Economic Reconstruction After Independence
The economic situation facing Bangladesh as it emerged from the war of independence in 1971 included the highest rural population density in the entire world, an annual population growth rate between 2.5 and 3 percent, chronic malnutrition for perhaps the majority of the people, and the dislocation of between 8 and 10 million people who had fled to India and returned to independent Bangladesh by 1972. The new nation had few experienced entrepreneurs, managers, administrators, engineers, or technicians. There were critical shortages of essential food grains and other staples because of wartime disruptions. External markets for jute had been lost because of the instability of supply and the increasing popularity of synthetic substitutes. Foreign exchange resources were minuscule, and the banking and monetary system was unreliable. Although Bangladesh had a large work force, the vast reserves of undertrained and underpaid workers were largely illiterate, unskilled, and underemployed. Commercially exploitable industrial resources, except for natural gas, were lacking. Inflation, especially for essential consumer goods, ran between 300 and 400 percent. The war of independence had crippled the transportation system. Hundreds of road and railroad bridges had been destroyed or damaged, and rolling stock was inadequate and in poor repair. The new country was still recovering from a severe cyclone that hit the area in 1970 and cause 250,000 deaths. India, by no means a wealthy country and without a tradition of giving aid to other nations, came forward immediately with massive economic assistance in the first months after the fighting ended. Between December 1971 and January 1972, India committed US$232 million in aid to Bangladesh, almost all of it for immediate disbursement. The largest single element in Indian aid was 900,000 tons of food grains. The United States and the World Bank thereafter became leading foreign aid donors, and the World Bank organized a consortium known as the Bangladesh Aid Group, comprising twenty-six international financial institutions and foreign governments interested in assisting Bangladesh's development.
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