Norway is helping prevent natural disasters in Bangladesh. This populous country has a rapidly growing economy, but is highly vulnerable to floods, cyclones and climate change.

Facts about Bangladesh

The flag for Bangladesh
Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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The flag for Bangladesh

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

The political situation in Bangladesh is characterized by antagonism between the government and the opposition. This antagonism is an obstacle to broad cross-party cooperation in areas that are important for the country's development.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the parliamentary election in January 2014, and the ruling Awami League (AL) party therefore won by an overwhelming majority. Despite criticism by a number of western countries of a one-sided and less than inclusive election and demands by the opposition to call a new election, there is a strong indication that AL will attempt to remain in power throughout its five-year term.

Bangladesh is among the world's most vulnerable countries in terms of climate change. The country consists of a lowland river delta where rising sea levels could cause large inhabitable areas to be lost. At the same time, it has been estimated that the population will increase from 160 million to 250 million by 2050. In addition, river erosion, drought and more powerful cyclones are expected, as well as saltwater penetration into arable land. Since the 1970 cyclone, Bangladesh has made significant progress in terms of disaster prevention, especially through the Cyclone Preparedness Program. The country has also become better able than before to deal with floods and other natural disasters.

Human rights

The human rights situation has deteriorated in the last couple of years. Journalists and human rights activists are exposed to threats, violence, assassinations and abductions. In August 2014 the government adopted the National Broadcasting Policy which will restrict the freedom of the press, and in September the parliament adopted a constitutional amendment that will permit the elected assembly to remove Supreme Court judges from office.

Police and security forces often crack down on demonstrators. Abductions and extrajudicial killings continue to occur. In 2014, a total of 88 extrajudicial killings were reported, compared to 208 in the previous year. Religious and ethnic minorities are widely discriminated against, and the indigenous population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is highly exposed to discrimination.

The position of women has improved in a number of areas. Bangladesh has seen a major reduction in child and maternal mortality, improved health and nutrition, slower population growth and increased life expectancy. School attendance has gone up, among girls in particular. More than 90 per cent of all girls and boys are now enrolled in primary school.

Women account for approximately 80 per cent of the workforce in the textile industry. Women and girls are nevertheless often exposed to discrimination, abuse and violence at home, in the workplace and in society as a whole. Legislation also discriminates against women in areas such as divorce, inheritance and property.

Bangladesh has the world's second highest rate of child marriages, i.e. for those aged under 18 years. A recent study showed that 64 per cent of the women in the country are married before they reach the age of 18. According to the 'Child Marriage Restraint Act', the legal minimum age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 years for women and 21 years for men. In the context of a revision of the Act, Bangladeshi authorities have proposed to lower the minimum age to 16 years for women and 18 years for men. International organizations, headed by UNICEF and UN Women, have joined a number of Western countries, including Norway, to oppose the proposal.

Governance is weak because of corruption, public order problems, a dysfunctional parliament, a poorly functioning judicial system, entanglement of politics and industry, a politicized bureaucracy and lack of capacity at most levels of public administration. Although the number of taxpayers has increased, less than one per cent of the population pays income tax. Bangladesh is ranked as number 145 (of 174) on Transparency International's global corruption index.

Over the last 20 years, Bangladesh has nevertheless seen a major reduction in poverty levels, reduced child and maternal mortality, increased school attendance (especially among girls), better health and nutrition, slower population growth and increased life expectancy. The country has become nearly self-sufficient in food, and better able to handle floods and other natural disasters.

Among the world's least developed countries, few others can report the same level of long-term, stable economic and social development. Income distribution is highly skewed, and approximately 40 per cent of the population subsist on less than USD 1.25 per day, with 75 per cent on less than USD 2. Bangladesh is ranked as number 142 of 187 countries on the Human Development Index (2014) and as number 68 of 79 countries on the Global Hunger Index (2014).

