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Except for a short border with Myanmar (Burma) in the southeast of the country, Bangladesh is surrounded by the Indian Union. In the west and north it borders on the Union state of West Bengal. In the northeast it is bordered by Assam and Meghalaya and in the east by Tripura and Mizoram. In the south lies the Bay of Bengal.


Map of Bangladesh Photo: Eric Töpfer

Bangladesh occupies the eastern two thirds of Bengal. Almost nine tenths of its area is shaped by the largest river delta in the world. At 60,000 square kilometers, it is twice as large as the Mississippi Delta and three times as large as that of the Nile. 230 rivers with countless tributaries and side channels and a total length of 24,000 km form this river system, which flows into the Bay of Bengal. Most of the rivers are offshoots of the three great rivers, Brahmaputra (Yamuna), Ganges (Padma) and Meghna, which together carry 85 percent of the water masses. The delta forms a maze of waterways, lakes, swamps and the Chars called alluvial islands, which constantly changes its face, as the rivers frequently change their course in the soft sediment soils. This delta plain, which rarely rises more than 5 m above sea level, is regularly inundated by floods during the summer rainy season. 30 to 80 percent of the country will then be under water. Although the people live adapted to this natural rhythm, the floods claim many deaths every year and destroy crops and houses. But the floods also bring the alluvial land, which makes Bangladesh one of the most fertile regions in the world, so that a local saying goes: "Water is the mother of our country. It brings life and not death."

On the eastern and northern borders with India there are small, scattered ranges of hills. The eroded remains of two old river terraces, the Madhupur Tract in the north and central part of the country and the Barind in the northwest, reach heights of up to 30 m. The only mountainous area is the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the south-east of the country where indigenous peoples still live. There, on the border with Myanmar, are the Karnaphuli reservoir and the highest mountain in the country, the 1,003 m high Mowdok Mual. At the foot of these mountains, at Cox's bazaar, there are long sandy beaches.

The most important cities of Bangladesh are the capital Dhaka with 5.4 million inhabitants, the port and industrial cities Chittagong (1.6 million) and Khulna (600,000) as well as the center of silk weaving, Rajshahi (325,000), on the western border with India.


The climate is tropical and is determined by three seasons. The mild winter with little rain lasts from November to February. The dry season follows from March to May. The rainy season begins at the end of May when the southwest monsoon brings heavy rainfall until October. During the rainy season, around 80 percent of the annual precipitation falls, which averages around 1,250 mm in the west and 5,000 mm in the northeast of the country. The temperatures are high all year round and the seasonal fluctuations are relatively small. January is the coolest month with an average of 19 ° C in the capital Dhaka and May is the warmest month with an average of 29 ° C in Dhaka.

The monsoon rains from April to May and from September to November are accompanied by cyclones, tropical cyclones that cause devastating damage. In November 1970, a cyclone killed more than 500,000 people, making it one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century. In April 1991, another cyclone killed 120,000 people in coastal areas and left millions homeless.

Flora and fauna

Most of Bangladesh is used for agriculture. The main crops are rice, jute, sugar cane, wheat, tobacco, legumes and tea. One sixth of the country is covered by forests. In the Hill Tracts near Chittagong there is a tropical mountain forest with large-leaved, evergreen tree species. In parts of the Madhupur Tract, forests grow from deciduous trees such as acacia and banyan trees. In the southwest of the delta are the Sunderbans, with almost 4,000 square kilometers one of the largest mangrove forest areas in the world. 300 different plant species grow in this unique ecosystem, including the Sundari tree, and it is one of the last refuge areas for the Bengali Bengal tiger, which is threatened with extinction. Overall, Bangladesh has a species-rich fauna. In addition to the tiger, there are around 250 native mammal species, including the widespread rhesus monkeys and elephants and leopards in the Chittagong Mountains. There are also 750 species of birds, 150 species of reptiles and amphibians, including crocodiles and phythons, and 109 species of freshwater and 90 species of saltwater fish.

environmental issues

One of the country's most serious environmental problems is the poisoning of groundwater with the semi-metal arsenic, which affects around 10-20 million people in the border regions with India. Although high concentrations of the poison are immediately fatal, the majority of affected people are exposed to insidious poisoning, which initially manifests itself in a skin rash and stomach problems. Although there are different statements about the causes of the contamination, it is clear that it is a man-made catastrophe. Overfertilization and the use of pesticides are mentioned as well as illegal waste disposal from heavy industry near the Indian border. Other experts call the leaching of rock compounds containing arsenic from deep layers of soil, to the level of which the water table has fallen as a result of increasing water consumption.

Another problem with not only an ecological but also a foreign policy dimension is the Farakka Dam. The dam, which was completed in 1974, is located in West Bengal, India, just 18 km from the border with Bangladesh. Since its inauguration, the Baral, a branch of the Ganges, has carried eight to eleven times less water than before in the dry season. As a result, droughts occurred regularly in the southwest of Bangladesh, the soils became saline and the fish stocks declined. In the Sunderbans, vegetation has been irrevocably damaged, and two freshwater fish species in the delta have become extinct and another 20 are considered threatened. Although an agreement concluded between India and Bangladesh in December 1996 regulates the joint use of the Farraka Dam, it remains to be seen whether this solution will last for a long time.

The consequences of global climate change, from which Bangladesh is particularly threatened, extend far beyond the local or regional framework. For a country whose area is largely only a few meters above sea level, a rise in sea level of half a meter, as from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast for the year 2100 to mean "land under" in the vast river plains. The greenhouse effect is already suspected to be behind the growing storm surge damage caused by hurricanes.


  • Ahmed Fazl (1997): Bangladesh's fight against arsenic poisoning of groundwater, in: Water in Asia - Elementary Conflicts, ed. by Thomas Hoffmann (Asia House Essen), Osnabrück, p.300-303
  • Martin Peter Houscht (1997): Farakka - an Indian weir threatens the livelihoods of millions of people in Bangladesh, in: Wasser in Asia, loc. Cit., Pp.234-238
  • Walter Keller (1997): Bangladesh - a floating world, in: Water in Asia. loc. cit., pp. 52-55