The Brahmaputra and the Ganges ran through Bangladesh. The country is partly situated on the world’s biggest delta. Most of its territory is no higher than 12 metres above sea level which makes it very vulnerable to meteorological disasters. The country has 156 million inhabitants and thus, the highest density in the world: 1000 inhabitants/km2. It does not have many resources apart from arable land, natural gas, wood and coal.
The biggest mangrove forest in the world is in the Sundarbans. The country is home to varied wildlife made up of 295 types of birds, 150 species of reptiles and amphibians and 200 varieties of freshwater and sea fish. Bangladesh’s protected areas are a refuge for one of the last few Bengal tiger populations. Depending on estimates, there are between 200 and 400 of them.
Rising sea levels: Today, Bangladesh is most vulnerable to climate change. Over the next few decades, rising sea levels could make 20 million people in the country climate refugees. Rising sea levels salinate land the population depends on for food. The country has also recently had to face tidal waves and violent cyclones. In 1998, it experienced its worst floods yet; a thousand people were killed and 30 million others were left homeless. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed 3500 people. These phenomena are heightened by deforestation, erosion and soil degradation.
Arsenic: To this day, the arsenic contamination is the largest poisoning in human history. The arsenic was initially in underground water tables. When water for consumption and agriculture was drawn from these very same water tables in the 1970s, it contaminated the population. So far, it is believed to have affected almost 2 million people and could potentially affect 30 million others.
Pesticides: Pesticide poisoning is the second cause of mortality in Bangladesh. It killed 7438 people in 2007. Most Bangladeshis are illiterate; they therefore use products in the wrong way and often put food in empty pesticide containers. Moreover, a lot of products that are banned elsewhere in the world are still sold in Bangladesh.
Ship breaking: After India (the world leader in ship breaking), Bangladesh undertakes 30% of ship breaking in the world. The workers work in appalling sanitary conditions and manipulate highly toxic materials. The Bangladeshi government recently relaxed a law that banned toxic ships from being dismantled.
BRAC, created by Fazle Asan Abed, works with 120 000 employees in Bangladesh and is currently the biggest NGO in the world. It was created to provide water, sanitation and hygiene to as many people as possible but now, it also takes part in educational programmes for children as well as in the country’s economic development. So far, 80% of the population has taken advantage of BRAC’s microfinance programs.
Yves and Runa Marre’s foundation, Friendship, has developed several social development projects. Thanks to their floating hospitals and river ambulances, they can get to Bangladeshis in areas that are hard to access and give them the healthcare they need. They have been “afloat” for 10 years and have treated1 million patients.
The Sundarbans Tiger Project is an initiative set up by two scientists, James Smith and Ullas Karanth. It is supported by the Bangladesh Forest department. The project aims to study the largest remaining population of Bengal tigers, raise the population’s awareness and protect these animals that are under threat of extinction.