Bangladesh at a glance
- South Asia
- 137 million (2003)
- Geography: flat alluvial
plains, hilly in south east
- Climate: tropical monsoon
- Religion: Muslim 83%, Hindu
- Language: Official: Bangla
or Bengali; English and various tribal dialects
- Parliamentary democracy
Bangladesh covers an area of
144,000 square kilometers. It is mostly flat alluvial plains,
criss-crossed by three main river systems, Padma (the Ganges),
Jamuna (the Brahmaputra) and Meghna flowing down from the
Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal making the largest delta in the
world. The Chittagong Hills Tract in the southeast is the high
region and includes Keokradong the highest peak of 1200 metres.
Bangladesh has a tropical
monsoon climate marked by three seasons: summer from March to
June, monsoon or rainy season from July to October and dry
winter from November to February. High temperatures and high
humidity mark the climate. Massive cyclones originating in the
Bay of Bengal occur frequently at the beginning of summer and
the end of the monsoon season, during March - April and October
Over 90% of the country is
composed of alluvial plains less than 10 metres above sea level
making it extremely flood-prone. Building can be quickly washed
away as rivers move as much as one kilometre. There is about 10%
forest cover consisting mainly of broadleaf, evergreen species
in the hill regions and deciduous varieties such as acacia and
banyan in the drier, plain areas. The Royal Bengal Tiger is
found in Sundarbans in the west and elephants in Chittagong Hill
Tracts. Black bears, langurs, gibbons, otters, mongooses, ox,
bison and deer are commonly found. Bangladesh is home to more
than 600 bird species including the kingfishers and fishing
Bangladesh is one of the most
densely populated countries with 926.2 persons per square
kilometre. About 14% of the population lives in urban areas.
Dhaka, the capital city, has a population of about 10.2 million
people. Other important cities are Chittagong (2.5 million) and
Khulna (1.2 million). Tribal groups live mainly in the hill
Culture and ethnicity
Culturally and ethnically
Bangladesh has a very homogenous population - about 98% of the
population is Bengali. The Biharies are a small Urdu speaking
Muslim community and the remaining 1% are tribal groups with
their own dialects, dress and customs.
The basic social unit in rural
areas is the extended household (bari), which have a shared
kitchen (chulha). Women’s role in the society is subordinate to
men and they generally have a limited access to education,
formal jobs and markets despite producing most of the food.
Bangladesh has a rich cultural
heritage with literature, poetry and music all playing important
roles in society. Weaving and intricate needlework have a long
history in traditional Bengali culture.
Health problems in Bangladesh
stem from malnutrition and inadequate safe drinking water and
sewage disposal. Ground water is often contaminated by naturally
occurring arsenic. Diseases like cholera, diphtheria, dysentery,
measles, malaria and pneumonia cause widespread illness and many
young children die from these preventable illnesses. An
immunisation program initiated by the Government has eradicated
smallpox and contained cholera, and population control programs
have reduced family size to about four children. The life
expectancy at birth is 60 years.
Religion and beliefs
The majority population (87%)
of Bangladesh is Muslim, predominantly Sunni. Sufism, a mystical
form of Islam, is also popular. Hindus are 12% of the population
and there are small groups of Buddhists and Christians. The
tribal groups are generally animist, believing in spirits.
Food and shelter
Rice is the
staple food of Bangladesh. It is accompanied with vegetables,
lentils (dhals) and a little beef, mutton, chicken or fish
cooked in a spicy sauce. Mustard seed and soy oils are important
ingredients for curries. Bangladesh sweets are mostly milk based
such as misthi dohi (sweetened yoghurt). Traditionally, houses
are built with natural building materials: bamboo, mud and
Wealth and poverty
Most people are
subsistence farmers but with frequent flooding and limited
market development about one third of the population lives under
the poverty line. Inequality in distribution of income and
consumption is high. There are four phones available to every
thousand people. Bangladesh is a major recipient of foreign aid.
Education and work
The government provides free
primary education for five years with special incentives for
girls. Less than half the adult population can read and there is
a significant difference between males (54%) and females (32%).
The government also supports a number of madrasas, religious
Over 60% of workforce is
engaged in agriculture, 11% in industries and 26% in services. A
rapidly growing labour force that cannot be absorbed by
agriculture and delays in developing industries, power
generation and slow economic reforms mean that the unemployment
rate is a high 36% and many people work overseas, primarily in
the Middle East.
Industries and products
Major industries are tea
processing, cement, clothing, fertiliser, pharmaceutical and
jute manufacture. The country has reserves of coal, oil and
natural gas, and minerals such as limestone and uranium. With a
large number of rivers the country also has a good potential for
hydroelectric power generation. Bangladesh with its lush,
beautiful landscape and a rich history offers a variety of
attractions for tourists but tourism is limited and nearly half
of its visitors are from India.
Bangladesh imports cost more
than its exports earn. For year 2002 Bangladesh exports were
worth $6.2 billion while imports were at $8.5 billion. Garments,
jute and jute goods, leather, frozen fish and seafood are the
main items of export. The main export destinations are USA,
Germany, UK, France, Italy and Netherlands. Machinery and
equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, foodstuffs,
petroleum products, cement are main imports. The main import
partners are India, Singapore, China, Japan and Hong Kong.
Flooding and tropical cyclones
are the major natural disasters faced by Bangladesh.
Deforestation is threatening the mangrove forests of Sundarban
which are home to the famous Royal Bengal Tigers.
The government has adopted the National Environmental Policy.
Since independence in 1971 Bangladesh has had political unrest.