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June 2007

Bangladesh, 1996

Bangladesh, 1996

Bangladesh, conventionally known as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, covers a total area of 144,000 sq. km. with a land area of 133,910 sq. km. and is slightly smaller than Iowa. The capital city is Dhaka (10 million); other major cities are Chittagong (2.8 million), Khulna (1.8 million), and Rajshahi (1 million). Bangladesh is a low-lying, riparian country located in South Asia, between Burma and India, with a largely marshy jungle coastline of 710 km. bordering the northern shore of the Bay of Bengal. Most of the country is situated on deltas of large rivers flowing from the Himalayas, where the Ganges unites with the Jamuna, a main channel of the Brahmaputra, and later joins the Meghna to eventually empty into the Bay of Bengal; the alluvial soil deposited by these rivers is highly fertile. Hills rise above the plain only in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the far southeast and the Sylhet division in the northeast.

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh has a subtropical monsoonal climate characterized by heavy seasonal rainfall, moderately warm temperatures, and high humidity. Natural calamities, such as floods, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and tidal bores affect the country almost every year. Bangladesh also is affected by major cyclones--on average 16 times a decade. There are a number of current environmental issues facing Bangladesh: many people are landless and forced to live on and cultivate flood-prone land; water-borne diseases are prevalent in surface water; water pollution, especially of fishing areas, results from the use of commercial pesticides; ground water is contaminated by naturally occurring arsenic; there are intermittent water shortages because of falling water tables in the northern and central parts of the country; rising soil degradation and erosion; increased deforestation; and severe overpopulation. Natural resources include natural gas, arable land, timber, and coal.

The official language is Bangla, also known as Bengali. The major ethnic groups are Bengali, comprising 98% of the population; indigenous tribal groups make up the remainder. The two major religions practiced are Muslim(83%) and Hindu(16%); other religions practiced include Buddhism and Christianity(1%).

Bangladesh’s government is a parliamentary democracy; the country has a caretaker government until a general election is held. President Iajuddin Ahmed, also chief of state, has held the post since September 2002. Although Iajuddin Ahmed is president and minister of defense, all of the other cabinet portfolios are held by caretaker advisers. Fakhruddin Ahmed is the chief advisor of the caretaker government, which is roughly equivalent to the prime minister. The president is elected by the legislature, or Parliament, every 5 years. The legislature is a unicameral, 300-seat body. All of its members are elected by universal suffrage at least every five years. The country has six administrative divisions: Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, and Sylhet.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. Dept.of State Background Notes; LoC Federal Research Div.Country Studies, 05/2007, 05/2007, 09/1998