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Bangladesh - Introduction

After several decades of democratic rule in Bangladesh, the political system remains unconsolidated, politicised, confrontational and marred by bad governance. Political turmoil and violence, the politicisation of the public administration and concerns that corruption obstructs private sector investment and public service delivery are key elements of what is widely deemed a crisis of governance. But Bangladesh has made impressive social and developmental progress despite governance that appears to have been so weak. The evidence on bad governance in the social sectors fails to note that poor citizens have actively pursued their entitlements with supportive inputs from civil society and the media; and local political rivalry has energised service provision in ways that benefit the poor.

Bangladesh, slightly smaller in size than Iowa, consists of two major geographic regions: the Bengal Plain (lower Indo-Gangetic Plain) and the Chittagong Hill Tract. The Bengal Plain covers the majority of the country with its coastal marshes, mangrove forests, exceptionally fertile soil, and a vast estuary. The Chittagong Hill Tract constitutes one-sixth of the country, forming a minor hill system in south-eastern Bangladesh. Three seasons influence the tropical climate of Bangladesh: a dry, sunny, cooler season (mid-October through February); the hot season (March through May); and the hot, rainy, monsoon season(June through mid-October). The monsoon season can bring much damage and flooding.

Bangladesh is a low-lying, riparian country located in South Asia with a largely marshy jungle coastline of 710 kilometers (440 mi.) on the northern littoral of the Bay of Bengal. Formed by a deltaic plain at the confluence of the Ganges (Padma), Brahmaputra (Jamuna), and Meghna Rivers and their tributaries, Bangladesh's alluvial soil is highly fertile but vulnerable to flood and drought. Hills rise above the plain only in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the far southeast and the Sylhet division in the northeast. Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh has a subtropical monsoonal climate characterized by heavy seasonal rainfall, moderately warm temperatures, and high humidity. Natural calamities, such as floods, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and tidal bores affect the country almost every year. Bangladesh also is affected by major cyclones on average 16 times a decade.

Climate change has for some time been adversely impacting our low lying, deltaic, monsoonal country. Though Bangladesh's contribution to climate change is negligible, it is one of its worst victims. Erratic floods, cyclones, droughts and earthquakes are interrupting our agriculture, and challenging our water resources, health, energy, urban planning, etc. Cyclones, battering the coastal areas, have particularly been taking countless lives, and sudden floods uprooting families in thousands, year around. River bank erosion, landslides, soil degradation and deforestation are causing millions of climate change refugees. They are already all over our thickly populated cities. What is alarming is that a meter rise in sea level would inundate 18% of our land mass, directly impacting 11% of our people. Scientific estimates indicate, of the billion people expected to be displaced worldwide by 2050 by climate change factors, one in every 45 people in the world, and one in every 7 people in Bangladesh, would be a victim.

Bangladesh has, therefore, decided to take some measures immediately. Dredging of all major rivers is top most agenda for adaptation to climate change. Capital dredging would keep rivers on natural course, deepen them to hold more water, restrict flooding, reduce flood damages, reclaim inundated arable lands, and keep them navigable. Maintenance dredging would then ensure sustained regulated water flow of the rivers. The excavated silt would build, raise and fortify embankments with the rise of sea level, increase green belts, and help create elevated flat topped grounds for homes of the displaced, thereby discouraging them to move to cities. Meanwhile, 14,000 cyclone shelters have been constructed and more are on the way. These activities would obviously entail huge costs. A Climate Change Trust Fund has been established with our own resources; but to implement the projects, assistance of the international community is imperative.

Urbanization is proceeding rapidly, and it is estimated that only 30% of the population entering the labor force in the future will be absorbed into agriculture, although many will likely find other kinds of work in rural areas. The areas around Dhaka and Comilla are the most densely settled. The Sundarbans, an area of coastal tropical jungle in the southwest and last wild home of the Bengal tiger, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts on the southeastern border with Burma and India, are the least densely populated.

After decades of independence and donor assistance, development in Bangladesh remains a work in process. Though Bangladesh is developing gradually, it remains one of the world's leastdeveloped countries with many indicators lagging behind those of neighboring countries. In spite of the many recent economic advances, roughly half of the nation's population almost 70 million people still live below the poverty line, eking out a meager existence on less than $1 per day. Inadequate accountability, transparency and predictability in GOB operations seriously frustrate economic growth and poverty reduction. Although democracy is beginning to take root, a legacy of political confrontation and the absence of political processes frustrate decision -making and impede implementation of pro-poor policies.

Bangladesh was ranked as the most corrupt country in the world in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Survey for the four years 2001-2005. Yet as a populous and moderate Muslim nation historically well-disposed to the United States, it is in the US interest to build Bangladeshs fragile institutions, nurture the country's nascent democracy, expand its market economy and improve the lives of its people. Despite the challenges faced by Bangladesh since winning independence, the country has made many notable achievements. For instance, Bangladesh is nearly self -sufficient in rice production, has eradicated polio, lowered infant and child mortality rates, cut the fertility rate in half, increased school enrollment particularly for girls and is the renowned pioneer in micro-credit.

The Bangladesh Army, Navy, and Air Force are composed of volunteer military members. Bangladesh has a total of 35,170,019 (2005 est.) men aged 1549 available for military service, of whom 26,841,255 (2005 est.), were estimated to be fit for military service. Some 1,311,850 (2008 est.) reaching military age annually, and out of these numbers, some 300,000 are actually under arms.

In addition to traditional defense roles, the military is frequently called on to provide support to civil authorities for disaster relief and internal security. During the period of emergency rule from January 2007 to December 2008, the military played a central role in the formulation and execution of key government strategies, including the anti-corruption campaign and voter registration.

The army is modeled and organized along British lines, similar to other armies on the Indian subcontinent. However, the army is attempting to adopt U.S. Army tactical planning procedures, training management techniques, and noncommissioned officer educational systems. The Bangladesh military continues to improve its peacekeeping operations capabilities and receives such training from the U.S. military, UN, and other nations.

The United States provided the Bangladesh Air Force four C-130B transport aircraft in 2001 under the Excess Defense Article (EDA) program. These aircraft have improved the military's disaster response and peacekeeping capabilities. The Bangladesh Navy is mostly limited to coastal patrolling within the Bay of Bengal and participates in international exercises. A Coast Guard exists under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) to address anti-smuggling, anti-piracy, and protection of offshore resources. The Bangladesh Border Guard (BBG), also under the MOHA, addressed anti-smuggling and other missions along the land border.

With 10,481 peacekeepers deployed around the world as of November 2009, Bangladesh has been the second-largest troop contributor to international peacekeeping operations. As of November 2011 total 94,880 military personnel have participated in the UN and overseas missions and 8556 personnel are currently deployed in nine(9) different missions around the world. As of 2012 Bangladesh was the largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, with over 10,000 troops deployed supporting nine U.N. operations.

This international recognition has, on the one hand, contributed to country's image-building and on the other hand to an increase in foreign exchange earnings. Bangladeshi UN peacekeeping forces engaged at various trouble-torn areas of the world earn nearly Taka 38 billion (some $500 million) a year as pay and allowances. The UN peacekeeping budget for the year 2010 was $7.2 billion. Lucrative peacekeeping duties are hugely popular with Bangladeshs armed forces, giving those who take up such jobs a chance to buy homes and save for retirement.





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