The savage war that forged the new state of Bangladesh ended exactly two years ago -- on December 16, 1971.
The savage war that forged the new state of Bangladesh ended exactly two years ago -- on December 16, 1971. Since achieving its political independence, the new nation has launched on the much longer struggle of winning economic independence, battling to overcome the legacy of war and long term social inequalities.
Economic hopes are founded principally on the new five-year plan announced at the end of last month. Under its terms, the government has set out to achieve complete self-sufficiency in food production, while defeating mass unemployment by providing a further four-million jobs.
Agriculture is the key to the success of the plan. A quarter of the five-year budget will be spent on Bangladesh's Green Revolution -- designed to convert every acre of fallow land into greenery.
Nearly 80 per cent of the country's 74 million people already work on the land. Farming co-operatives are being encouraged -- nearly 300 have sprung up since the war -- and the individual farmers are receiving new equipment, fertilizers and cash subsidies.
An improved distribution system will be needed to support the growth of agricultural production. Transport and communications, badly disrupted by the war, continue to receive a high priority under the five-year plan. The government will be spending GBP 54 million sterling in this sector during the current year alone.
Education also takes a large slice of the five-year budget, as the country struggles to improve the current 85 per cent illiteracy rate. Eight million students are today receiving an education at schools and universities in Bangladesh. But ironically, the children of Bangladesh could strangle the country's future economic prospects. At present, the population is increasing at an annual rate of over three per cent -- that's over two million more people every year. Unless the rate of increase is checked, the population will double in the next 20 years. So an important part of the five-year plan is to cut the birthrate by educating the people in birth control.
Huge problems remain. Despite prisoner of war exchanges, there are still an estimated half-million refuges Biharis -- the Urdu speaking minority unwanted in Bangladesh or, it seems, in Pakistan. They are in danger of becoming permanent refugees, dependent on international charity for their continued existence.
And for a large proportion of the Bengali population, living conditions are little better than in the refugee camps. In Dacca, the capital, the acute housing shortage causes more than a quarter of the population to live in the mushrooming shanty towns.
Major industries, nationalised last year, remain unstable and plagued by disputes and labour troubles. Jute production, which should have been recovering from the effects of the war, is lower this year than for 1971-72.
Finally, the new nation of Bangladesh still has to struggle against the oldest enemy of all -- the forces of nature. Successive cyclones and floods have devastated the Ganges delta; and ???ss loss of life is commonplace. The 700 fishermen missing during two cyclones over the past month scarcely received a paragraph in the world's press.
SYNOPSIS: Two years ago, in December 1971, a bloody war ended and the new state of Bangladesh contemplated the task of reconstruction. Even before, as East Pakistan, the territory had been afflicted by intense poverty, economic repression and a huge population growth.
After the war, Bangladesh relied on a worldwide relief operation to combat the immediate threat of starvation. But long-term planning was already underway. And last month the government was able to announce its first five-year plan.
Traditions die hard in a country where eighty per cent of the people depend on agriculture. But the five-year plan calls for a Green Revolution to make the country self-sufficient in food production by 1978.
Farmers are receiving new equipment, fertilizers and cash subsidies. And they're being encouraged by the government to set up new farming co-operatives. Nearly three-hundred of them have started since the war. This one, Kasimpur farm, has fifty-thousand acres under cultivation and is supplying Dacca with substantial supplies of fruit and vegetables. A quarter of the total national budget over the next five years will be spent on the Green Revolution -- converting every acre of fallow land into greenery.
One of the functions of the co-operative farms is to teach the use of new agricultural equipment and crop-growing techniques, so that the yield of land already under cultivation is increased.
Education generally also takes a large slice of the Bangladesh budget over the next five years. Eighty-five per cent of the seventy-four million people are illiterate.
Housing remains one of the most pressing problems. Here in Dacca more than a quarter o the population live in shanty towns. But there's hope, at least, for the unemployed, with the Government promising another four-million jobs in the next five years.
In the meantime, top priority is being given to rebuilding transport and communication systems. These were badly shattered during the war, when a total of three-hundred bridges were destroyed. Rapid reconstruction is essential if the government's new economic plan is to be successful.
Some prestige projects are also underway as Dacca is transformed from a provincial into a national capital, including a new Prime Minister's residence.
Refuge camps continue to exist alongside the new buildings. Despite the prisoners-of-war exchanges, Bangladesh still has an estimated half-million refugee Biharia. They're the Urbu speaking minority unwanted in Bangladesh and not likely to be repatriated to Pakistan.
While working to overcome the legacy of war, Bangladesh still has to battle against its oldest enemy -- the forces of nature: Economic planning is powerless against the successive cyclones and floods that have devastated the Ganges delta, and the country still has a heavy price to pay as it struggles to assert a national identity.