. The AL was the only constituent in the Bangla Government-in-Exile in 1971, with leftist parties in support and Islamic parties in opposition. After independence, the Islamic party leaders were jailed, their parties having been banned, and in 1973, Mujib's Awami League elected 293 members of the 300-elective seats in the Assembly.
In January 1975, with his power slipping, President Mujib amended the constitution to create a one-party state, renaming his party the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL). After the coup later in 1975, the BKSAL was disbanded and disappeared. When Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban on political parties in 1978, his presidential bid was supported by a newly formed Nationalist Front, dominated by his Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which won 207 of the assembly's 300 elective seats. All political activity was banned anew in March 1982 when Gen. Ershad seized power, but as he settled into power, Ershad supported the formation of the Jatiya (People's) Party, which became his vehicle for ending martial law and transforming his regime into a parliamentary government. In elections marked by violence and discredited by extensive fraud, Ershad's Jatiya Party won more than 200 of the 300 elective seats at stake. The Awami League, now under the leadership of Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, took 76 seats as the leading opposition party. Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP, heading an alliance of seven parties, boycotted the elections and gained considerable respect by this action. The BNP, the AL, and all other parties boycotted Ershad's 1988 election as well, discrediting the result that gave the Jatiya a two-thirds majority and fueling the fires of discontent that led to Ershad's resignation on 4 December 1990. Ershad was arrested on corruption charges eight days later by the interim government, convicted, and imprisoned on corruption charges.
A BNP plurality in the elections on 27 February 1991 enabled Begum Khaleda Zia to form a government with the support of 28 of the appointive members of the assembly and of the JI, which won 18 seats. The leader of the opposition is Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League (AL), which won 88 seats to claim the second ranking position in the assembly. However, Khaleda Zia resigned and Parliament was dissolved in March 1996 amid vote-rigging charges and a two-year government boycott by opposition parties. June 1996 elections brought Sheikh Hasina and the AL to a majority role in the new Parliament. The AL won 140 seats to the BNP's 116. New Prime Minister Hasina formed a cooperative government with the Jatiya Party, which won 32 seats. Although the Jatiya Party withdrew from the coalition in March 1997, the Awami League had by then acquired an absolute majority in the legislature and continued as the party in power.
From 1997 to 2001, the main opposition party, the BNP, hindered the work of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) by repeatedly boycotting its proceedings. One such boycott—over issues ranging from restoration of a floating footbridge to Ziaur Rahman's tomb to the dropping of criminal charges against BNP members of parliament—lasted for six months (August 1997–March 1998). Outside Parliament, the BNP continued to support public anti-government demonstrations, and organized a three-day general strike (hartal ) in November 1998 to protest alleged government repression. A month later, the opposition strengthened its position when the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami decided to accept Ershad and his Jatiya Party into the antigovernment movement.
After October 2001 parliamentary elections swept Khaleda Zia's BNP to power, ousting the Awami League of Hasina Wajed, concern was raised over the political stance of one of Zia's coalition partners, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which voices support for Osama bin Laden. Zia's three coalition partners in the government formed in 2001, JamaateIslami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party, are all Islamic parties advocating a return to Islamic law, or Shariah. Zia, however, granted the US-led military coalition the use of Bangladesh air space and other help for its attacks on bin Laden and his al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 2001–02, approving of the US-led war on terrorism. Hasina's Awami League supports secularism. Khaleda Zia's term extended through 2007.
As a unitary state, the key administrative unit in Bangladesh is the region (also popularly referred to as the district), of which there are 21 in all. For administrative convenience, regions are grouped into (and report through) six divisions (Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, and Sylhet), under a senior civil servant with the title of division commander (formerly commissioner).
As of 1985, regions or districts were subdivided into zilas; in urban areas, these were further broken down into municipalities, wards, mohallas, and thanas, while in rural areas, the breakdown was into upazilas (subdistricts), unions, mouzas, and villages. Under that system, each region or district was under the charge of a senior civil servant with the title of deputy commissioner; they are appointed by the national government and are vested with broad powers to collect revenues and taxes, assist in development activities, and maintain law and order.
In 1997, Bangladesh reorganized its local government structure in rural areas. New legislation created a fourtier local government system: gram (village), union (collection of villages), upazila (sub-district), and zila (district) councils. The purpose of this reorganization was to democratize government at the grassroots level in a process that, in theory at least, is nonpartisan. Elections for union parishads (councils) held in December 1997 created widespread interest, with particularly high levels of participation from women, both as candidates as well as voters. Other legislation made the upazila level the most important tier in local government, giving the upazila council power to collect revenue, prepare its own budget and hire its own employees. The restructuring of local government in Bangladesh is an ongoing process aimed at increasing popular participation in the governmental process.
The judicial system, modeled after the British system, is similar to that of neighboring countries. Besides the 1972 constitution, the fundamental law of the land, there are codes of civil and criminal laws. The civil law incorporates certain Islamic and Hindu religious principles relating to marriage, inheritance, and other social matters.
The constitution provides for an impartial and independent judiciary. After the 1982 coup, the constitution was suspended, martial law courts were established throughout the country, and Lieut. Gen Ershad assumed the power to appoint judges. The constitution was reinstated in November 1986.
The judicial system consists of a Low Court and a Supreme Court, both of which hear civil and criminal cases. The Low Court consists of administrative courts (magistrate courts) and session judges. The Supreme Court also has two divisions, a High Court which hears original cases and reviews decisions of the Low Court, and an Appellate Court which hears appeals from the High Court. The upper-level courts have exercised independent judgment, recently ruling against the government on a number of occasions in criminal, civil, and even political trials. The trials are public. There is a right to counsel and right to appeal. There is also a system of bail. An overwhelming backlog of cases remained the major problem of the court system.
