A tropical low-lying country of the Indian subcontinent.
Situated at the head of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is mainly occupied by the deltas of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. It is a land of rivers, which flood regularly in the monsoon season, leaving fertile soil on their banks. The south-west delta area, the Sundarbans, is mainly swamp and jungle; the region is subject to frequent cyclones which are funnelled up the Bay of Bengal and exacerbated by large-scale deforestation, thus causing immense damage and loss of life and crops. Some of the worst floods in the country's history left 25 million people homeless in 1998.
The country grows 70% of the world's supply of jute, and jute products are an important export, despite falling world demand. Other exports include clothing, shrimp, and leather goods. Industry is limited; the economy is primarily agrarian, with rice the most important food crop. There are substantial undeveloped reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas. The country remains one of the world's poorest, despite rapid economic growth in the 2000s.
Bangladesh was established in 1971 from territories which had previously formed the eastern part of Pakistan. Evidence of discontent in East Pakistan first appeared in the 1952 Bengali-language agitation and became much stronger after the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. In 1966 the Awami League put forward a demand for greater autonomy which it proposed to implement after its victory in the 1970 elections. In March 1971, when this demand was rejected by the military government of Pakistan, civil war began, leading to a massive exodus of refugees to India. India sent help to the East Pakistan guerrillas (the Mukti Bahini). In the war of December 1971, Indian troops defeated the Pakistan forces in East Pakistan. The independence of Bangladesh was proclaimed in 1971 and recognized by Pakistan in 1974. The first Prime Minister, Mujibur Rahman, was murdered in 1975 and a period of political chaos, ethnic riots, floods, and famine followed, Bangladesh being declared the world's poorest country in 1987. In 1990 the military leader President Ershad was forced to resign, was arrested, and imprisoned for corruption. Elections in 1991 restored civilian rule under Prime Minister Begum Zia and a new constitution was adopted. From 1995 Zia's government was troubled by strikes and mass protests against privatization and other policies. The political crisis deepened after elections held in February 1996 were boycotted by the opposition and much of the electorate. Following a second election in June 1996 Sheikha Hasina Wajed became the head of a coalition government, but Zia was returned to power in 2001. In both 1998 and 2004 severe floods affected over half of the country and left many millions of people homeless.
Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)
143,998 sq km (55,598 sq miles)
1 Bangladesh taka = 100 paisa
Muslim 86.6%; Hindu 12.1%; Buddhist 0.6%; Christian 0.3%
Bengali 97.7%; Bihari 1.3%; minority tribes 1.0%
Bengali (official); Urdu; Bihari; Hindi