Country Overview

Sandwiched between India and Myanmar and with an area of 147,570 sq km, Bangladesh is among the world's most densely populated countries with a population of 164 million. The country is geologically part of the Bengal Basin, among the largest in the world. Nearly 50 per cent of the country lies at an elevation of less than 10 m above sea level, and only the southwestern parts of the country exceeds an altitude of 300 m above sea level.

CSE in Bangladesh
Towards Lake Conservation
Meeting on lake conservation in partnership with Work for Better Bangladesh (WBB) Trust, Dhaka, September 26, 2012.
The rain convention in Dhaka, June 15-17, 2012
A two day conference followed by one day training workshop on rainwater harvesting was organised in Dhaka by Water Aid Bangladesh (WAB) in partnership with Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Experience Sharing Dialogue in Dhaka: Improving Quality and Performance of Natural Gas Vehicle Program in South Asia.
Dhaka and Delhi met to discuss natural gas vehicle programme -- a unique opportunity for a clean up in the region where the mainstream technology of diesel and petrol are languishing.

Over 92 per cent of the annual runoff generated in the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna river (GBM) catchment area flows through Bangladesh. Roughly 80 per cent of the country consists of low and flat land, except for the hilly regions (12 per cent) in the northeast and southeast, while terraced lands account for the remaining landscape. A network of rivers, with their tributaries and distributaries, crisscross the country.

Agriculture accounts for 65 per cent of land use, while lands under forests account for almost 17 per cent, and urban areas occupy about 8 per cent of the country’s land area. Water and other land use account for the remaining 10 per cent.

Forestlands include classified and unclassified state lands, homestead forests and tea/rubber gardens. A major part of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and listed in the UNESCO world heritage site, lies at the southern part of the Ganges delta and spreads across the coastal areas of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India.

Bangladesh is among the world’s least developed agrarian nations. Agriculture contrbutes to about 24 per cent of GDP. Food insecurity remains a critical issue in Bangladesh. Although the number of malnourished has decreased in recent years, it remains high: over 41 million people or 27 per cent of the total population are malnourished, and just under half of all Bangladeshi children are underweight ( almost half of country’s population is below fifteen years of age ). Close to 82 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and almost half depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, although the country’s agricultural imports outnumber its exports by 12 times.

Bangladesh in pictures

Despite regular natural calamities -- floods and cyclones -- that take a serious toll on the country’s food production, the country is close to attaining self-sufficiency in food grain production. Agricultural holdings in Bangladesh are generally small. The principal crops grown include rice, jute, sugarcane, potato, pulses, wheat, tea and tobacco.

Bangladesh is rich in fish-- hundreds of varieties of tropical fish are found in rivers, canals, tanks and other low-lying and depressed areas and paddy fields that remain under water for about six months in a year and cover nearly 12 million acres. Hilsa , lobsters and shrimps are leading exports in the sector. However, the increase in international demand has led to severe environmental impacts in shrimp farming, with reports of high pesticide and antibiotic use and salination in coastal areas.

Bangladesh has a large deposits of natural gas, and natural gas from 17 gas fields is used for power-generation, industry (including fertilizer plants), domestic consumption and for transport sector. However, given the poor state of gas exploration, attention is shifting to coal reserves, with international assistance. Electricity is produced by both thermal and hydro-electric process. The total generation of electricity amounted to 22742 million kilowatt hours in 2005-06. The solitary hydro-electric project having an installed capacity of 230 MW is located at Kaptai in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The country also has a sizeable limestone deposits, and several cement factories are being set up. Salt is manufactured on a small scale at several thousand evaporation sites in the coastal areas of Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar. Large-scale industries include readymade garments, cotton textiles, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, wood products, iron and steel plants, ceramic, cement, plastics and chemicals. Other industries include ship-breaking (the 150 or so ships dismantled each year are laden with asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, arsenic have contaminated coastal waters and pose a serious health hazard for the 20,000 workers) , oil refineries, paints, colours and varnishes, electric cables and lamps, among others. Cottage industries include handlooms and handicrafts, carpet-making, and coir, bamboo and cane products.

