Kohinoor, 35, stands next to wreckage of her home which was destroyed by Cyclone Sidr. Kohinoor, who has four children, lives in the village of Porbo Kanudash Kathi in the Barisal District, one of the areas hardest hit by the cyclone.
One of the world’s most densely populated countries, Bangladesh is home to 159 million people, 40% of them children. Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971 and its political history has seen periods of martial law, military rule and parliamentary democracy. The Awami League was democratically elected to government at the most recent elections held in December 2008.
Extremely fertile, yet prone to floods and cyclones, this low-lying country is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and the devastating effects of climate change. Three-quarters of Bangladeshis live in rural areas, but rapid urbanisation is also occurring, resulting in high land prices and the growth of large urban slums.
Despite these challenges, Bangladesh has made significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for children, particularly those relating to universal primary school education and the reduction of child mortality. Since 1990, child mortality was reduced by more than 50 percent in Bangladesh.
While human development indicators continue to improve, 41.3 percent of the population still live on less than $1.00 a day and about 84% survive on less than $2 a day.
Map of Bangladesh showing UNICEF Field Offices
UNICEF in Action
Health and Nutrition Programme
UNICEF Bangladesh has three main projects under this programme: maternal and neonatal health, Child survival and Nutrition.
UNICEF works in public health facilities and with local communities to strengthen maternal and neonatal health services and encourage women to seek medical treatment.
To improve child survival, UNICEF programme focuses on three main areas: immunisation; the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) and the prevention of child Injuries. A pilot project is being implemented to address the issue of injuries as 28 percent of child deaths between 1 and 17 years of age is due to drowning alone.
UNICEF seeks to improve nutrition across the entire lifecycle – from infancy, through childhood, adolescence, and the child-bearing years, particularly through adequate provision of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iodine, iron or folic acid.
Water and Environmental Sanitation
UNICEF Bangladesh Sanitation, Hygiene, Education and Water Supply in Bangladesh project (SHEWA-B) aims to reach 30 million people both in rural and urban areas in order to improve access to safe water and sanitation and to promote hygiene. About 10,000 hygiene promoters educate communities about the benefits of improved
latrines, hand-washing, and waste disposal. By the end of 2008, communities targeted by the project had installed 355,000 latrines using their own funds. UNICEF has also tested more than 1 million tube wells for arsenic, which occurs naturally in groundwater in Bangladesh. A separate UNICEF project is piloting four different arsenic removal systems.
The child protection programme has four main components: adolescent empowerment; children at risk; children and the law and birth registration. With the adolescent empowerment project UNICEF objective is to help prevent child marriage, dowry and other forms of abuse and exploitation of adolescents, especially girls.
UNICEF works closely with the Government to reform the legal and institutional framework in order to better protect children at risk. At the same time, projects are being implemented to assist children living on the streets and combat child trafficking and exploitation.
UNICEF also supports the Government in order to improve the efficiency and coverage of birth registration, and help raise public awareness about the importance of birth registration.
UNICEF aims to achieve quality education for all children by making primary schools more inclusive, child-friendly and effective. UNICEF supports the Government-driven Second Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP II), particularly through teachers training, development of Information leaflets on current issues in education; school level improvement plans. UNICEF also works to mobilize communities in support of primary education and primary schools.
UNICEF promotes early learning or pre-school education. Since 2006, UNICEF and the Government of Bangladesh have established 5,560 early learning centres in several disadvantaged districts. This programme currently serving over 254,000 children.
Another project aims at providing education to working children. The project establishes small learning centres in urban areas that are home to high numbers of working children. By 2008, the project had opened 6,646 centres for 166,150 students in the six divisional capitals of Bangladesh.
UNICEF adopts an integrated approach across sectors to address HIV/AIDS. Since the country has a low prevalence of HIV/ AIDS, programmes mostly focus on increasing public awareness and equipping young people with adequate knowledge and information.
