In 1971, East Pakistan broke away from its union with West Pakistan and was renamed Bangladesh. Its membership in a two-part country for decades had been characterized by a geographical separation of 1,600 kilometres that had left the Bengali population marginalized and largely dissatisfied.
As an independent nation, Bangladesh has experienced steady recent economic development with a 5 to 6 per cent annual growth rate rise since 1996. Urbanization is proceeding rapidly. With these changes, only 30 per cent of the Bangladeshi labour force will be in agriculture in the future, a major change in the country’s workforce distribution. At present, nearly two-thirds of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector and rice crops are the most prominent product. Meanwhile, half of Bangladesh’s GDP is generated through the service sector. Garment exports and remittances from Bangladeshis working overseas, mainly in the Middle East and East Asia, also contribute greatly to its economy.
Despite its advances, Bangladesh largely remains a poor, severely overpopulated nation. Its infrastructure for transportation, power supply and communications is insufficiently developed. The ineffective governance of the region is further characterized by inefficient state-owned enterprises and the slow implementation of economic reforms. The government has put significant effort into meeting the food needs of its growing population by increasing domestic production of supplies supplanted with imports.
In an effort to reorganize the political system and eliminate corruption, parliamentary elections planned for January 2007 were halted and held under mostly peaceful conditions in late 2008. Internationally, Bangladesh pursues a moderate foreign policy that places heavy reliance on multinational diplomacy, especially at the United Nations.
About a third of Bangladesh experiences floods during the yearly monsoon season and many are forced to live on and cultivate flood-prone lands. Waterborne diseases are prevalent in the surface water. Water pollution is a problem both in fishing areas, resulting from use of commercial pesticides, and in ground water that is contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic. There are also regularly occurring water shortages and environmental issues of soil degradation, erosion and deforestation.