Economic growth has remained at five to seven per cent over the last 20 years. The main obstacles to even higher growth are corruption, low education levels, energy deficits, poor infrastructure and a low proportion of gainfully employed women. Bangladesh produces garments worth USD 24 billion per year, and the textile industry accounts for approximately 80 per cent of its exports. Remittances from Bangladeshis abroad amount to USD 14 billion per year.

The country is no longer dependent on aid: total aid amounts to USD 1.2 –1.5 billion per year. This accounts for less than two per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In 1990, aid accounted for seven per cent of the GDP. High imports of petroleum products result in a foreign trade deficit. The garments industry attracted increased international attention after the disaster at Rana Plaza in 2013, when 1134 lives were lost. A number of domestic and international measures are now being enacted to improve fire and construction safety and workers' rights, although many challenges still remain.

Development cooperation with Bangladesh

Since 1974 Bangladesh has received more than NOK 12 billion in Norwegian aid (adjusted for inflation), and is the fourth largest recipient country of Norwegian bilateral aid over time.

The bilateral cooperation was revised in 2008, and the emphasis is now on business cooperation and political dialogue, while aid is limited to projects concerning:

  • Climate change, environment and sustainable development
  • Women and gender equality
  • Good governance and human rights


Climate change, environment and sustainable development

Norway supports the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP), which is managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with an amount of NOK 100 million for the period 2010‒2015. The other donors are Australia, the EU, the UK and Sweden. Altogether USD 78.3 million has been pledged with the objective of reducing vulnerability to disasters through training, information and strengthening of structures both centrally and locally.

The programme also provides analytical work and research on areas such as climate change, earthquakes and urbanization. There were no major natural disasters in the country in 2014. The annual monsoon flood in July and August provided an opportunity to test the effect of infrastructure programmes that have been implemented, including those of the CDMP programme. Thousands of people avoided the flood, after the land level had been raised in exposed areas.

Through preventive efforts, Bangladesh has achieved a considerable reduction in the scope of damage and number of casualties from floods and cyclones. The CDMP is essential in establishing a holistic policy for disaster prevention.

Bangladeshi authorities launched the CDMP in 2004. In the years until 2009, a basis for long-term disaster prevention was established. Until 2015, the programme will be expanded to comprise 40 high-risk districts, and a reduction of disaster risk and climate adaptation are integrated into planning frameworks, budgets and policies.

The following results for 2014 deserve mention:

  • Risk reduction: 185 rural programmes for 205 000 people and eight urban programmes for 80 000 people were initiated in 2014. More than fifty Union Disaster Management Committees (UDMCs) were trained in the use of the UDMC Operations Manual.

  • Last year, the Urban Development Directorate received the Asia Pacific Townscape Award from UN Habitat for having created the 'Mymensingh District Urban Master Plan'.

  • Disaster prevention: The fire department and the Civil Defence Agency have provided training and equipment to 3208 volunteers in cities and donated rescue equipment to model fire stations in Dhaka and Chittagong. To date, 26 500 volunteers have been recruited and trained by the CDMP. The goal is to reach 30 000, which will be a key contribution to the authorities' goal of having 62 000 volunteers in the cities. In addition, the Cyclone Preparedness Program has become operational in six new municipalities in South-Western Bangladesh.

  • Tools for disaster prevention and climate adaptation have been prepared for use by local authorities in their planning frameworks across the country.

  • The Department for Disaster Management has established an online e-library on disaster prevention and climate adaptation to permit sharing of experience from the CDMP with a wider audience. To date, 350 titles have been added, and 536 000 searches and 27 000 downloads have been made.

  • Climate adaptation: A study on forced relocations as a result of climate change and disasters has been published. Guidelines for adaptation to floods, cyclones, droughts and saltwater penetration have been prepared.

Women and gender equality

In 2011, the Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka entered into an agreement with the UN organization UN Women for up to NOK 18 million over three years. The goal is to reduce women's vulnerability resulting from climate change and to influence government policy making.

The project is implemented in cooperation with two local partners: BRAC and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS). The project is based on ten selected districts in Bangladesh that are exposed to disasters, and among the goals are:

  • To promote women as change actors and resources in the work of climate change adaptation and reduced vulnerability of local communities.