The government, with the help of the World Bank, has under-taken an ambitious project to reform the judicial system. Changes include the creation of "Legal Aid Committees" to provide assistance to the poor, as well as the establishing of Metropolitan Courts of Sessions in Dhaka and Chittagong. In March 2001, the World Bank announced the approval of a us$30.6 million credit to assist Bangladesh in making its judicial system more efficient and accountable. A permanent Law Commission has been created to reform and update existing laws, and the government is committed to establishing a Human Rights Commission as well as an Office of the Ombudsman.
In 2005, Bangladesh had 125,500 active military personnel, of which the Army had 110,000, the Navy 9,000, and the Air Force 6,500. Paramilitary forces of border guards, armed police, and security guards totaled 126,200. The Army's primary weapons systems included 180 main battle tanks, more than 40 light tanks, over 180 armored personnel carriers, and over 190 artiullery pieces. Major naval units included 5 frigates, 33 patrol/coastal vessels, and 4 mine warfare ships. The Air Force's main weapons include 29 fighters and 34 fighter ground attack aircraft. Bangladesh was attempting to improve naval command primarily to combat piracy. The military budget in 2005 was $785 million.
Bangladesh participated in 11 UN peacekeeping missions.
Bangladesh joined the United Nations on 17 September 1974; it belongs to ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies. The country holds membership in the Asian Development Bank, the Colombo Plan, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and G-77. The nation became a member of the WTO on 1 January 1995. In 1985, Bangladesh became one of seven constituent members of the SAARC, under which it is a signatory to the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement.
Soon after independence, Bangladesh signed a friendship treaty with India, but relations between the two nations are often strained. In 1997, Bangladesh signed an agreement with India on sharing water from the Ganges River. Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in February 1974, and the two have developed good relations, their past differences notwithstanding.
Generally, Bangladesh follows a nonaligned foreign policy by but the late 1990s was seeking closer relations with other Islamic states, ASEAN, and China. Bangladesh has offered assistance to UN efforts in Kosovo (est. 1999), the Western Sahara (est. 1991), Ethiopia and Eritrea (est. 2000), Sierra Leone (est. 1999), East Timor (est. 2002), Georgia (est. 1993), Côte d'Ivoire (est. 2004), and DROC (est. 1999). Bangladesh also continued a healthy relationship with the United States, with which it had bilateral trade agreements. In 1995, the country's trade exporters association signed an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) under which industry's rampant use of child labor would be eliminated.
In environmental cooperation, Bangladesh is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.
Bangladesh lies along a river delta and has gained interest from foreign investors in recent years because of its large potential natural gas reserves. However, with the highest population density of any country except city-states like Singapore, its cultivated land is overcrowded, undercapitalized, and dominated by subsistence farmers. Over 60% of the country's total land area is cultivated. Although half of the nation's gross domestic product comes from the services sector, about 63% of the economically active population subsists on agriculture. Growth rates have not been high enough to eliminate substantial poverty; it is estimated that 45% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2004. Nevertheless, signs of modest improvement in the economy have been evident during the past decade, with growth occurring at a steady 5.2% rate over the past several years. Despite this improvement, Bangladesh's reliance on agriculture makes its economy extremely vulnerable to cyclones, floods, and droughts. Changes in world commodity prices also have a strong effect on the country's economic condition. Agriculture accounts for 20.5% of the country's GDP, with services comprising 52.8% and industry 26.7%.
The prospect of return to elected government in 1990 helped produce an upsurge in growth in 1989/90 of 6.6%, but in 1990/91 the combined effects of the Gulf War, domestic political disturbances, and a devastating cyclone resulted in a drop in the GDP's growth rate to 3.4%. Pursuit of further stabilization and structural adjustment measures by the government in 1991 allowed Bangladesh to weather these crises, strengthen its revenue base, bring inflation to a record low of 1.4% in 1993, and maintain a good balance of payments position. However, political instability and a lack of continued economic reforms pushed inflation to 5.2% in 1995. Sluggish development investments, limited growth in manufacturing, and bureaucratic inefficiency persisted. The election of the Awami League government helped calm the political situation, and the economy responded. GDP grew 4.7% in 1996, while inflation eased to 5.04%.
In 1997, the government's delay in instituting reforms threatened to slow economic advances. Inflation rose to 7%, while GDP slowed to 4%. Although the Awami League promoted the exploration, distribution and manufacture of oil and gas in Bangladesh in the late 1990s, exploration has been delayed by political squabbles over how foreign companies would participate. The economy grew strongly during 1998, with real growth reaching 5.4%. Growth slowed to 4.9% in 1999, and to 3.4% in 2000. The global economic slowdown, and the after-effects of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, combined with continuing internal political turmoil initially brought economic growth almost to a halt in Bangladesh, with an estimated growth rate of 1.6%. Although Bangladesh's growth rate improved to 5.2% in the early 2000s, severe flooding in 2004 damaged crops and infrastructure, illustrating once again the country's vulnerability to natural disasters. As of 2005, Bangladesh experienced an inflation rate of 6%, and its public debt comprised 46.1% of its GDP. Although the country received $30 billion in foreign aid and loans since 1971, nearly half of its people continue to live below the poverty line. Both the IMF and World Bank predicted that Bangladesh would not be able to ease poverty significantly until annual growth reached 7–8%.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Bangladesh's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $299.9 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $2,100. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.2%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 6.7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 20.5% of GDP, industry 26.7%, and services 52.8%.
According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $3.191 billion or about $23 per capita and accounted for approximately 6.1% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $1,393 million or about $10 per capita and accounted for approximately 2.5% of the gross national income (GNI).
The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Bangladesh totaled $39.68 billion or about $288 per capita based on a GDP of $51.9 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.9%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 49% of household consumption was spent on food, 18% on fuel, 8% on health care, and 9% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 45% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.
The labor force in 2005 was estimated at 66.6 million workers. In the Fiscal Year 1995/96 (the latest year for which data was available), 11% of the civilian labor force was employed in the industrial sector, with agriculture accounting for 63%, and service employees 26%. Statistics are unreliable because of a large, informal, unreported market. The unemployment rate in 2005 was estimated at 2.5%, and included those who would be considered "under-employed." Also, Bangladesh is an extensive exporter of labor to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Qatar, and Oman.
