Bangladesh at 40: The challenges ahead

By James Melik
Reporter, Business Daily, BBC World Service

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
People who collaborated with West Pakistan are still being sought and tried in Bangladesh 40 years later

After a war lasting nine months and with the aid of India, East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan and became the independent state of Bangladesh on 16 December 1971.

The country did not have a very auspicious beginning.

The war had left three million people dead and a further 10 million displaced in India.

There soon followed a great famine which claimed at least another one million lives.

As with most famines, the causes of starvation on a mass scale in Bangladesh were multiple.

These included flooding, government mismanagement and so-called distributional failures - when food and aid intended for the hungry was stolen and never reached its destination.

The county's devastated infrastructure and markets were wholly unprepared to deal with the challenges that independence brought.

Furthermore, there was widespread corruption among newly appointed officials.

Change still sought

Throughout its history, Bangladesh has had to cope with natural disasters and political unrest.

Image source, Other
Image caption,
Some businesses, such as an ice cream parlour, would fail without a continuous supply of energy

Forty years later, many of the shortcomings exposed when the country gained its independence are still apparent.

There are at least three major concerns which remain to be addressed if life for the average person is to improve.

First - corruption is still rife - a recent Transparency International index measuring perceptions of corruption placed Bangladesh firmly among the worst countries, alongside other nations such as Mozambique and Kazakhstan.

The current government led by Sheikh Hasina came into power in 2009 promising to tackle the problem of corruption.

Many people believe that her attempts to improve the situation have been thwarted by officials who do not want to see a change to the status quo because it will mean they no longer receive the perks to which they have become accustomed.

Energy problems

Despite having bountiful natural resources, the lack of proper energy supplies in Bangladesh continues to hamper business.

Image source, Other
Image caption,
Young people complain that they cannot find work when they finish their education

There are frequently large scale and often violent demonstrations in different parts of Bangladesh over the thorny issue of power and energy supply.

Factories and industries which can afford it supply their own power by using generators, but, away from the large urban centres, a consistent source of energy is considered a luxury few can afford.

And finally, the lack of jobs.

With a population of 160 million, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

It is estimated that by 2020, half of the population will be under 30 years old.

Work needs to be found for the growing number of educated young people who are leaving the countryside to search for work in the cities.

But there are few jobs available and faced with little or no prospects for a better future, people could take to the streets to voice their protest - in much the same way we have witnessed across the Arab world over the past year.

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