  • To contribute to the government and others taking women into consideration in climate change adaptation interventions in local communities.

  • To contribute to the documentation and development of good models and practices internationally.

  • To increase economic opportunities for vulnerable women.

To enhance women's rights, Norway has since 1994 supported the grassroots organization Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), which was established in 1972 ‒ immediately after the liberation – and is the oldest and largest women's organization in the country.

The following results for 2014 deserve mention:

  • Women in the selected areas obtained better knowledge and ability to implement measures against climate change.

  • Approximately 1600 poor women earned better incomes as a result of training and productivity improvements in their businesses.

  • UN Women persuaded Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics to include aspects of gender equality in their nationwide studies of climate change.

  • The project has provided technical assistance to the authorities' new National Development Plan – seventh Five-Year Plan for 2015–2020, in which aspects of gender equality are expected to be included in the description of disaster prevention and climate change.

  • The project has helped BCAS increase its capacity to include aspects of gender equality in its research. BCAS is a pioneer in the field of climate change research and exerts major influence on Bangladeshi authorities and other actors. For example, new knowledge in this field was communicated at the climate summit in Lima in 2014, where a representative of BCAS participated.

  • BMP can be described as a 'social movement' with a network of resource persons from various professions across the country. Their activities are based on a strong element of voluntariness. BMP has more than 100 000 members (only women over 16 years) who are working on a voluntary basis.

With their wide range of backgrounds (law, medicine, academic professions, education) these women help spread information on women's rights, and they are also regular activists. BMP is visible at the grassroots level as a women's and human rights organization that combats violence against women.

BMP is working to promote women's rights through measures such as legal assistance, family arbitration, human rights work, women's shelters and influence on political processes through lobbying.

The present agreement is valid for the period 2010–2015 with a planned budget of NOK 35 million, whereof NOK 7.5 million was disbursed in 2014.

The activities focus on raising awareness of human rights issues, offering legal assistance related to violence against women, promoting the political influence of women and combating Islamic fundamentalism. The political unrest last year caused a delay in the implementation of planned activities, and the project period has therefore been extended by one year through 2015.

The following results for 2014 deserve mention:

  • BMP has been active and visible across the country in their protests against attacks on minority groups. This has helped put pressure on the authorities to provide better protection for minorities and follow up the cases in the judicial system.

  • BMP protested against the government's proposal to lower the minimum age of marriage from 18 to 16 years for women. Against the background of critical objections from NGOs, UN organizations and a number of Western embassies, the Bangladeshi government has postponed the final adoption of the law.

  • BMP has organized women day labourers and agricultural workers in unions to strengthen their rights and improve their labour conditions.

  • BMP encourages women to participate in local elections, and last year more than 29 women were elected as deputy mayors of their municipalities.

  • The organization works to increase the number of seats reserved for women in parliament. Last year, more than 75 000 signatures were collected in support of increasing the number of seats reserved for women.

  • BMP has been working for the introduction of gender-sensitive budgeting for more than ten years. From four ministries in 2009, now forty ministries have budgets that take gender equality into account in their planning and distribution of public funds.

  • BMP has organized meetings with journalists and representatives of the media to ensure that media reports are more gender-sensitive.

  • In 2014, BMP has increased its number of grassroots membership units from 2274 to 2376. There has been a particular focus on the recruitment of young members, and a number of new young leaders have emerged.

  • BMP has offered arbitration in family disputes and has achieved payment to victims.

  • BMP heads the coalition Social Action Committee, consisting of 67 organizations that are active in the fields of gender equality, human rights and development.

Good governance and human rights

To help improve the rights of employees, the Norwegian Embassy in 2013 entered into an agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to promote basic rights and labour conditions in export industries. The project period lasts through 2015, and the project budget amounts to NOK 14.5 million.