Although 1.8 million out of the 5 million workers in the formal sector of the economy were unionized, most of which were tied to political parties and represented only a small fraction of the economically active population. Strikes are a common form of workers protest. There are industrial tribunals to settle labor disputes. The government can impose labor settlements through arbitration, as well as by declaring a strike illegal. Unions have become progressively more aggressive in asserting themselves, especially on the political scene. Civil service and security forces personnel are banned from joining unions. In addition, teachers in both the private and public sectors are prohibited from forming a trade union.
Bangladesh has no national minimum wage. Instead, wages are set by the National Pay and Wages Commission and may not be disputed. In the private sector, wages are set by industry, and collective bargaining rarely occurs due to high unemployment and workers' concerns over job security. By law, government employees, as well as workers in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), banks and other office workers are subject to a 40 hour work week, with Fridays and Saturdays off. However, the legal workweek for factory workers is 48 hours, with up to 12 hours of overtime and one day off mandated. This law is rarely enforced, especially in the garment industry. Children under the age of 14 are prohibited by law to work in factories but may work (under restricted hours) in other industries. But such restrictions are rarely enforced and children work in every sector of the economy. In 2003, the government estimated that 3.2 million children between the ages 5–14 were engaged in all types of employment activities, many that were harmful to their well-being. By law, every child is required to attend school up to the age of 10 or through the fifth grade. However, there is no effective way of enforcing this regulation.
Agriculture accounted for 23% of GDP and engaged 53% of the economically active population in 2003. Most of the farmers own no more than a few acres of land, and their holdings are badly fragmented. The land is fertile, but yields are low because of a lack of capital for input.
Rice dominates the production of about 60% of all cropped land in Bangladesh. Of the varieties grown, aman rice, which can be raised in inundated land and saline soil, occupies nearly 60% of the total land under rice. Aus rice, which cannot be grown in flooded fields, is raised mostly in higher areas of Bangladesh. Boro rice is grown in the winter, mainly in the swamps and marshy areas, but government-supported irrigation projects have encouraged its extension to other areas. To meet the challenge of the food shortages, the government of Bangladesh and international aid programs introduced a high-yielding variety of rice called IRRI with considerable success. Total rice production in 2004 was 37,910,000 tons. Before November 1992, the government artificially inflated rice prices by buying over one million tons per harvest. With subsidies gone, the subsequent fall in rice prices reflected an adjustment of the market after 20 years of prices propped up by government sales and purchases.
Jute is the main cash crop of Bangladesh, which produces about one-quarter of the total jute supply of the world. Grown in most parts of the country, jute is harvested from July to September. Its strong fibers are used to produce carpets, burlap bags, mats, upholstery, and other products. Jute is also used to manufacture textiles for clothes. The combined total export of jute and jute products represents about 13–15% of Bangladesh's annual export earnings. Although Bangladesh is the world leader in exports of jute, its prominence in the economy has slipped since the 1970s. The diminished role is due to mismanagement of the nationalized jute industry, labor strikes, and a drop in the worldwide use of jute for packing. In 2004, 800,000 tons of jute were produced (28% of world production).
Although tea is the second most important agricultural export, it accounted for only 11% of agricultural export earnings in 2004. Most tea plantations are in the Sylhet Region and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Much of the tea is consumed domestically; total production in 2004 was 55,600 tons.
The agricultural economy, though disrupted by the 1971 war, largely recovered and grew by an average 2.7% annually during the 1980s and by an annual average of 2.9% during 1990–2000. However, in 2003 agricultural production was down 2.1% from 1999–2001. Agricultural exports accounted for 1.7% of total exports in 2004. Frequent monsoons and cyclones keep the economy vulnerable. Crop output (in tons) in 2004 included sugarcane, 6,484,000; wheat, 1,253,000; potatoes, 3,908,000; sweet potatoes, 320,000; tobacco, 40,000; and barley, 1,000. Fruit production in 2004 included 700,000 tons of bananas, 243,000 tons of mangoes, and 155,000 tons of pineapples. Coconut productions totaled 89,000 tons that year; lentils, 122,000 tons.
The livestock sector has made significant progress during the 1990s, rising from 1% to 10% of GDP. Livestock provide most of Bangladesh's draft power, rural transportation, manure, and fuel, in addition to meat, milk, eggs, hides, and skins. Buffalo milk is an important item of consumption, especially in the form of clarified butterfat. Small dairy farms (with 5–20 crossbred cows) have been growing fast in recent years. Entrepreneurs are encouraged by high liquid milk prices as well as government incentives under which the farmers receive cash to purchase dairy cows. There are over 20,000 small dairies; total milk production in 2004 was 2.17 million tons. There were about 24.5 million head of cattle, 850,000 buffaloes, 34.5 million goats, 1.26 million sheep, and 140 million chickens in 2004.
Much of the cattle stock is smuggled from India because of the reduced local availability of cows and bulls, especially during the midyear Muslim holiday of Eid Ul Azha, when cattle are sacrificed throughout the country. The cattle brought in from India may account for up to 30% of beef production. The scarcity of cattle in recent years is the result of lack of vaccines and fodder, natural disasters, and an absence of farmer incentives.
Fish is a staple food of Bangladesh and the main source of protein. There are hundreds of varieties, including carp, salmon, pomfret, shrimp, catfish, and many local varieties. Dried fish is considered a delicacy in many parts of the country. About 999,000 tons of fish (76% from inland waters) were produced in 2003. While much of the fish is consumed domestically, Bangladesh exports a sizable quantity of freshwater fish to India and other neighboring countries, and freshwater shrimp and lobster are exported to a number of countries. Exports of fish products in 2003 amounted to $322.9 million. It is also a major source of frogs' legs, which are "farmed" commercially. Fishermen's cooperatives foster the use of modern fishcatching trawlers in the Bay of Bengal, and the government has established a fisheries corporation to stimulate production of freshwater fish for export.
