SEATTLE, Washington — Though the country is rich with rivers and lush forests, poverty in Bangladesh is made worse by environmental hazards that affect the densely-populated nation.
With more than 156 million people in an area slightly larger than Iowa, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely-populated countries. Right now, the economy of Bangladesh is not equipped to support such a large population, and about 24 percent of Bangladeshis live below the poverty line.
Much of the land is regularly flooded during the monsoon from June to October. Droughts and cyclones are also common in Bangladesh. These natural hazards regularly displace millions each year and are growing worse due to climate change.
Water-borne diseases, commercial pesticides and naturally-occurring arsenic contaminate Bangladeshi water. Increasing demand for water causes water tables to fall in North and Central Bangladesh, which causes shortages. Bangladesh also sees deforestation, soil degradation and erosion. These conditions make farming difficult, and nearly half of the population is employed in agriculture.
Poverty in Bangladesh is also caused by a lack of infrastructure. More than 60 percent of Bangladeshis live in rural areas, where inadequate roading and public transportation makes it difficult for farmers to sell their crops, send their children to school and meet other basic needs.
Nearly 15 percent of children in Bangladesh cannot go to school because their families depend on their income from agriculture or factory work. Though child labor laws do exist in Bangladesh, they are not strictly enforced. Children who work are prone to workplace diseases and injuries that have the potential to affect them for the rest of their lives.
Poverty in Bangladesh has shown signs of improvement, having declined seven percent in six years according to a 2010 World Bank estimate. For the past two decades, the economy of Bangladesh has grown an average of six percent each year. In 2015 the country reached World Bank lower middle-income status. Garment exports and remittances from Bangladeshis overseas are the main contributors to this economic growth.
The country reached the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of reducing mother and infant mortality set forth in 2000, cutting mortality rates in half by 2015.
Microfinance institutions (MFIs) have been offering financial services for low-income people who do not have access to typical banking services in Bangladesh since the ’70s. MFIs provide small, low-interest loans, and have reduced rural poverty in Bangladesh by 10 percent over the past two decades.
In a country where 25 percent do not have access to reliable electricity, increasing access to electricity is also crucial to alleviating poverty in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government-backed Infrastructure Development Company Limited has installed solar panels on nearly four million off-the-grid homes, giving 18 million Bangladeshis access to solar energy. Aside from being good for the environment, users pay less to use solar panels than electric generators and can even get loans to purchase the panels.
Investments in education, infrastructure, and clean energy are still needed to improve the lives of millions of Bangladeshis. But with continuing advancements like those that helped Bangladesh reach middle-income status, poverty in Bangladesh can continue to be lifted.
– Cassie Lipp