If you believe everything in the news, as a traveler you will not dare to include Bangladesh in your travel itinerary. If that is so, you will stand to miss the Royal Bengal Tigers at the Sundarbans National Park or the endangered freshwater pink dolphins, and even the two deep-water whales while you are enjoying the beaches at Cox’s Bazar, one of the world’s longest natural beaches. You will also miss the chance to explore the hidden relics of the Buddhist kingdoms that have been forgotten in Rangamati or view the lush and verdant tea plantations in Srimangal.
Yes, Bangladesh is not known for its affluence but this nation is defiant and determined to rise above natural calamities that visit the country yearly; curb its booming population and do its share in environmental protection. In comparison to Western countries, Bangladesh has been able to ban the usage of diesel and gasoline for all vehicles from the urban centers, and replace them with cleaner alternative fuel. They have created national parks and designated protected areas and banned the use of plastic bags. Bangladesh is a poor country but it is doing its share to be at par with the global community.
While the country is officially known as People’s Republic of Bangladesh, it is referred to by its conventional short form, which is Bangladesh, formerly called East Pakistan. Its capital is Dhaka, located near the center of the country, the largest in Bangladesh and the ninth largest in the world. It is one of the most populous cities in Bangladesh, teeming with about 15 million people for the whole metropolitan area, packed in a city that only measures 360 square kilometers or 139 square miles.
In this Country Profile
:: Background of Bangladesh ::
Europe’s dominance made its presence felt in Bangladesh around the sixteenth century, starting with the Portuguese traders and missionaries that started setting up trading posts in the country. They were followed by the Dutch and the French until the British came to continue the trend and Bangladesh became part of the British India Company.
Bangladesh was not originally a poor nation. It was part of the greater Bengal region and had been under Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Mughul (Mongol), Arab, Persian, Turkish and European rules. The Muslim invasion in 1200 A.D. converted the major portion of the eastern part of Bengal, where the residents were predominantly Buddhists and Hindus, into Islam.
Chafing from the restrictions imposed by the British Empire, the Muslims and the Hindus began to exert more effort to gain independence and pushed for self-government with the British rule but the two factions, the Hindu Indian National League and the All-India Muslim League were unable to come up with the right formula to protect the Muslims. It was also a known fact that the Hindus followed the British while the Muslims continued to resist, causing incessant internal conflicts.
The United Kingdom came under extreme international pressure to reduce the size of its overseas domination after World War II and decided to grant full dominion status to Pakistan and India, with Pakistan gaining the majority of the districts where Muslims dominated, including parts of Bengal while the rest joined India. East Pakistan was created as a single province while West Pakistan was composed of its capital, Lahore plus four other provinces.
Still, peace did not reign in the region and economic difficulties and political instability were the constant occurrence for more than 26 years and dissident movement became common, especially between East and West Pakistan. India joined forces with the Bengalis to defeat the Pakistani Army and gained control of East Pakistan, which eventually became Bangladesh and restored power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League in 1971. The year became the mark when Bangladesh started its own history as a free nation.
:: Geography of Bangladesh ::
An almost flat, low-lying area, Bangladesh is very fertile, due mainly from the silt deposited by the numerous floods that occur in the country. Around 700 hundred rivers and other bodies of water traverse the country, mostly originating from the Ganges and emptying into the beautiful Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh is a county in Southern Asia and is almost surrounded by India, and partly by the Bay of Bengal and Burma or Myanmar. It lies 24° 00’ North and 90° 00’ East.
Fertile lands cover 130,168 square kilometers while about 10% percent or 13,830 square kilometers is under water. Total land mass amount to 143,998 square kilometers. In comparison, the total land size of Bangladesh is slightly larger than New York and about two times the size of New Brunswick, Canada.
Most of Bangladesh shares a border with India, running for 4,053 kilometers along the eastern, western and northern parts of the country. A small area in the south is bordered by Myanmar (previously Burma) for 193 kilometers. The Bay of Bengal also borders the southern part of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has a rugged coastline of approximately 580 kilometers while its territorial waters extend to twelve nautical miles. Its contiguous zone covers 18 nautical miles and enjoys an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles, which is equivalent to 370 kilometers. The continental shelf of Bangladesh is up to the outer limits of its continental margin.
Generally, Bangladesh enjoys a tropical climate. Winter occurs from October to March. March, April, May and June are the summer months and characterized by hot and humid temperature. Monsoon rains that keep the temperature warm and humid occur between the months of June and October.
Except for the hilly parts in the southeastern section of Bangladesh, the rest of the country is basically flat and below sea level, with the Indian Ocean as its lowest point at zero meters. The highest peak in Bangladesh is Keokradong located at the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is claimed to reach a height of 1,230 meters.