Bangladesh the world’s dumping ground for used vehicles – some estimate that roughly 80 per cent of cars are imported, used vehicles. This is due to the high import duties, that range from 120 per cent for used cars below 1500 cc to 520 per cent for new vehicles, usually imported as CKD kits and assembled locally. Most cars are imported from Japan.

Urban mobility and traffic planning has emerged as a major urban challenge in Bangladesh, with massive traffic jams, and a bewildering mix of vehicles on city roads clog traffic. In the absence of a streamlined publc transport system, all manner of modified vehicles do taxi duties.

Despite the fact that most passenger and light commercial vehicles run on compressed natural gas (CNG), air pollution has been identified as a priority environmental issue in the country. Particulate pollution on its own or combined with sulfur dioxide, places an enormous public health burden, causing at least 500,000 premature deaths, and 4-5 million cases of chronic bronchitis each year. The two major point sources of air pollution are vehicles and emissions from industries, which are mainly concentrated in the cities. Earlier assumptions about the availability of gas have sobered down to a realization that Bangladesh has only 20 years of gas reserves remaining, unless new reserves are discovered, and Chinese companies are leading the exploration for more gas.

Till recently there was concern over water quality (Dhaka gets roughly 2200 mm of rain/year); more recently, the quantum of water has become a serious issue, especially during the dry pre-Monsoon months. With rivers polluted by municipal domestic and industrial effluents, groundwater use has shot up and there is weak legislation or regulation on groundwater use. However, with bountiful rains there is potential for rainwater harvesting , especially storage. Groundwater recharge is more challenging in many places either due to the shallow aquifers, or due to the composition of soil. Dhaka’s soil for instance comprises compacted clay up to 60 feet, making recharge difficult and expensive. Likewise, urban wetlands are under tremendous stress, with land grabs by the strong builder-politician nexus.

The high dependence on groundwater with high levels of arsenic is another key environmental challenge. Existing theory claims arsenic is an intrinsic part of the affected areas' geology, and the groundwater sources got contaminated when wells were dug indiscriminately during 1970s, leading to the leaching of arsenic from rocks. Nearly 90 per cent of the country’s population depends on groundwater for daily needs. Water wells in Bangladesh have exposed up to 77 million people to toxic levels of arsenic since the 1970s.

Meanwhile, urban sanitation has emerged as a serious challenge. In Dhaka for instance, most buildings use the septic tank system. Dhaka has only one sewage treatment plant for the entire city, which works at less than 40 per cent capacity. Most domestic and municipal sewage finds its way into the rivers. Rivers also heavily littered with municipal solid waste (sanitary landfills are a rarity, and if they exist, do so only in name). However, there seems to be more concern with industrial effluents being discharged than with domestic and/or municipal sewage polluting rivers. There are 7000 small-scale textile, tannery and other polluting industrial units on the banks of the four rivers around Dhaka (Buriganga to the South, Sitalakhya to the East of the city, Balu to the West and the Turag river to the North). All discharge their almost untreated effluents into the rivers. Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) estimates that industrial effluents account for up to 60 per cent of the pollution load of the rivers around Dhaka. So far however, the focus of river pollution is on effluent treatment plants targeted at the many small-scale polluting units.

The country boasts of perhaps the world’s largest and fastest-growing rural renewable energy programme . The riverine landscape makes it expensive to extend the grid, and only about 40 percent of Bangladeshis have access to grid-fed electricity. Locally asembled Solar Home Systems sets, fortified with a sensible subsidy programme and a social business model, have to some extent met the government’s social commitment of electricity for all by 2020. By June 2011, more than one million SHS were installed across all districts in Bangladesh -- the fastest expansion of rural solar use in the world.

  • Tags:

Related Content