Bangladesh is the tenth most densely populated country in the world, with a population of 166 million people living in a land area of approximately 147,560 square kilometers. Between 2010 and 2016, urban poverty rates declined from 21.3% to 18.9%, and rural poverty rates declined from 35.2% to 26.4%. However, in recent years the rate of poverty reduction in Bangladesh has slowed.
Approximately one in four Bangladeshis (24.3% of the population) remain in poverty and 12.9% of the population lives in extreme poverty. The poverty rates and health risks in Bangladesh are directly affected by the country’s high number of internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrants.
Natural Disasters a Major Cause of Poverty in Bangladesh
Described by Oxfam as “one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world,” Bangladesh is home to approximately 614,000 people internally displaced due to natural disasters, ranking sixth among Asian countries for people displaced in their own country.
Within the last year, approximately eight million people in 32 districts were affected by floods, which destroyed 103,855 homes and forced 307,000 people to stay in emergency shelters. Each year, more than 80% of the population is exposed to floods, droughts and earthquakes. Every three years, the country experiences a severe tropical cyclone, flooding 25% of the land.
Every four to five years, severe flooding covers 60% of the land. Currently, 8.3 million Bangladeshis live in high-risk areas for cyclones. An Environmental Justice Foundation report states that the number of Bangladeshis living in slums has increased by 60% over the last 17 years due to flooding of their homes and that tens of millions of people are at risk becoming “climate refugees” in their own country.
Conflict and Violence Contribute to Displacement
In addition to the internal displacement caused by natural disasters, Bangladesh is also home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees who have fled the Myanmar military counter-insurgency offensive that the United Nations has deemed “ethnic cleansing.”
Other Health Risks in Bangladesh Include Malnutrition and Disease
The large number of displaced people (either from natural disasters or external violence) has led to severe health risks in Bangladesh. Roughly half of Bangladeshis are unable to access enough food to meet their dietary needs and 36% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
There are high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition among the refugee camps and the climate migrant slums. The majority of the Rohingya refugees reside in temporary settlements near Cox’s Bazar, where the concentration of refugees is the highest in the world, and the population places a heavy strain on the host communities.
The rise in Rohingya refugees residing in Bangladesh has caused the pre-existing refugee settlements to merge into one massive “mega-settlement”, with more than half a million people crowded along a narrow peninsula. According to The Lancet, it has become “a massive rural slum” devoid of outhouses.
Strategies and Solutions to Reduce Health Risks and Poverty
Though Bangladesh’s poverty rate has been threatened by the large numbers of climate migrants and refugees, there have been numerous responses and efforts to alleviate poverty issues in Bangladesh.
The World Health Organization has worked with the government to implement water safety plans, developed a water, sanitation and hygiene strategy and launched a surveillance system to track and combat climate-sensitive diseases, such as diarrhea, dengue fever, and malaria.
There have been numerous projects undertaken over the last 10 years, which have dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to helping Bangladesh mitigate the impact of natural disasters, strengthen emergency preparedness and facilitate the recovery of infrastructure.
Regarding food insecurity and related health risks in Bangladesh, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace partners with Helen Keller International, CARE International, and World Vision to implement multi-year developmental programs, which improve agriculture, maternal and child health, availability, and access to food, economic growth and disaster risk reduction throughout Bangladesh.
Despite stagnating poverty rates, large numbers of internally displaced climate migrants and external refugees and major public health emergencies, Bangladesh has a wide range of strategies, responses, and solutions in place to aid in its poverty reduction efforts.