Bangladesh: Still Not On the Global Radar
Where does Bangladesh stand with regard to its fertility rate, population and media freedom?
September 11, 2016
In view of the recent explosion at a packaging factory near Bangladesh’s capital on September 10, 2016, that killed at least 23 workers and injured dozens, we take a deeper look at the challenges Bangladesh faces with regard to its population, economy and more.
Bangladesh was the smallest of the four countries to emerge out of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent. Formerly known as East Pakistan, it has more people than either Russia or Japan. We wonder: Which of the following statements about today’s Bangladesh are true?
A. Its fertility rate is below the global average.
B. It is an integral part of global supply chains.
C. Media freedom is a big challenge.
D. It faces an imminent existential threat from climate change.
A. Its fertility rate is below the global average is true
The country has the 10th highest population density in the world. Its 2,894 people per square mile (1,117 per square kilometer) puts Bangladesh firmly within the ranks of tiny island nations and city-states, despite a much larger area.
In addition, Bangladesh’s current population of 161 million means it is the eighth most populous country in the world.
However, Bangladesh’s fertility rate is only about 2.2. That makes it the 94th lowest in the world, according to World Bank data – on par with high-income Argentina.
(The global average is 2.5 children per woman. In India, that number stands at 2.5 — and at 3.6 in Pakistan.)
Bangladesh’s fertility rate is relatively low for a country at its level of poverty. By 2050, Bangladesh’s population will grow by 25% more than today. That increase is almost the same size as Argentina’s entire current population (43 million).
By comparison, Pakistan’s population is expected to grow by 64% (121 million in total) over the same time span – and India’s by 30% (394 million in total).
Nevertheless, at 202 million, Bangladesh in 2050 will have a population equal to the combined populations in 2050 of Germany, United Kingdom and Italy.
Bangladesh – initially the state of East Pakistan – gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and separated from then-West Pakistan in 1971.
Hard though it is to imagine, the population of East Pakistan back in 1950 – at 38 million – was equal in size to that of West Pakistan.
Pakistan’s population overtook that of Bangladesh in size in 1987. Now, that country’s population is 28 million larger than Bangladesh’s.
Bangladesh’s government began supporting family planning programs and civil society efforts shortly after separation in 1971, whereas Pakistan did not follow suit until the 1990s.
B. Bangladesh is an integral part of global supply chains is true
Market liberalization policies imposed by the World Bank and IMF beginning in 1986 opened Bangladesh to partial industrialization, albeit on a fairly narrow scale. Many women in particular took factory jobs in ready-made-garment production.
This provided new economic opportunities, but also did so under exploitative conditions for minimal wages. There also was a deplorable lack of safety precautions, perpetuated through often obscure shell companies established by the in-country outsourcing partners of Western multinationals.
That carelessness came to global attention in the lethal 2013 Savar garment factory collapse.
Bangladesh’s garment exports to the United States and EU continued to surge in 2016, even as regional neighbors experienced declines. The ongoing exploitation of serious labor and environmental violations adds up to often unbeatable consumer prices.
C. Media freedom is a big challenge is true
Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks Bangladesh 144th for press freedom in the world, out of 180 countries scored in 2016. (Neighboring India ranks 133rd and nearby Pakistan ranks 147th in the 2016 global index.)
A journalist’s failure to self-censor on controversial topics such as the constitution or religion can result in imprisonment by the government or, even worse, in assassination by local extremists. Some journalistic “crimes” can also result in the death penalty.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 71 journalists were killed in Bangladesh in 2015, whether murdered for their work or for unconfirmed reasons. Among the deaths were four bloggers and a publisher targeted for their secular views by religious extremists.
D. It faces an imminent existential threat from climate change is true
Owing to its geography, population density and poverty, Bangladesh is expected to be among the countries hardest hit by the effects of man-made climate change this century.
The nation of Bangladesh was initially carved out of British India to separate out the predominantly Muslim areas of the Bengal region. This region is home to the largest river delta in the world, the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, which empties into the Bay of Bengal.
As a result of this vast delta, nearly 80% of the entire land area of Bangladesh is composed of nearly-flat river floodplains. Virtually everything southeast of the country’s highlands is a low-lying flood-prone region.
As sea levels rise globally, the typical waterline will migrate much farther and faster across Bangladesh from its current shoreline than elsewhere.
There simply is not much of an elevation increase (10 meters across most of the country) to slow it down. 15% of Bangladesh’s land area – currently home to 30 million people – would be underwater with a one meter rise in sea level.
Chronic or permanent flooding of the world’s 10th most densely populated country and 8th most populous country is likely to displace millions of people.
Already, saltwater intrusion – the process where rising sea levels or storm surges into low-lying regions contaminates fresh groundwater – is damaging crops and reducing drinking water supplies. Bangladesh is still overwhelmingly agricultural, as most fertile delta regions usually are.
Heat waves and droughts can also be expected to intensify in Bangladesh due to climate change. Further upriver, glacial melt and Chinese hydroelectric dam construction in Tibet has changed the expected freshwater availability for the rivers that feed Bangladesh’s delta.
Bangladesh’s current population of 161 million means it is the eighth most populous country in the world.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks Bangladesh 144th for press freedom in the world out of 180.
Bangladesh may be among the countries hardest hit by the effects of man-made climate change this century.