Bangladesh is situated in the eastern part of South Asian sub-continent. It lies between Latitudes 20°34’ and 26°38’ North, and Longitudes 88°01’ and 92°41’ East. The country is bordered by India on the east, west and north, and by the Bay of Bengal and a small border strip with Myanmar on the south.
Bangladesh has a land area of about 1,47,570 square Kilometers (56,977 sq. miles). It’s alluvial plains provide fertile agricultural lands. The land-mass is deltaic comprising mainly the delta of three mighty rivers – the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, with a network of numerous rivers and canals. Vast green fields are bounded by low hills in the north-east and the south-east with an average elevation of 244 and 610 metres respectively. The highest point is located in the south-eastern extremity of Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate. There are basically four seasons in a year – Winter (December-February), Summer (March-May), Monsoon (June-September and Autumn (October-November). The average temperature across the country usually ranges between 9°C in winter months and between 21°C and 34°C during summer months. Annual rainfall varies from 160 cm to 200 cm in the west, 200 cm to 400 cm in the south-east and 250 cm to 400 cm in the north-east.
The tropical climate has made the country luxuriant in vegetation. The villages are usually buried in groves of Mango, Banana, Jack-fruit, Coconut, Palm, Bamboo, and other useful trees. Forests cover about 17 percent of the land area. Herbs and shrubs grow everywhere. Most of the hilly regions are covered with forests. The largest forest is the Sundarban, which stretches along the south-western seaboard and provides sanctuary to the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.
A variety of wild animals are found in the forests. Of the 200 species of mammals, the pride of place goes to the Royal Bengal Tiger found in the Sundarban. Elephants are found in the forests of Chittagong Hill Tracts. Six species of Deer are seen in the Hill Tracts and the Sundarban. Among the bovine animals, Buffalo, Ox and Bison are commonly seen. There are about 150 species of reptiles, Common reptiles include the Sea Turtle, River Tortoise, Mud Turtle, Crocodile, Python, Rat-snake and Cobra. There are hundreds of species of birds, and fresh water fishes are abundant in both quantity and category. Of the 525 recorded species of birds, 350 are resident. The number of species of marine and fresh water fish total around 200.
Social life in Bangladesh is marked by varied cultural tradition and communal harmony. The population of the country currently stands at around 133.4 Million. Around 75 percent of the people live in rural areas and 60 percent of the people depend on Agriculture for their livelihood. Rice and fish are common diet. Lungis and vests are the usual attire for men in the rural areas as opposed to shirts and trousers in the urban areas. Sarees are the common dress for womenfolk. There are about 2 million tribal people, the majority of whom live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The tribes have distinct cultures of their own.
The four major religions in the country are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. The Muslims constitute about 88.3% of the population and the Hindus about 10.5%. The rest comprise mainly of Buddhists, Christians and animists. The Constitution guarantees religious and cultural freedom of all citizens of Bangladesh.
Anniversaries & Festivals
Anniversaries, Fairs and Festivals play a vital part in the social life of ordinary Bangladeshis. The biggest religious festival is Eid-ul-Fitr. Other Muslim festivals include Eid-u-Azha, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, Muharram and Shab-e-Barat. Widely celebrated festivals of other communities include Durga Puja of the Hindus, Christmas of the Christians and Buddha Purnima of the Buddhists. Among the non-religious anniversaries, Bengali New Year’s Day (Pahela Baishakh, on 14 April), Language Martyrs’ day (21 February, now celebrated world-wide as International Mother Language Day), Independence and National day (26 March) and Victory Day (16 December) are observed nation-wide.
Language & Literature
Bangla or Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh. English is widely used in education and business. Arabic is also read, understood and studied by many. Bangla is spoken by more than 200 million people throughout the world.
Bangladesh has a rich tradition of Art. Specimens of ancient terracotta and pottery show remarkable artistry. Modern painting was pioneered by artists like Zainul Abedin, Kamrul Hasan, Anwarul Haque, Shafiuddin Ahmed, Shafiqul Amin, Rashid Chowdhury and S. M. Sultan. Zainul Abedin earned worldwide fame through his stunning sketches of the Bengal Famine in 1943. Alongside painting, sculpture, tapestry and engravings have also attracted attention in recent years.
Classical forms of the sub-continent occupy a dominant position in Bangladeshi dance. The folk, tribal and Middle-Eastern traits are also observed. Among the tribal dances, the Monipuri and Santal are popular. Institutions like the Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts and the Shilpakala Academy have helped popularize dance and other forms of Performing Art.
Music in Bangladesh can be divided into three distinct categories – classical, folk and modern. Classical music – both vocal and instrumental, is rooted in the remote past of the sub-continent. Folk music, nurtured through the ages by village-poets and rich in devotional mysticism and love-lore is very popular. The best known forms are Bhatiali, Baul, Marfati, Murshidi and Bhawaiya. Modern Bengali Music has blended Western and Middle-eastern traits with traditional forms. Contemporary music has an inclination towards the West.
