The most densely populated country in the world besides city states, Bangladesh graduated to lower-middle-income country status in 2015. Over recent years, it has experienced sustained economic growth and achieved significant development gains, especially on universal primary education, gender parity in basic education and child and maternal mortality. Poverty and extreme poverty have been declining sharply, sitting in 2010 at 31.5 and 17.6 percent respectively, with further reductions until today.
However, despite progress and the improved availability of food due to increased production, 40 million people – one quarter of the population – remain food insecure, and 11 million suffer from acute hunger. Stunting – a condition induced by poor nutrition, with negative effects on a child’s physical growth and cognitive development – affects 36 percent of children under 5, with peaks of 50 percent among the poorest and those living in slums. In total, 5.5 million children under 5 are chronically malnourished.
Levels of vulnerability and food insecurity are particularly high in the district of Cox’s Bazar and the adjacent Chittagong Hill Tracts, home to an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people who fled successive waves of violence in the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, as well as ethnic groups, who face particular challenges in accessing national social services and development opportunities.
Because of its geography – featuring low elevation and vast watercourses – Bangladesh is greatly susceptible to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. Between 30 and 50 percent of the country suffers severe climate shocks every year, with detrimental impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the still predominantly rural population. The frequency and intensity of natural disasters is predicted to increase in coming years. Bangladesh’s vulnerability to earthquakes, coupled with the increasing proportion of population living in cities, also raises concerns regarding urban readiness for such disasters.
Since the beginning of its activities in Bangladesh in 1974, the World Food Programme (WFP) has helped more than 155 million vulnerable and food-insecure people. While retaining its role as provider of humanitarian assistance – be it for refugees from Myanmar or people affected by recurrent disasters – WFP is shifting towards a more advisory role, assisting the Government in its efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger. One of WFP’s priorities is to support the Government of Bangladesh in making sure its social safety nets improve nutrition indicators, with a special focus on women and children affected by extreme poverty. WFP also tests innovative tools – such as insurance systems – to enhance the resilience of families and communities to natural disasters, and works to improve the Government’s capacity to respond to a major humanitarian disaster such as an urban earthquake.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Bangladesh
NutritionWFP assists the Government in bringing nutrition indicators into line with national targets by 2020 by providing technical assistance, analysis and advocacy to enhance the nutrition impact of safety nets and promote the adoption of healthy eating habits. WFP also works to ensure the quality, affordability and consumption of fortified rice. The development of a national school meals policy and the scale up of assistance by the Government remains an area of focus.
Humanitarian assistanceIn Cox’s Bazar and the Chittagong Hill Tracts WFP provides or plans to provide an integrated assistance package – including electronic vouchers for food or livelihoods assistance, school meals and nutrition interventions – for registered and unregistered refugees from Myanmar as well as vulnerable people from the host communities. WFP also stands ready to provide emergency assistance to respond to acute food needs of vulnerable households affected by natural disasters, in coordination with the Government and other humanitarian agencies.
Resilience buildingTo protect people’s livelihoods from recurrent natural disasters and improve resilience, WFP is researching and testing innovative tools, including insurance for small entrepreneurs and using forecast-based financing models to support shock-responsive safety nets. WFP also participates in a programme combining community disaster risk reduction with actions to address the causes of vulnerability, including economic access, women empowerment and nutrition.
Capacity building for emergency preparednessWFP is working to strengthen the Government’s capacity to prepare for, and respond to, large-scale disasters, with a special focus on urban readiness for earthquakes. WFP supports the Government in enhancing its supply chain for emergency assistance and establish a strategically-located, earthquake-resistant staging area to facilitate the reception and dispatch of humanitarian assistance in response to a large-scale emergency. WFP also co-leads and leads the Food Security Cluster and Logistics Cluster respectively, to ensure better coordination and preparedness in case of a disaster.