Bangladesh has an estimated 1,300,000 hectares (3,200,000 acres) of forests, covering some 10.2% of land area. In recent years, the pressure of population has led to enormous deforestation. The government controlled Forest Industries Development Corp. supervises the development and exploitation of forest resources. Roundwood production in 2003 came to 28 million cu m (1 billion cu ft). Over 98% of timber cut is used for firewood.
The main forest zone is the Sunderbans area in the southwest, consisting mostly of mangrove forests. Two principal species dominate the Sunderban forests: sundari trees, which grow about 15–18 m (50–60 ft) high and are of tough timber, and gewa trees, a softer wood used for making newsprint. Teak and bamboo are grown in the central forests.
Aside from its large identified natural gas reserves, Bangladesh had few mineral resources. The Bay of Bengal area was being explored for oil, and in some offshore areas, drilling was being conducted by international companies. Bangladesh had reserves of good-quality coal in the northern districts, but extraction has been difficult since many deposits were located at a depth of more than 900 m. Production estimates of mineral commodities in Bangladesh in 2004 included hydraulic cement, 5,000,000 metric tons; marine salt, 350,000 metric tons; and limestone (mined in the Sylhet and Chittagong regions), 36,000 metric tons.
A substantial portion of Bangladesh's electrical supply is met by the country's only hydroelectric plant, at Kaptai, which has a capacity of 230 MW; the rest of the country's power is produced by burning coal, gas, and oil. Except for a few private installations on the tea plantations and a few other industries, the power and energy sector is controlled by a government-managed corporation. In 2003, electricity generation was estimated at 17.4 billion kWh, of which 94% came from fossil fuels and 6% from hydropower. In 2002, consumption of electricity totaled 15.353 billion kWh. Total capacity in 2003 is estimated at 3.6 gigawatts (GW). As of August 2005, it was reported that only about 20% of the population had access to electricity (25% urban and 10% rural). In addition, the power supply is erratic, and blackouts are a chronic problem, as are delays in new plant construction.
In July 1997, Bangladesh contracted with four international power and refining companies for four new power plants with a combined capacity of 1,600 MW. The new plants were expected to double the country's electricity to 4,000 MW over five years. A large-capacity, gas-fired 360 MW plant at Haripur became operational in April 2001, and a second, similar plant was scheduled for completion at Meghnaghat in late 2002. In 2000 the United States agreed to provide technical assistance for construction of the planned Rooppur nuclear plant.
Bangladesh's major energy resource is natural gas. However, there is some question as to how large the nation's natural gas reserves are. According to British Petroleum (BP), proven reserves at the end of 2004 stood at 0.44 trillion cu m (15.4 trillion cu ft), but estimates from the Oil and Gas Journal, place those reserves at 10.6 trillion cu ft as of 1 January 2005. According to estimates by the US Geological Survey, Bangladesh's "undiscovered reserves" have been placed at 32.1 trillion cu ft. Natural gas production in 2004 has been put at 13.2 billion cu m, according to BP. With 20 natural gas fields throughout the country, the government controls the gas industry but began accepting private exploration bids in 1991. Foreign companies active in the country's natural gas sector include Shell and Unocal. More than four-fifths of Bangladesh's natural gas is used to produce power and fertilizer.
Bangladesh's proven oil reserves are reported to be modest and, as of 1 January 2005, were estimated at 56 million barrels. In 2004, production of oil was estimated at 6,725 barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted for 6,000 barrels per day. The country has one oil refinery, located at Chittagong, with a capacity of 33,000 barrels per day. In 1991 Chinese consultants confirmed the existence of 300 million tons of good quality coal at the Boropukuria coal field in northern Diajpur District.
Bangladesh came into existence after a violent fight for independence in 1971 from Pakistan, following initial partition from India when British colonial rulers pulled out of the subcontinent in 1947. Efforts to develop an industrial base faltered in the country's early years of independence when Bangladesh attempted to stimulate economic growth by nationalizing most of its industries. That statist model led to much inefficiency and stagnation, and beginning in the mid-1970s, Bangladesh started to shift its strategy toward one of encouraging a move toward a market economy. The country remained committed to developing such an economy, and has made steps in that direction. However, many of its key industries—including banking and jute production—were still government controlled. Public control of industry, coupled with the country's persistent population growth and limited capital, has led to inefficiency and a resistance to developing its richest resources.
Bangladesh developed policies to encourage private enterprise and investment through the mid-1980s. However, many stated objectives were not carried out partly because political problems preoccupied governmental leaders. As a result, Bangladesh has had difficulty achieving its major industrial goals. Privatization of industry has occurred at a slow pace, partly because of worker unrest as well as a dysfunctional banking system. However, some progress was seen on 30 June 2002 when the government succeeded in closing down its Adamjee Jute Mill, one of its largest and most expensive public enterprises. In the meantime, a global economic crisis that followed the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States hit Bangladesh's garment industry particularly hard. Readymade garments comprise Bangladesh's primary export. The growth of these exports, 18% annually before September 2001, slowed to 8%.
The garment industry, however, remained one with strong potential for Bangladesh. About 1.8 million jobs—mostly for women—have been created in the industry since the 1990s. The country also has drawn praise for its efforts to end child labor in its garment factories, eliminating such exploitative work by 2001.
Bangladesh has seen growth in steel, sugar, tea, leather goods, newsprint, pharmaceutical, and fertilizer production. A challenge is diversifying its export base. Garments accounted for about 75% of the country's exports in 2005, though it also exports leather, shrimp, pharmaceuticals, ceramics and its historic cash crop, jute. With a goal of expanding exports in mind, the country has made strides in its effort to establish export processing zones and was encouraging entrepreneurs to set up similar establishments.
Continued efforts to privatize industry are likely to determine whether Bangladesh will be able to compete in a global economy in the 21st century. Although progress has been made, the public sector still employed about one-third of the formal labor force and made up about 40% of the country's hard industrial assets. A lack of a privately run industrial base meant that Bangladesh was likely to continue to rely on weaker sectors such as agriculture; as of August 2005, manufacturing accounted for only 16% of the GDP.
