Since 1996, the economy of Bangladesh has grown by 5-7% per year. Until 2003, unemployment averaged at 2.7%. But according to government figures, unemployment rose to 5.1% in 2009 (compared to 4.2% in 2006), meaning 2.7 million people were unemployed. And now the economy shows signs of slowing.
Around 45% of Bangladeshi’s work in the agricultural sector, with rice as the single most important product. However, rice production is severely threatened by climate change and the increasing scarcity of fresh water (see article– ‘Bangladesh faces tough times ahead’) The newly-released report by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies highlights how the country will struggle to feed its population of 158 million and growing, unless the country’s agricultural system can be improved.
Since 2008, the country has witnessed a significant increase in the price of food. With nearly 40% of the population living below the poverty line and existing on less than one dollar a day, the extra cost of food has an immediate impact on the poorest families. The spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Bangladesh has spoken of a deterioration in the “food security and the nutritional situation in the country”.
Approximately a third of this extremely poor country floods annually during the monsoon rainy season, so development is always hard. But the global recession and a series of devastating floods and cyclones in the region are taking an extra toll on Bangladesh.
According to the WFP, estimates for the number of people who exist on less than the recommended amount of daily food in Bangladesh have increased from 47 million in 1990 to 56 million in 2005, and that figure rose to 65 million in 2008 following the damage caused by floods and storms. For the majority of poor families, hunger is caused by a shortfall in their income. Food is available, but many do not earn enough to purchase the necessary quantities for their families.
The WFP reports that due to the food insecurity, nearly seven million children under the age of five are underweight and three million are severely malnourished. And along with India, Bangladesh has the world’s highest percentage of newborn babies who are born underweight, which affects nearly 30 million women and 12 million children.
With rice production falling, the pressures on the poorest will continue to increase and there is an urgent need both inside Bangladesh and internationally to recognize the growing problem of malnutrition in this country and take steps to address it.