Bangladesh has very little natural resources and the most valuable one is natural gas. Much of it is being utilized for domestic use. It is claimed that the country has deposits of coal. Outwardly, its variety of trees for commercial timber production and vast arable land are the two most viable natural resources.
Sixty-seven percent of the land in Bangladesh is arable although less than 2% is planted with permanent crops. The rest of the land is allocated for other uses, including mining and manufacturing.
Due to its geographical location and the country being flat and low-lying, it is constantly threatened by cycles of droughts and flooding. The summer monsoon brings cyclones into Bangladesh causing numerous floods that cause damage to crops and properties and at times the floods are so severe that the lives of the Bangladeshis are also threatened.
Current Environmental Issues
Bangladesh is not an affluent country like its neighbors and it struggles with perennial problems from nature that occur with regularity. Many of the people do not have land to live on and are forced to farm in areas that are prone to floods. While these floods keep the land very fertile, water-borne diseases become common in surface water. Heavy use of commercial pesticides causes water pollution that reaches the fishing grounds while ground water becomes contaminated with arsenic that naturally occurs. Severe soil erosion and degradation due to the rise and ebb of floodwater and deforestation as well as over population are serious problems. While the rivers used to be the main sources of all their water needs, there are now sporadic water shortages as parts of the northern and central regions have falling water tables.
International Environmental Agreements
While Bangladesh has signed several international environmental agreements, it has yet to ratify any of them. The country joined in the agreements for climate change and climate change-Kyoto protocol, hazardous wastes, ozone layer protection, wetlands and ship pollution. It also agreed to be party to desertification, endangered species, law of the sea, environmental modifications and biodiversity.
:: People of Bangladesh ::
Nationals from Bangladesh are called Bangladeshis (singular: Bangladeshi). The word is used for as a noun and as an adjective.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the population of Bangladesh, in their July 2011 estimates, has reached 158,570,535. Of the total population, 34.3% are in the zero to fourteen age group, roughly translated into 27,551,594 males and 26,776,647 females. The number of females becomes more dominant in the fifteen to sixty-four age group, which comprises 61.1% of the population, broken down into 50,891,519 females and 45,96,431 males. The gender difference varies slightly in the 65 years and over age group, but still female count is higher at 3,778,119 to 3,616,225 males to make up 4.7% for this age group. Population growth is estimated at 1.566% annually. Net migration is not a cause of population growth since it is placed at -1.57 for every one thousand population. Fertility rate is estimated to be 2.6 children for every woman of childbearing age, as estimated in 2011.
The median age in Bangladesh is quite young, estimated to be 23.3 years for the whole country. By gender, the median age is lower in males at 22.7 years and slightly higher for the females at 23.7 years.
Birth and Death Rates
Birth rate in Bangladesh is very high, estimated to reach 22.98 births per 1,000 population while there are only 5.75 deaths per 1,000 residents, contributing to the swell in population.
For the entire population of Bangladesh, the gender ratio slightly favors the males, with the total for the country estimated to be 0.93. At birth, 1.04 males are born while for those in the 15 years and under age group, the number is 1.01 males over female. The ratio slightly lowers to 0.89 males in the 15-64 years age group and rises slightly to 0.93 males over female in the 65 years and over age bracket.
Considering the staggering population figure of Bangladesh, it is surprising that there are 340 deaths/100,000 live births, according to statistical figures in 2008 and that infant mortality rate is also high, with 50.73 deaths for every 1,000 live births. More male infant deaths occur with 53.23, compared to only 43.13 deaths for every 1,000 live female births, according to estimates in 2011.
Life Expectancy at Birth
Females outlive the males by a few years in Bangladesh, estimated at 71.65 years over the 67.93 years for the males. Countrywide average is 69.75 years.
HIV / AIDS
HIV/AIDS, although still an issue, is not too rampant in Bangladesh, with an estimated 0.1% prevalence in adults. About 6,300 people are living with the disease while the death rate due to the disease is estimated to be less than 200.
Bangladesh is basically made up of 98% Bengali while the remaining 2% is shared by non-Bengali Muslims and other tribal groups.
Muslims dominate the country at 86.6% with Hindus following a close second with 12.1%. There are about 0.6% Buddhists in Bangladesh and Christians and followers of other religions are at 0.4% and 0.3%, respectively.
The official language in Bangladesh is Bengali or Bangla although English is also spoken.
Although Bangladeshis aged 15 and over can read and write, literacy rate in the country is just about 60% to 62%, leaning slightly towards the males with an average of 54%. For the women, literacy rate is placed at 41.4%. Literacy is very low because the average stay in school for males and females and for the whole country is only eight years.
:: References ::