The project supports ILO's ongoing efforts in Bangladesh in the following areas: workers' rights, facilitation of dialogue between employees, employers and authorities, ensuring decent labour conditions, ensuring freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

The following results for 2014 deserve mention:

  • Two radio stations and two TV channels conducted media campaigns on education for workers, cooperation in the workplace and industrial relations. In addition, an information leaflet on labour legislation was distributed. The campaigns helped draw attention to workers' rights in the population and among the workers themselves.

  • Training material was prepared and training provided on trade unions, labour legislation and cooperation in the workplace.

  • A helpline for workers' rights was established in cooperation with the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).

  • A modernization of the Industrial Relations Institute has been initiated with a view to improving the physical infrastructure, educational material and training of teachers.

In the area of human rights and good governance, the NGO Ain o Shalish Kendra (ASK) is supported with a grant of NOK 30 million for the period 2012 –2016. Norway disbursed NOK five million in 2014.

ASK provides legal counselling to vulnerable groups (particularly women), helps bring cases before the courts, works to amend laws and policies that discriminate against women, provides training to members of NGOs on human rights and judicial rights, and protects child labourers.

The following results for 2014 deserve mention:

  • ASK organized a number of large demonstrations in protest against the attacks on the country's minority groups. ASK also provided assistance to victims in cooperation with other NGOs. ASK's lawyers also helped ensure judicial investigations in a number of cases.

  • ASK assisted local human rights forums in ten districts in publication of reports for 2013.

  • ASK has established school drama groups, Biddalay Nattya Dal (BNAD), that help draw attention to human rights issues. Corporal punishment has been abolished in all schools where BNAD is present. In addition, BNAD has succeeded in preventing seven planned child marriages.

  • ASK produced and distributed 10 000 posters with the headline Fundamentalism has no power to confine women. Four public debates on 'The Human Rights Situation: Role of Civil Society Members' were arranged, with participants including human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.

  • ASK has prepared a memo on 'Prevention of Child Begging' and arranged meetings with twelve like-minded organizations.

  • ASK prepared the chapter on Bangladesh in the annual report from the Asian NGOs' Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI).

  • ASK has prepared a leaflet on sex workers' rights with support from CARE Bangladesh.

  • ASK has arranged a number of training courses on human rights issues for other NGOs and thereby helped enhance their competence in the HR field.


In October 2011, the Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka entered into a three-year agreement with Concerts Norway to promote music collaboration between Norway and Bangladesh. The total financial framework amounts to NOK 4.5 million. A total of NOK 645 000 was disbursed in 2014.

The goal is to build competence in Bangladesh in the areas of audio technology, intellectual property rights for musicians and documentation of music traditions that are at risk of disappearing, as well as cultural exchange. A further goal is to reinforce interaction between Bangladeshi music communities and international partners. Last year's political unrest caused a number of planned activities in Bangladesh to be cancelled. The programme period has therefore been extended for another year through 2015.

Results from the collaboration include the following:

  • Audiences have learned about the musical expressions of other countries and have thereby gained better understanding and more respect for other cultures.

  • Students, specialists and teachers have gained better competence through workshops and seminars.

  • The partners of Concerts Norway have become better at organizing musical performances.

  • Musicians have received new impulses through exchange and internationalization.

Technical cooperation

In 2011, the Norwegian Embassy entered into a three-year agreement with Bioforsk on support to a project for maintenance of rice production in Bangladesh under changing climatic conditions.

Bangladesh is one of the world's most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change, and it is therefore essential for the country to breed resistant rice strains.

Bioforsk collaborates with the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Centre for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) to discover how rice can be made more resistant to droughts and floods.

The project has concentrated on the areas of Rajshahi (drought) and Barisal (effects of rising sea levels and saltwater penetration). The goal is to develop models of how climate change will affect rice production and identify adaptation strategies. Publication and sharing of results are an integral part of the project.

The following results for 2014 deserve mention:

  • Increased attention to the effects of climate change on rice production. Key results were translated into Bengali for the benefit of local farmers and others.

