Today, 160 million people are living in an area about one-third the size of Sweden. The enormous population density makes the work of creating a reasonable existence for the poorest people difficult. The poor are also affected particularly hard by flooding during the monsoon rains, cyclones and tsunamis that often affect the low-lying country.
Urbanization is putting great pressure on the cities’ infrastructure and the health-care sector does not have enough resources. The Bangladeshi government is working according to a long-term strategy in its fight against poverty.
The plan is built on three foundations: poverty-reducing growth, human development and good governance. The country's sixth five-year development plan has an environmental and climate perspective, focusing on the poor, and this work is supported by Sida. Within the health sector, Bangladesh is on track towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, in particular with regard to maternal mortality that decreased sharply over the past decade, partly due to the increased number of safe abortions. At the same time, the health sector receives only a small part of the country's total budget and access to health care for the poor is only improving slowly.
The literacy rate in Bangladesh has increased steadily since independence in 1971, but still almost half the population is illiterate, especially women and people in rural areas. Access to schooling has increased in recent years but there are many students who leave school to early.
From economic growth to democratic development
The booming textile industry – and the incomes that migrant Bangladeshis have been sending home for many years that come with it – has been the country’s economic motor. The growth has benefited many, but has not been able to improve the situation for those most vulnerable and poor.
Wages are very low, strikes occur frequently, and although the total aid is only equivalent to about 2 per cent of GDP, aid has an important role in providing almost 50 per cent of the development budget.
Deficiencies in democratic governance and a strongly centralized state authority are limiting the opportunities of vulnerable groups to claim their rights and demand responsibility. Some progress has been made though. Media is frequently reporting on corruption, and a national integration strategy has been adopted. Women’s rights are also being strengthened, albeit slowly. Lack of accountability (ever since independence), human rights violations and a highly polarized party politics has led to a worrying trend of increasing violence and riots before the elections planned for 2013/14.
Sweden’s focus areas in Bangladesh:
- Democratic development
- Climate adaptation
- Urban environment.
Read more about Sida’s work in Bangladesh