A new potential source of industrial growth lies in Bangladesh's oil and natural gas reserves. Bangladesh produces about 6,725 barrels of oil per day and its proven reserves are estimated at 56 million. Although Bangladesh has encouraged foreign oil companies to do business in the country, exploration has proven to be difficult and disagreements over the licensing of foreign oil holdings has stalled growth in this sector. In terms of natural gas, proven reserves are estimated between 10 trillion and 15 trillion cubic feet. Bangladesh is seen as having potential to become a major gas producer and the commodity could become a valuable export. However, many in Bangladesh feel that the reserves should be used to meet domestic needs first, and leaders within its major political parties have agreed only to consider exporting natural gas if the reserves can satisfy 50 years of domestic demand.
Bangladesh lacks the trained personnel necessary for intensive technological development. The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (founded in 1962) does, however, train some technicians. Other institutions offering scientific and technical education include the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, the University of Chittagong, the University of Dhaka, Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, Khulna University, and the University of Rajshahi. In the period 1990–01, there were only 51 scientists and 32 technicians engaged in research and development per million people. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $10 million.
The Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and headquartered in Dhaka, operates seven research institutes, and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy commission, founded in 1973, and also in Dhaka, operates two others. The Geological Society of Bangladesh, founded in 1972 at Dhaka, is a government organization under the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources. Leading professional groups are the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences, the Bangladesh Medical Association, and the Zoological Society of Bangladesh, all headquartered in Dhaka.
Most commodities produced in Bangladesh are consumed inside the country. Normally, the farmers or fishermen sell to wholesalers and they in turn sell to distributors and retailers. Industrial commodities for domestic consumption are distributed through the same procedure. The middlemen in the distribution process have often benefited from excessive profits, creating hardships for farmers and consumers. To meet this situation, the government has introduced mechanisms by means of which farmers can sell directly to cooperative agencies acting on behalf of buyers. The government has also set up fair-price shops for consumers. Much domestic trade in rural areas is conducted in the marketplaces, where farmers sell directly to consumers. Bangladesh's government promotes foreign investment into the country's infrastructure, and about 60% of the domestic development budget comes from foreign aid.
Foreign products are imported by large commercial concerns located in the capital city of Dhaka or in the ports, and are then distributed through wholesalers and retailers. Normal business hours are between 9 am and 5 pm, Sunday through Thursday, but most retail stores are open until 8 pm. Many private businesses are open on Saturday as well. Limited advertising is done through the newspapers, movie houses, handbills, and television.
Most Bangladeshis earn their living from agriculture so many of the domestic commodities that are traded are farm products. The nation's 2004 budget contained a $100 million subsidy for the agriculture sector, in recognition of the importance of farming for its people. Rice and jute are the primary crops, with wheat and vegetables gaining more importance. Tea is grown in the northeast. Because of Bangladesh's fertile soil and ample water, rice can be grown and harvested three times a year in many areas.
Since independence, Bangladesh has had a negative trade balance. Imports steadily ran more than double the value of exports between 1971 and 1991. With a surge in export growth since 1991, the trade deficit has improved; imports exceeded exports by about 56% in 1996, and by 62% in 1997 as opposed to more than 120% in 1989/90. Trade relations with the United States remained excellent. As a result of successful export promotion measures undertaken by the government during the 1980s, exports of readymade-garments and knitwear are now Bangladesh's leading earner of foreign exchange.
The garment and textile industry garners the highest percentage of Bangladesh's export commodities, including undergarments, women's and men's outerwear, leather, hats, and yarn (85%). At the mouth of the Ganges, fish and crustaceans are also harvested and exported (5.6%).
|Italy-San Marino-Holy See||210.9||88.3||122.6|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
Bangladesh belongs to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It joined the other SAARC members—Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—in agreeing in 2004 to create a South Asian Free Trade Area by 2006.
Like many poorer countries, Bangladesh has encouraged its growing cadre of workers in the Middle East and elsewhere overseas to remit earnings back to the country. As a result of these private transfers, the country has been able to offset its trade deficit to some degree. Since the end of the 1990s, the level of worker remittances has increased at an average rate of 12.6%. As of November 2004, such remittances totaled $3 billion a year.
However, large amounts of foreign aid and heavy short-term borrowing are needed to handle the balance-of-payments problem. In FY 1991/92, the infusion of $1.59 billion in foreign aid and transfers helped lessen a negative balance of payments. In 1995, the trade deficit widened and there was a stagnation in the growth of remittances from overseas workers. The rising trade deficit, coupled with a decline in international aid disbursements due to political turmoil, caused foreign exchange reserves to drop from a peak of $3.4 billion in April 1995 to $2.1 billion by the end of 1996, and $1.7 billion by 1999. The reserves stabilized at between $2.2 billion and $2.5 billion after 2002, and were reported at $3.24 billion as of May 2005.
During the 1990s, the manufacturing sector revived, due to export growth led by garments and knitwear. Although the garment industry suffered the effects of a post-9/11 economic slowdown, it remained a solid contributor to Bangladesh's export base. Bilateral quota systems with developed country markets, whose quota regimes limited the exports of many competing Asian suppliers, were a factor in the growth of garment exports starting from 1994. Other factors contributing to the success of the garment industry
|Balance on goods||-2,421.1|
|Balance on services||-731.6|
|Balance on income||-223.1|
|Direct investment abroad||-5.9|
|Direct investment in Bangladesh||102.5|
|Portfolio investment assets||…|
|Portfolio investment liabilities||1.6|
|Other investment assets||-557.9|
|Other investment liabilities||670.3|
|Net Errors and Omissions||196.0|
|Reserves and Related Items||-887.1|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
in Bangladesh include few governmental regulations, the provision of customs-bonded warehouses for imported cloth, and financial arrangements allowing foreign banks to finance raw materials inventories. Nevertheless, Bangladesh must diversify its export base in order to remain competitive globally.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 the purchasing power parity of Bangladesh's exports was $9.372 billion while imports totaled $12.97 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $3.6 billion. Despite the lingering deficit, the International Monetary Fund's Executive Board in 2005 praised Bangladesh's efforts to moderate inflation and increase its foreign reserves. The board recommends that the nation continue with economic reforms, diversification of exports and efforts to fight poverty.
