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Updated: March 2009


Overview | World Vision's history in Bangladesh | World Vision in Bangladesh today


Located in the northeastern portion of the Indian subcontinent on the Ganges River delta, Bangladesh is bordered by the Bay of Bengal, India, and Burma. With 156 million people (nearly half the population of the United States) living in an area slightly larger than the state of Iowa, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country over 1,000 square miles in size. Bangladesh is located in one of the most disaster-prone areas of the world; frequent cyclones and floods have impeded economic growth for the past three decades. The country has experienced 13 severe cyclones since 1960, resulting in more than 400,000 deaths. Annual rainfall amounts average 100 inches.

Sixty-three percent of the labor force works in agriculture, with 26 percent in services and 11 percent in industry. Major agricultural products include rice, wheat, sugarcane, potatoes, tobacco, jute, tea, oilseeds, spices, and fruit, as well as beef, milk, and poultry. Natural resources include arable land, coal, natural gas and timber. Although major strides have been made in increasing the country’s rice output, soil degradation, inclement weather, and severe overpopulation have resulted in inadequate crop production. Nearly 75 percent of the population inhabits rural areas. With a population growth rate of 1.67 percent, Bangladesh’s total population is expected to hit the 230 million mark in the next 30 years.

The independent state of Bangladesh, or Bengali nation, proclaimed independence in March 1971 when East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan due to cultural and religious differences. For the next 30 years, the country saw political assassinations, bloodless coups, and a succession of corrupt presidents and prime ministers. Today, 98 percent of people consider themselves Bengal. The official language is Bangla, often known as Bengali, but English is also spoken.

Country statistics 
Population156 million
Land mass55,598 square miles
People per square mile2,806
Life expectancy62.84 years
Under age 5 mortality rate69/1,000
Literacy rate99%
Access to safe water74%
Average annual income (GNI per capita)US$480
Other (Christian & Buddhist)1%

In October 2006, when President Iajuddin Ahmed took office, violent protests ensued due to alleged corruption in the electoral commission. The violence intensified in January 2007, prompting President Ahmed to declare a state of emergency and postpone the impending elections. Domestic and international efforts to improve the economy of Bangladesh have hit numerous roadblocks. Although more than half of the gross domestic product is generated through the service sector, nearly two-thirds of Bangladeshis are employed in agriculture, with rice as the single most important product. Unfortunately, recent flooding has damaged the rice production in a large part of the country, rendering the crop useless. Other impediments to economic growth include the frequent flooding and cyclones, inadequate port facilities, and mismanaged government programs. Forty-five percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and 41 percent live on less than $1 per day.

In 1991, a devastating cyclone killed more than 138,000 people in the port city of Chittagong. In 1998, damaging floods that covered two-thirds of the country left 1,050 dead, 25 million homeless, and 58 million acres of crops destroyed. In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr tore a path through the country, destroying the lives and homes of more than 8 million people. Floods in 2008 displaced more than 30,000 people. The 5-inch rise in sea levels predicted due to climate change has the potential to displace millions and place half of the country underwater by 2030.

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World Vision's history in Bangladesh

World Vision began assisting the people of East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in 1970 following a flood and cyclone, bringing relief to the people of the coastal region. More than $200,000 in emergency relief supplies was provided. In addition, roads were rebuilt, wells were dug, and 63 schools, colleges, and health clinics were reconstructed.

In 1971, civil war caused refugees to flee to India. After the war, the people of the newly-formed country were met with issues of malnutrition and disease. World Vision aided with emergency relief measures. Through the relocation of villagers, road construction, land clearance, excavation of wells and canals, and the repair of damaged schools and structures, World Vision helped rebuild the northern part of the country.

In 1973, World Vision opened an office in Dhaka. That same year, a child-care program provided direct assistance to children ages 4 to 14. In 1974, 23 new projects were initiated. Relief was provided to flood survivors in Jamalpur, Netrokona, and Mymensingh.

At the Dhaka Shishu Hospital for children, health care was provided for the poor and sick. World Vision worked with communities to provide education on nutrition to mothers and promote research in the field of pediatric health care. By the mid 1970s, 8,000 children were sponsored through World Vision.

During the 1980s, World Vision conducted relief and rehabilitation work in four remote flood-affected areas. A total of $170,000 was spent for foodstuffs, clothing, housing, medical services, and rebuilding flood-damaged roads, dams, and houses. By 1982, the number of sponsored children had grown to 11,641. In 1986, through a flood rehabilitation program, World Vision provided rice, chira, and housing assistance to flood-affected villages.

By 1992, 254 projects were active, and the number of sponsored children had increased to 57,745. World Vision also began additional relief and rehabilitation projects to assist communities affected by political unrest as well as the effects of natural disasters. During the 1990s, the Bangladesh Flood Rehabilitation benefited 140,000 people. Assistance included the provision of food, clothing, health care, and reconstruction of housing. The Rohingya Refugees Relief project provided relief assistance to Rohingya refugee families who, because of political unrest in Myanmar, crossed the border into Bangladesh.

In 1994, a major shift occurred in World Vision’s program emphasis, moving from small community development projects to more holistic, integrated programs addressing the root causes of poverty throughout an identified geographic area.

A severe flood hit three districts in 1995, and World Vision responded through provision of cash for food and other items for 6,004 families. By 1996, the number of children in sponsorship increased to 72,115. By the end of 1998, natural disaster shelters were constructed for 95,000 people in the Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar, and Khulna districts. In addition, access to safe drinking water was provided for 2,400 families.

By 2005, the number of sponsored children increased to 112,026. In partnership with the Bangladesh Retired Police Officers Welfare Association, World Vision began helping arrested children who had been held in correctional facilities with adults and subjected to torture and abuse. World Vision transferred 773 juveniles from prison to a juvenile detention center. The project provided awareness to nearly 13,000 representatives of law enforcement and government.

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World Vision in Bangladesh today

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Bangladesh to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 160,165 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor 30,164 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 57 development programs, nine of which are supported by U.S. donors. Highlights of these efforts include the following:
  • Cyclone Sidr emergency response: Through grant and private funding support, World Vision is providing survival packages of dry food items, blankets, jerrycans, temporary housing materials, and purified water. The program has helped at least 70,000 families and nearly 350,000 people.
  • Kamalapur: Through a government grant and child sponsorship, World Vision is working with nearly 100,000 people near Dhaka to increase household income, improve health conditions and literacy rates, and give children much-needed access to education and immunizations.
For more information on World Vision’s programs in Bangladesh, please contact the United States office.

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