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30.11.2015

Bangladesh at a Glance

Bangladesh has taken enormous steps forward in recent years in terms of human development. Nevertheless, it is still one of the poorest countries in South Asia. Wealth and income are distributed very unevenly among the country's population. At the same time, impacts of climate change endanger the livelihoods of many Bangladeshis.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants leave Bangladesh in order to work in the Gulf states or the cities of South East Asia. The picture shows labour migrants waiting for flights at Dhaka International Airport. (© Benjamin Etzold)


Bangladesh is a country of 161 million people that is situated right at the heart of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Delta in South Asia. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh was founded in 1971, after the Bengali speaking population of the – back then – eastern province of Pakistan had fought for independence from West Pakistan. The political system is a parliamentary democracy, which is marked by deep rifts between two major parties (Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League) and an extreme politicization of the economy and public services that shows in systems of political patronage at all governance levels and regular outbursts of political violence. Since the Awami League won the parliamentary elections in 2009, Sheikh Hasina Wazed has been prime minister and thereby head of the national government.

The nation has taken enormous steps forward in recent years in terms of human development. Access to education and health services has improved remarkably; life expectancy at birth rose from 63 years (in 2003) to 71 years (2013) in only ten years. Bangladesh’s economy grew steadily at a rate of four to six percent per annum over the last three decades, in particular due to a growing service industry and the country’s growing importance as a production hub in the international garments industry. In 1984-85, Bangladesh's export of textile products amounted to US$ 116 million (12 percent of all exports, 0.5 percent of the GDP), while it was almost US$ 25 billion in 2013-14 (81 percent of all exports, 17 percent of the GDP)[1].

Bangladesh has left the ranks of the world’s least developed countries, but remains one of the poorest nations in South Asia. With a gross national income of US$ 2,700 per person, people’s purchasing power is a lot smaller than in India or Sri Lanka. Inequality in terms of wealth and income remains striking. 43 percent of the population has less than US$ 1.25 per day. One third lives below the national poverty line. Every fifth person suffers from acute poverty. While 84 percent of men and 57 percent of women in working age are in employment, 85 percent of all workers are in "vulnerable employment", which means that they are trying to meet their needs with insecure and informal jobs. Child labor is widespread. Thirteen percent of children between the age of five and 14 work and try to contribute to their families' income. Even though Bangladesh increased its agricultural production substantially and managed to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG 1) of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, chronic and temporarily acute food insecurity still prevails: 16 percent of the total population and even four out of ten children below the age of five are undernourished. In Bangladesh, hunger is still a key indicator of poverty[2].

In recent years, the vulnerability of people in Bangladesh has been prominently discussed even in German media for two major reasons. First, the fire in the garment factory Tazreen Fashion in 2012 and the collapse of the garment factory Rana Plaza in 2013 caused the death of more than 1.200 garment workers – most of them women. Both incidences revealed the exploitative working conditions in the global textile industry. Second, Bangladesh is considered as one of the countries that are most severely affected by the impacts of climate change as natural disasters occur frequently. Tropical cyclones hit the coastal regions almost biannually. Sea level rise and heavy floods contribute to riverbank erosion and the loss of arable land. Prolonged heat waves reveal an increased variability of weather conditions. Both natural disasters and more subtle environmental changes can jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of the Bangladeshi people who predominantly rely on agriculture. And yet, the people in the country endure daily hardships with vigor and cope surprisingly well with the multiple challenges they are confronted with. They have learned to quickly adapt in times of economic insecurity and political turmoil. Migration plays an important role in people’s adaptation strategies and people’s everyday life.

Since the 1980s, migration patterns in and from Bangladesh were affected by three major trends: first, the "export" of labor migrants, in particular to the Gulf States, and subsequent international migrations (see chapter International Migration from Bangladesh); second, the rise of Bangladesh’s garments industry, which spurred internal migration and rapid urbanization (see chapter Urbanization, Migration Systems within Bangladesh, and Translocal Social Spaces); and third, disruptions of rural livelihoods by natural hazards and people’s adaptation in the context of climate change (see chapter Climate Change and Internal Migration in Bangladesh). International migration, temporary labor mobility within the country, and translocal livelihoods, that have emerged over time, play a crucial role in Bangladesh’s national development and for the increasing resilience of its people.

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Background Information

Bangladesh

Capital: Dhaka
Official language: Bengali
Area: 144.000 km2
Population (2015, estimated)*: 161 million
Population density (2015): 1.237 inhabitants/km2
Population growth rate (2010-2015): 1,2%
Working population (2010, economically active population over 15 years of age)**: 56,7 million
Umemployment rate (2010): 4,5%
Religions: Muslims 89,5%, Hindus 9,6%, other 0,9%
Migrants of Bangladeshi origin abroad***: 7,8 million
Migrants of foreign origin in Bangladesh: 1,4 million

* Source of population data: UN (2015).
** Source of employment market data: BBS (2011).
*** Source of international migration data: UN (2013).

This article is part of the country profile Bangladesh.
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Autoren: Benjamin Etzold, Bishawjit Mallick für bpb.de
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Fußnoten

1.
According to the data provided by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, http://www.bgmea.com.bd/chart/total_product_export#.VY0ackY71LE (accessed: 5-21-2015).
2.
All data for 2013; UNDP (2014) and FAO (2015).

Benjamin Etzold, Bishawjit Mallick

Benjamin Etzold

Dr. Benjamin Etzold is Research Associate and Lecturer at the Department of Geography of Bonn University, Germany. He wrote his dissertation on street trading in the mega city Dhaka and was part of a research project on climate change, hunger and migration in Bangladesh. His research foci are development geography and migration studies with a focus on social vulnerability and labor conditions.
Email: etzold@giub.uni-bonn.de


Bishawjit Mallick

Dr. Bishawjit Mallick is Research Associate at the Institute of Regional Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. In his dissertation, he analyzed social responses to climate risks in Bangladesh's coastal areas. Currently, his research focuses on risk-oriented spatial planning and climate-induced migration processes in Bangladesh.
Email: bishawjit.mallick@kit.edu


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