Central banking is conducted by the Bangladesh Bank, which has its head office in Dhaka. It is responsible for the circulation of money, supervision of commercial banks, and control of credit and foreign exchange. There are 4 commercial government-owned banks, 6 development financial institutions, 27 domestic private banks, and 12 foreign bank branches operating in Bangladesh. The four major banks are all state-owned: Sonali Bank, Janata Bank, Agrani Bank, and Rupali Bank. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand deposits—an aggregate commonly known as M1—were equal to $4.3 billion. In that same year, M2—an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual funds—was $16.9 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6%.
Trade on the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) was dormant until 1993. The fourth quarter of 1996 was marked by feverish activity on the DSE, and on the smaller Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE). In September, October, and the first two weeks of November, records were broken daily as share prices soared. Prices soon bore little relation to the current profitability or future prospects of the companies concerned. Up to 300,000 first-time buyers joined in the bonanza, driving the limited number of stocks traded-210-to a peak on 16 November, 1996, when the all-share index reached 3,627, up from around 1,000 in June. By 4 November, market capitalization had reached an unsustainable $6 billion, equivalent to some 20% of the country's GDP. The government began to cool down the market by selling off state-owned enterprises. In late December, the central bank announced that T2 billion ($47 million) would be available to the state-run Investment Corporation of Bangladesh to buy shares and give some support to the market, but the market crashed despite these preventative measures. In 1997, 37 stock brokers were charged with market manipulation in the DSE boom and crash of 1996. As of 2004, there were 250 companies listed on the DSE. Market capitalization as of December 2004 stood at $3.317 billion, with the DSE up 103.7% from the previous year at 1,971.3.
The Ministry of Finance and Planning is the insurance regulatory body. Premiums are mainly in commercial or industrial fields. Life insurance remained limited to city dwellers and middle-class professionals. In 2003, direct life insurance premiums written totaled $194 million. All direct premiums written that same year totaled $297 million. The country's top life insurer that same year was American Life with gross life premiums written of $60.6 million. The top nonlife insurer had gross nonlife premiums written of $14.1 million in 2003.
The fiscal year runs from June to July. In 1993, Bangladesh successfully completed a three-year IMF structural adjustment program. This program resulted in growth in the money supply of 11% in 1993, 15% in 1994, and 16% in 1995. In addition, government spending was curbed by a decline in subsides to money-losing parastatals and the value added tax (VAT) continued to generate higher than predicted revenues for the government, with collections up 18% over 1994. In 1996, the government reported that exports were up, GDP grew by 4.4%, and tax revenues climbed 9% to $3.1 billion. Encouraged by the good news, the government proposed a 1997 budget that would reduce domestic taxes, further cut import duties, and provide special incentives for foreign investors. The government stressed, however, a continuing need for foreign aid. International aid disbursements in 1996 totaled $1.5 billion, down from $1.7 billion in 1995. Almost half of government revenues come from foreign aid. In 1999, primarily because of flooding, foreign aid increased by 19% from $1.3 billion in 1998. The global economic downturn of the first few years of the new millenium has had devastating effects on Bangladesh's economy. Exports had been growing 18% a year prior to the recession; they are now growing only 8% a year. The World Bank and the IMF predicted that GDP growth would fall well short of the 7–8% they believed would be necessary for the country to lift itself out of poverty.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Bangladesh's central government took in revenues of approximately $5.9 billion and had expenditures of $8.5 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$2.6 billion. Public
|Revenue and Grants||336,680||100.0%|
|General public services||96,293||28.3%|
|Public order and safety||19,511||5.7%|
|Housing and community amenities||26,307||7.7%|
|Recreational, culture, and religion||4,685||1.4%|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
debt in 2005 amounted to 46.1% of GDP. Total external debt was $21.25 billion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were t336,680 million and expenditures were t340,329 million. The value of revenues was us$5,790 million and expenditures us$5,846 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = t58.150 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 28.3%; defense, 10.1%; public order and safety, 5.7%; economic affairs, 18.5%; environmental protection, 0.1%; housing and community amenities, 7.7%; health, 6.7%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.4%; education, 17.9%; and social protection, 3.5%.
The principal direct taxes are personal income taxes and corporate income taxes, and a value-added tax (VAT) of 15% levied on all-important consumer goods. The top income tax rate for individuals is 25%. For the 2004/05 tax year (1 July 2004–30 June 2005) the top corporate rate was 45%. However, publicly traded companies registered in Bangladesh are charged a lower rate of 30%. Banks, financial institutions and insurance companies are charged the 45% rate. All other companies are taxed at the 37.5% rate. Effective 1 July 2002, the VAT rate on computer hardware and software was reduced to 7.5%, and certain agricultural equipment and electricity supplied to the agricultural sector was exempted from VAT altogether. VAT on the transfer of land is also to be abolished. Essential agricultural implements and irrigation pumps had previously been excluded from certain taxes.
Although it has made significant reforms in the past few years, Bangladesh remains one of the most restrictive trade regimes in Asia and gets a major portion of its current revenue from import duties and excise taxes. As of 2005, customs duties on imports ranged from 7.5–30%, although supplementary duties can push import duties much higher. There is also a 2.5% infrastructure development surcharge on nearly all imports. Customs procedures are lengthy and burdensome and Bangladesh's list of prohibited imports is lengthy.
There are three export processing zones: one in Chittagong; one in Dakha; and one in Gazipur; three more are under construction in Comilla, Issardi, and Mongla. Bangladesh is a member of the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA).