Because Bangladesh is susceptible to regular natural disasters that impede development, emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction are central to UNICEF’s everyday work in Bangladesh. Assistance varies dramatically depending on the crisis. With wide presence in the field though nine field offices and constant pre-positioning of emergency supplies, UNICEF can immediately respond to small or large scale emergencies.
UNICEF is also coordinating the WASH cluster activities together with the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE).
UNICEF in Emergencies
Cyclone Aila – May 2009
Bangladesh’s most recent natural disaster was Cyclone Aila in May 2009, affecting about 4 million people in the south-west coastal area. The disaster led to an outbreak of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases. UNICEF provided $US 118,000 to repair latrines and water points and provide clean water and water-purifying tablets. By end June, over 3.5 million water purifying tablets and about 600,000 sachets of ORS had been supplied to communities. UNICEF also procured essential drugs including IV saline for a total of US$ 95,000. Approximately 9,000 diarrhoea cases and 12,500 ARI cases were treated with UNICEF supplied drugs and IV saline. A total of 110 child-friendly safe spaces were established in partnership with Save the Children and other NGOs, providing safe places to more than 10,000 affected children, who could enjoy recreational activities as well as safe water and food. UNICEF also provided 30,841 plastic sheets and 5,061 family kits for 26,151 families in Satkhira and Bhola districts. UNICEF donated education materials to 40,000 children in 400 AILA affected schools.
Cyclone Sidr – November 2007
In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr – a category four cyclonic storm – hit Bangladesh, killing more than 3000 people and injuring 55,000 others. Immediately following the cyclone, UNICEF offered immediate emergency assistance and ongoing relief support to the 8.9 million people who lost family members, homes and livelihoods .UNICEF worked with Save the Children to establish 220 safe spaces where child victims received food and water and had access to psycho-social support and recreation. UNICEF provided a wide range of emergency supplies, including 1 million packs of oral rehydration solution, 100,000 blankets and safe drinking water for 100,000 families. Longer-term support has included materials and support to build 42 transitional schools, construction of almost 30,000 latrines and nutritional supplements for thousands of women and children.
Floods – July-September 2007
The most recent serious floods were in 2007, when more than half of Bangladesh was affected. The floods caused 1,100 deaths (90 per cent of them children), 400,000 displaced people and 1.1 million damaged or destroyed homes. A total of 13.3 million people were affected – 6 million of them being children. To restore access to safe water, UNICEF supported the construction of 853 new tubewells, the repair of 91,300 damaged wells, and distribution of over 4.3 million water purification tablets.
UNICEF also provided plastic sheets and family kits for 98,000 families, food supplements for 162,000 people And essential drugs for 250,000 people. During the floods UNICEF set up safe spaces that provided care and psychosocial support to 40,000 children. These children were able to continue their studies thanks to UNICEF’s emergency education kits.
UNICEF in Bangladesh
• UNICEF opened its first office in Dhaka, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1951
• The country office now has 199 staff, including 159 Nationals and 40 Internationals.
• Languages spoken within the office include English, Bangla, French, Portuguese, Dutch.
• Media Interview can be conducted in those languages
• UNICEF works with the Government of Bangladesh, UN agencies, national and international NGOs such as BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), ActionAid, CARE Bangladesh, CARITAS, Centre for Injury Prevention Research Bangladesh, Concern Worldwide, Oxfam, Plan International and Save the Children.
• UNICEF Bangladesh received funding for emergency activities from many donors. Main donors include: CIDA (Canada), SIDA (Sweden), DFID (UK) , DANIDA (Denmark), Norad (Norway), USAID (USA), Japan, The Netherlands and Australian Governments.
For further information please contact:
Chief Communications and Information Section,
Mobile: (88) 0171 304 3478; Tel: (880-2) 9936701, ext 209;
Arifa S Sharmin,
UNICEF Bangladesh, Communications Specialist,
Mobile: (88) 0171 304 3477; Tel: (880-2) 9936701, ext 477,
Regional Communications Chief,
All data from the State of the World’s Children 2009, except where stated
Government of Bangladesh figure. UN adjusted figure is 570.
UNGASS 2008 Country Progress Report: Bangladesh