  • The project has its own website where key results are published, including the reports Climate scenarios and Hydrology modelling, as well as a report on agricultural systems in the two research areas.

  • Increased scientific understanding of the effects of climate change in the two provinces of Rajshahi (drought) and Barisal (saltwater penetration).

  • Increased scientific quality and competence in BRRI and CEGIS on how to deal with the effects of climate change on agriculture in Bangladesh.

  • Farmers have been offered new rice strains and alternative growing methods

  • Better collaboration and exchange of information between researchers, farmers and decision-makers in Bangladesh.

  • Special emphasis has been placed on involving women. Women researchers have participated in workshops, capacity-building and training.

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The UN, development banks and global funds

Poor cooperation across government sectors and a large amount of red tape represent major challenges to the UN system, the development banks and global funds when it comes to ensuring an effective use of funds.

The World Bank, the Asia Development Bank and the UN system played a key role in establishing a framework for cooperation between the authorities and the development partners. Large international organizations that have a comprehensive long-term cooperation with Bangladesh include the WFP, UNHCR, WHO and UNICEF.

International actors adhere to strict rules with regard to corruption, and in 2012 the World Bank stopped disbursement of a USD 1.2 billion loan to the large Padma Bridge project because of allegations of corruption. The authorities have denied all accusations. This matter has been a strain on the relationship between the World Bank and Bangladesh.


The vaccine alliance GAVI has given recognition to Bangladesh for its highly successful vaccination programme. Over the last four years, Bangladesh has reduced the number of unvaccinated children by 52 per cent. In 2014, GAVI supported a three-week vaccination campaign against measles and rubella. This campaign reached out to approximately 52 million children aged from nine months to 15 years. With support from GAVI, UNICEF, WHO and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), vaccines against pneumonia and polio will be added to the vaccination programme in 2015.


The Global Fund to Fight Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria, GFTAM, has also achieved good results in Bangladesh. National anti-malaria efforts have produced good results, and are on track to reach the millennium development goals. With support from GFTAM and the authorities' Health, Population and Nutrition Sector Development Program, measures to control malaria have been scaled up and the quality of prevention, diagnostics and treatment has been improved.

Over the last five years the number of cases of malaria has been reduced by 68 per cent and the number of deaths caused by malaria has been reduced by 90 per cent. A total of 3.7 million long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets have been distributed, and 4.2 million regular nets have been treated with insecticide. The prevalence of malaria was reduced from 4 per 1000 inhabitants in 2007 to 1.4 per 1000 in 2013.


The national tuberculosis programme in Bangladesh has established an effective partnership with 43 NGOs led by BRAC (that covers a population of 93 million) to implement the programme on a nationwide basis.

In the period from 2004 to 2013 more than 1.5 million tuberculosis patients were treated, with a success rate of 93 per cent.


HIV prevalence in Bangladesh remains at a low level in the risk groups, with the exception of IV drug users, where the prevalence is increasing. Although HIV prevalence is less than 0.1 per cent in the population as a whole, there is still a risk of spread in the high-risk groups.

According to figures from Save the Children, the HIV infection rate in Bangladesh increased by more than 25 per cent from 2001 to 2012.

Norwegian NGOs

In 2014, Norad granted NOK 12.7 million to Norwegian NGOs. Support is granted to formal and informal education at the primary and lower secondary level, health, gender equality, human rights, integrated local community development, micro-finance, training in resource management and raising awareness of democratic rights.

The largest Norwegian actors are the Strømme Foundation and Digni, but the YMCA-YWCA and The Development Fund also maintain activities in the country.

The Strømme Foundation's goal of strengthening primary education in Bangladesh encompassed 242 public and private schools over the period 2009–2013. Specific results of these efforts include:

  • 78 per cent of the 'School Management Committees' have strengthened their role.

  • 85 per cent of the schools have improved their teaching content in the form of more participatory and interactive teaching and more active participation by parents.

  • The attrition rate has fallen to 4.5 per cent.

  • Gender differences have decreased.


Published 29.08.2014
Last updated 02.10.2015