Bangladesh nationalized most industries in 1972 and set up nine corporations to oversee them. That statist policy proved inefficient and in the mid-1980s, the Bangladesh government began relaxing its policy toward foreign investment and announced a program granting tax holidays to new foreign investors. More recently, government industrial policies have liberalized conditions for foreign investment much further—100% foreign equity is now allowed on investments anywhere in the country, and many regulations discriminating between foreign and domestic investors have been abolished. Foreign direct investment (FDI) began flowing into the country, though it was curtailed sharply in 2000 and 2001 when Bangladesh failed to carry out structural economic reforms.
The US State Department reported that total foreign direct investment in Bangladesh totaled $712 million in the period 1999–2003. Foreign investment averaged about $7 million annually in 1990–96 before rising sharply in 1997–2000 to $196.8 million annually. Most of the increase was due to investments in Bangladesh's oil and natural gas reserves and other aspects of its energy sector. Annual investment dropped to $78 million in 2001 and to $52 million in 2002. However, foreign investment rebounded, with a total of $120.7 million invested in 2003. The largest foreign investors in Bangladesh are the United States, Norway, Malaysia, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
The major objectives of planned development have been increased national income, rural development, self-sufficiency in food, and increased industrial production. However, political turmoil and constant natural disasters have consistently derailed Bangladesh's economic goals. Bangladesh's first five-year plan (1973–78) aimed to increase economic growth by 5.5% annually, but actual growth averaged only 4% per year. A special two-year plan (1978–80), stressing rural development, also fell short of its projected growth target, as did the second five-year plan (1980–85), which targeted 7.2% annual growth. The third five-year plan (1985–90) had a 5.4% annual growth target though only 3.8% was actually achieved.
In 1991, a new economic program was initiated that included financial sector reform and liberalization measures to encourage investment. This structural adjustment program was developed through the International Monetary Fund, which mandated a series of economic reforms. However, political turmoil from 1994 to 1996 preoccupied the government and hobbled the program. Growth slowed during this period but was renewed in the late 1990s until the global economic crisis that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States all but halted new economic growth.
The post-9/11 economic slowdown exacerbated a serious drop in foreign direct investment in 2000 and 2001 that had resulted from Bangladesh's failure to implement the IMF-mandated reforms. A new government, led by Khaleda Zia, came into power in 2001 on a pledge of returning to the earlier economic liberalization policies. The IMF approved a $490 million plan in June 2003 to support economic reforms through the end of 2006. At about the same time, the World Bank approved $536 million in interest-free loans.
A system of pensions exists for public employees only, and there is a limited work injury and unemployment insurance system. These programs are financed entirely by employer contributions and cover only small percentage of the population. Sickness and maternity benefits are offered on a very limited basis.
Although the constitution prohibits discrimination, women and minority groups are confronted with social and economic disadvantages. Violence against women remained widespread. In 2004 reports continued of women being tortured and killed over dowry disputes. Rapes are seriously underreported due to the social disgrace to the victims. Acid attacks to women remained a problem.
Because of widespread poverty, children are forced to work at a very young age, and are frequently abused and subjected to dangerous working conditions. More than half of all children suffer from malnutrition. There is a huge problem of trafficking of both women and children. Some estimates place the number of child laborers as high as 10 million, including an estimated 29,000 child prostitutes. There are an estimated 400,000 homeless children, of which approximately 150,000 have no knowledge of their parents.
Although the government is secular, discrimination against minority religions leads to conflict and violence. The government's human rights record is poor, with many fundamental human rights restricted. As of 2004, disappearance, kidnapping, torture, and violent suppression of demonstrators were carried out regularly. Prison conditions are inhumane.
Malaria, tuberculosis, and other serious diseases remain endemic and public health problems are aggravated by widespread malnutrition and periodic natural disasters. Between 1995 and 2000, the prevalence of malnutrition in children under five years old decreased from 84% to 55%. In 2000, 97% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 53 % had adequate sanitation, up from 78% and 35%, respectively, in 1980. Because the lack of vitamin A plays a role in blindness and malnutrition, in 1993 the government of Bangladesh introduced a national system to distribute vitamin A capsules to children.
In the mid-1990s, only 45% of the population had access to health services. In 2004, there were estimated 23 physicians, 13 nurses, and 11 midwives per 100,000 people.
The average life expectancy in 2005 was 62.08 years. The government pays the majority of vaccination costs, which has helped increase participation. As of 1999, estimated immunization rates for children under one year of age were 71% for measles and 72% for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The infant mortality rate was 62.6 per 1,000 live births in 2005. It was estimated that 54% of married women (ages 15–49) used contraception. Maternal deaths were estimated at 440 per 100,000 live births in 200, down from 850 in 1990.
A new strain of cholera was reported late in 1992. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 13,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 650 deaths from AIDS in 2003.
Housing has long been a vital concern in Bangladesh. The government maintains an urban housing program but does not have any housing development program for villages. The House Building Finance Corp. lends money for private as well as public housing. Dhaka and Chittagong urban development is conducted under the guidance of town planning authorities, which develops land and allocates it for private dwelling and commercial purposes.
As of the 2001 census, there were about 25.36 million house-holds with the average household contained 4.8 persons, down from 5.5 people in 1991. Over 76% of the population live in rural areas. Bamboo is still an important building material, used often for interior dividing walls, pillars, or crossbars on roofs. In rural areas, cane, jute, wood, mud bricks, and corrugated iron sheets are primary building materials for homes. Some rural villages still feature thatched huts. Traditional dwellings are typically separate homes, with some styles featuring an inner courtyard and/or rooms on elevated platforms. Row houses have been built in urban areas.
Since 1996, the government has launched a number of programs focusing on poverty and homelessness. The Asrayon ("shelter") program provided group housing and agricultural plots on government land for about 50,000 families according to a 2002 estimate. The Gahrey Phera ("return home") program helped displaced rural families return to their villages. The Grihayan Tahabil (Housing Fund) was established through the Bangladesh Bank as a way to provide loans to nongovernment organization that endeavor to build shelters for the urban poor.