Theatre is an old tradition of Bangladesh. Open air rural opera known as ‘Jatra’, depicting mythological episodes, love-lore and acts of heroism are still popular in the country. Modern plays are staged mostly in the urban areas. Bangladeshi playwrights have succeeded in developing a distinct character of local plays and a new class of urban audience.
Although cinema had always been a popular form of entertainment, it was not until 1956 that the first full-length feature film could be produced in Bangladesh. At present the industry is capable of producing around 60 feature films per year. The Films of Bangladesh display a pattern similar to those of the other countries of the subcontinent. The themes range from social and historical ones to fantasies and fairy-tales. In recent years, there has been a tendency to experiment with the medium; one of the outcomes has been an abundance of popular short Feature Films.
The State Organs
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a unitary, independent and sovereign republic comprising three basic organs: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The President is the Head of State and is elected by the members of parliament. The President acts in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister and the supreme command of the Armed Forces vests with him.
At the apex of the country’s judiciary stands the Supreme Court. It consists of the High Court Division and the Appellate Division. The Supreme Court serves as the guardian of the Constitution and enforces the fundamental rights of the citizens.
There are subordinate courts at district and upazila levels as well as special courts and tribunals such as the administrative tribunal, family courts, labour tribunal, land, commercial, municipal and marine courts, tribunals for checking repression on women and children and for speedy trial of cases related to terrorism.
The elected political leaders govern Bangladesh with the aid of a permanent bureaucracy. The ministers remain at the helm of ministries or divisions, which are manned by civil servants recruited by the Public Service Commission.
The country is divided into six administrative divisions (namely Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet), each composed of districts. There are 64 districts, which are in turn divided into upazilas. At present, there are 472 upazilas each divided into unions, mouzas and villages at the lowest tier.
The transport sector of Bangladesh consists of a variety of modes. The country being a flat plain, all three modes of surface transport, i.e. road, railway and water are widely used in carrying both passengers and cargo.
More than half of Bangladesh has access to an all-weather hard surface road within 3 miles distance. In 2003, the total length of road under the Roads and Highways Department stood at around 22,360 kilometers. It is estimated that mechanized road transport carry about 70% of the country’s total passenger and cargo volume. Its contribution to GDP is 6.95%.
In recent years, constructions of a number of important bridges including the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge, and the Bangladesh-UK Friendship Bridge over the river Meghna on Dhaka-Sylhet Highway have been completed.
About 32% of the total area of Bangladesh is effectively covered by the railways. State-owned Bangladesh Railway operates a track of 2880 kilometer and provides passenger and cargo services through 500 stations.
Water transport is the only means available in nearly 10% of the total area of Bangladesh. The navigable waterways vary between 8372 kilometer during the monsoon to 5200 kilometer during the dry season.
The entire coast along the Bay of Bengal is 710 kilometre long. There are two major ports in the country. Chittagong, the oldest port, has been a entry-port for at least 1000 years. The Mongla port in Khulna region serves the western part of Bangladesh.
There are now 14 operational airports (3 international, 6 domestic and 5 stall-ports) in Bangladesh. Of these, the airports at Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet serve international routes.
The Civil Aviation Authority is a public sector entity entrusted to construct, maintain and supervise airports and regulate air traffic. The national flag carrier ‘Biman’ flies to international and domestic destinations.
Environment and Forest
The government is determined to protect the environment for the wellbeing and survival of the current and future generations. Much importance has been attached to increasing the forestry resources and ensuring their proper management for environmental conservation and development.
With a growth rate of 4.9%, the contribution of forest resources to GDP and the agriculture sector are 1.86% and 9.73% respectively. Afforestation generates employment and helps maintain environmental balance. The total forest area of the country’s is 2.5 million Hectare, which is 17% of the total land area of Bangladesh. Out of the total forest lands, trees exist in only 45% area. A national policy has been adopted for conservation of forests and environment. Apart from aforestation, programmes include planting trees on fallow lands, alongside roads and rail lines, on flood protection embankments and coastal belt and in educational institutions.
In recent years, the government has taken some important steps toward protection of the environment, environmentally sound use of natural resources and pollution control.
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Health, Population and Family Welfare
Bangladesh ranks ninth in the world and sixth in Asia in terms of population. The country’s population density of around 900 persons per square kilometer is one of the highest in the world. The population currently stands at around 133.4 million with a growth rate of about 1.47%. The government is working tirelessly to upgrade the living standard of the people by meeting their basic needs and is determined to ensure health for all within the shortest possible time.
