Bangladesh is one of the world's most densely populated countries, with its people crammed into a delta of rivers that empties into the Bay of Bengal.
Poverty is deep and widespread; almost half of the population live on less than one dollar a day. However, Bangladesh has reduced population growth and improved health and education.
The major employer is agriculture, but it is unable to meet the demand for jobs. So, many Bangladeshis - in common with citizens from other countries in the region - seek work abroad, sometimes illegally.
The country is trying to diversify its economy, with industrial development a priority. Overseas investors have pumped money into manufacturing and the energy sector. The collapse of a garment factory in 2013 with the loss of more than 1,000 lives brought workers out onto the streets to demand better conditions.
Onshore and offshore gas reserves hold out some chance of future prosperity. There has been a debate about whether the reserves should be kept for domestic use or exported. International companies are involved in the gas sector.
Formerly East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being only in 1971, when the two parts of Pakistan split after a bitter war which drew in neighbouring India.
Bangladesh spent 15 years under military rule and, although democracy was restored in 1990, the political scene remains volatile.
Analysts say antagonism between the main parties - the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party - reflects personal animosity between leaders rather than substantial ideological differences.
Political tensions have spilled over into violence; hundreds of people have been killed in recent years. Attacks have targeted opposition rallies and public gatherings. Senior opposition figures have also been targeted.
Concern has grown about religious extremism in the usually moderate and tolerant country. The government has outlawed two fringe Islamic organisations.
Bangladesh has been criticised for its human rights record, with particular concern about assaults on women and allegations that police use torture against those in custody.
The low-lying country is vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and it stands to be badly affected by predicted rises in sea levels.