Education is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 11, although rural girls are exempted from this law. Primary education covers five years. Secondary education is divided into three two-year cycles of junior (three years), upper (two years), and higher (two years) secondary programs. After their junior level, students may choose to attend a vocational training school for two years, followed by a higher technical course of two years, instead of following the general education track. There is also a Madrasah system (Islamic education) which is required to support national curricula. Most educational institutions are supported by the government either fully or partially. The language of instruction is Bangla.
Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 84% of age-eligible students; 82% for boys and 86% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 44% of age-eligible students; 42% for boys and 47% for girls. It was estimated that about 73.3% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 56:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 34:1.
The principal administrative bodies for education are the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Association of Universities of Bangladesh. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.4% of GDP.
There are 17 public universities and 10 medical colleges, and 10 teacher-training colleges. There are several polytechnical schools offering three-year courses in a variety of technical and engineering fields. Technical Training Centers offer certificate and diploma course. The Bangladesh Open University offers degree and non-degree continuing education programs. Research institutions include the Bangla Academy (which sponsors translations of scientific and literary works into Bangla), the Asiatic Society, and the National Institute of Public Administration's Institute of Law and International Affairs. In 2003, about 6% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 41.1%, with 50.3% for males and 31.4% for females.
The largest library in Bangladesh is Dhaka University Library (1921; with 5.5 million volumes). It houses the university's collection and that of the former Public Library of East Pakistan. The National Library of Bangladesh, also in Dhaka, holds 200,000 books and 200,000 serials available in Bengali, English, Persian, and Arabic. The National Library also holds the National Archives collection. The Bangladesh Central Public Library System (1958) has over one million volumes; besides the main branch in Dhaka, there are four regional branches and eight district branches. The Bangla Academy maintains an excellent research collection, as does the Bangladesh Institute of Development studies in Dhaka (100,000 volumes).
The Dhaka Museum contains a variety of sculptures and paintings from the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim periods. Both it and the Balda Museum have outstanding collections of Bengali art and ancient artifacts. Also in Dhaka are a science and technology museum and the National Museum of Bangladesh. The Ram Mala Museum at Comilla houses 7th-century archaeological finds, and the museum in Rajshahi contains many artifacts from the ruins of an 8th-century Buddhist monastery excavated nearby, as well as significant relics from the Kushon, Gupta, Pala, and Sena periods of Bengali history. There is a gallery of contemporary paintings as well as an ethnological museum in Chittagong.
All postal and telecommunications services are controlled by the government. In 2003, there were an estimated five mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 153,100 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 10 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.
Color television was introduced in 1980. The primary radio and television broadcast stations are owned and operated by the government. In 2004, there was only one private radio station and three private television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 49 radios and 59 television sets for every 1,000 people. While cable television service is available, only about 27 of every 1,000 people are subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 7.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 2 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were three secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.
The major Bengali daily newspapers (with 2002 circulations), all in Dhaka, are Ittefaq (200,000), Dainik Inqilab (180,000), Sangbad (71,050), Dainik Bangla (65,000), and Dainik Sangram (45,000). The largest English dailies, also in Dhaka, are the Bangladesh Observer (43,000), Bangladesh Times (35,000), and Daily Star (30,000). Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and United News of Bangladesh (UNB) are the two main news agencies.
The government is said, with some exceptions, to generally respect freedom of speech and press. On occasion, the government has censored criticism of Islam.
The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Foreign Investors' Chamber of Commerce and Industry are based in Dhaka. There are also many workers' associations, including the Bangladesh Teachers' Federation, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Bangladesh Tea Board, and the Bangladesh Jute Mills Association. The Association for Social Advancement serves as a developmental organization assisting the poor. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) also serves as a welfare and development organization. Maulik Chahida Karmashuchi promotes economic and social development of rural citizens through educational, vocational, and economic programs. Parbatya Bouddha Mission particularly serves the needs of the indigenous tribal people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The Bangladesh Medical Studies and Research Institute and the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences promote research and education in a number of medical and scientific fields. Other medical associations include the Bangladesh Dental Society and the Bangladesh Society for Study of Pain
Various associations for the Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist communities have long been active in organizing religious festivals and social activities. Every town also has several cultural groups. The Bangladesh Women's Association is active in social life.
There are about 39 national youth organizations and about two hundred regional and local youth organizations. These generally hold membership in one of two coordinating bodies: the Bangladesh Youth Council (BYC) and the National Federation of Youth Organizations in Bangladesh. There are about seven major student unions including the Bangladesh federation of University Women. Particular youth groups include the Bangladesh Girl Guides, the Bangladesh Scout, Junior Chamber Bangladesh, and the YMCA/YWCA. There are several sports associations, including groups for badminton, track and field, tae kwan do, tennis, and weightlifting.
The Red Crescent Society, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Caritas, UNICEF, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and Greenpeace have chapters within the country.
The main tourist attractions include the old Mughal capital at Dhaka, nearby Sonargaon with its ancient architecture, the Buddhist cultural center of Mainamati, and the beach resort of Cox's Bazar. At the end of the 1980s tourism declined due to political unrest. Throughout the 1990s, however, figures began to increase. In 1997, about 172,000 foreign visitors arrived. In 2003, about 244,500 tourists visited the country. There were 4,565 hotel rooms with 10,165 beds and a 38% occupancy rate. Tourism revenues totaled $59 million. A valid passport and visa are required as well as a return or onward ticket.
In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Dhaka at $191. Expenses in other areas can be much lower.
Many Bengalis distinguished themselves in political life before the creation of Bangladesh. A. K. Fazlul Huq (d.1962), the former premier of Bengal Province, moved the Lahore Resolution of 1940, calling for an independent Pakistan, and dominated Bengali politics for half a century. H. S. Suhrawardy (1895–1964), another former premier of Bengal, served for a time as premier of Pakistan and was a mentor to the next generation of Bengali leaders. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920–75), a leader of the Awami League, led the successful fight for the independence of East Pakistan and was the first premier of Bangladesh (1972–75). Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman (1936–81) was military ruler of the country from 1976 until his assassination.
Bangladesh has no territories or colonies.
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