Considering progress has been achieved in Bangladesh in the fields of Health and Family Welfare. The Immunization programme, which has been acclaimed world-wide, now covers 80% of children compared to 55% in 1990-91. Primary Health care facilities have been expanded throughout the country. Infant and maternal mortality rate has increased to around 54 percent, as a result of which population growth rate is now below 1.5 percent.
The government is actively involved in providing primary health care facilities though Union and Upazila Health Complexes, secondary health care facilities through District level hospitals, and tertiary health care facilities through Medical College Hospitals, Postgraduate Institutes and specialized hospitals at divisional and national levels. The health policy of the government aims to expand healthcare programmes and improve service quality.
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The mass media are now considered the principal vehicle for social development, peace, progress and welfare of mankind. In the backdrop of rapidly changing global scenario and revolutionary developments in modern information technology, the Ministry of Information and its attached departments in Bangladesh have streamlined their activities for bridging the gap between the government and the people.
There is no alternative to free flow of information for strengthening the base of democracy and ensuring freedom of speech. With the restoration of democratic order, press in Bangladesh enjoys complete freedom. At present, there are more than one thousand newspapers and periodicals in the country, which is much higher than the corresponding figures of 1990. Total circulation of newspapers and periodicals exceeds 2.5 million. Both Bangla and English language dailies and periodicals are read widely.
More than 50% of the country’s GDP comes from the rural sector. Development of this sector is thus crucial for national development. The government is attaching top priority to rapid economic growth alongside reduction of grinding poverty in the country through employment generation, human resource development and revitalization of the rural economy. The agriculture and rural development sectors have been given highest priority by the government in its quest for alleviating poverty among the rural masses.
Major functions of the rural development agencies of the government include employment and income generation, provision of credit and institutional support to rural target groups, vulnerable group development, formation of rural co-operatives, provision of healthcare, sanitation, safe drinking water, education etc.
Alongside the public sector, the NGOs also play a key role in rural development efforts. Organizations like the Grameen Bank, BRAC and ASA have earned worldwide acclaim in the field. The government and the NGOs are now running numerous programmes for employment and income generation of the poor. These programmes help enhance their property entitlement as well as social empowerment and also raise their awareness regarding available socio-economic opportunities.
Science and Technology
A National Science and Technology Policy has been formulated and adopted by the government. It has laid down the directions for S and T activities and research, institutional and manpower development, dissemination and documentation facilities. The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) determines S and T policies, reviews the activities of different institutions and provides directions toward S and T research and development.
Taking into account the importance of information and communication technology in the global economy, the present government has renamed the Ministry of Science and Technology as the Ministry of Science, Information and Communication Technology. Different programmes such as setting up of an Information Technology Institute. IT Villages and Incubators and Hi-tech Parks are also being taken up.
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Women and Children
The government is trying hard to integrate the womenfolk of the country into the mainstream of the development process, which is one of the main strategies for overall socio-economic development. Poverty, malnutrition, hunger, illiteracy, etc. are largely centered on womenfolk, and as such women can act as uniquely suitable agents for elimination of these socio-economic maladies. Attainment of reasonable growth rate, alleviation of poverty through generation of productive employment opportunities and increased self-reliance are inextricably linked with increased participation of women in development efforts.
The main goal of the National Policy for Women’s Advancement is to ensure equality of men and women in all spheres of national life, improve the lot of the neglected womenfolk in the country, ensure their security and empowerment, groom them up as educated and skilled workforce, eliminate discriminations and repression on women and girl-child, establish human rights or women, alleviate their poverty and ensure their participation in the socio-economic development process. Strategies have been devised to realize these goals.
A National Action Plan for Children (NAPC) has been adopted by the government for ensuring children’s right and their sound upbringing. The main objective of the NAPC is to guarantee the rights of children to lead a safe and dignified life through ensuring health, nutrition and safe and hygienic environment. It aims to ensure children’s rights to elementary education, improved living standards, proper physical and mental health and participation in cultural pursuits.
Youth are the future hope of our nation. According to National Youth Policy, the age group between 18-35 years are called ‘Youth’ in Bangladesh. They are the most energetic and productive segment of the total population in Bangladesh.
The youths are potentially the most productive force in Bangladesh. They constitute 36% of the total civilian labour force. Recognizing the fact that a disciplined and organized, trained and educated youth community can make significant contribution to the development process, the government has taken up various programmes for their socio-economic uplift. The main characteristics of the government’s youth community imbibe them with patriotism and motivate them for self-employment.
The major programmes of the government for youth development include: rural youth development, skill development training, self-employment programme and community development programme. The youth development programme is being expanded through increased training and credit facilities. The Department of Youth Development currently provides training facilities to over 2,50,000 unemployed youths each year in 50 trades throughout the country. Since 1981 and until June 2004 a total of 2.34 million unemployed youth was trained in various trades and 1.26 million were self-employed.