U.S. foreign assistance to Bangladesh is largely provided through USAID Development Assistance funds and a variety of food assistance channels, including the PL-480 programs. Our assistance to Bangladesh has totaled over $942 million during this administration. U.S. assistance since independence in 1971 is $4.5 billion.
Food aid has largely been wheat, which is provided directly to vulnerable groups or sold for funds to support development programs. Much of the feeding has gone to food-for-education for primary school children and to food-for-work programs to build rural farm-to-market roads in the most poverty-stricken areas. Financial resources from food which has been sold have also helped with rural road construction, as well as rural sanitation, disaster preparedness, and health and nutrition.
These programs have provided a critical level of support that has allowed rural Bangladesh to reduce poverty levels by almost 20 percent in recent years. In addition, a large wheat donation in response to the massive floods in 1998 helped Bangladesh not only survive, but rebound dramatically from this devastating flood. The U.S. was the largest single contributor in supporting Bangladesh during and after the floods.
USAID development assistance programs have focused on improving family health and reducing fertility; enhancing food security and nutrition of vulnerable groups; boosting small enterprise and agribusiness growth, including microfinance program development; developing the energy sector, including rural electrification and more recently promoting clean energy such as natural gas; and building civil society for responsive governance.
HEALTH AND POPULATION
Health and population has represented the largest sector program, and one of the most successful worldwide.
With USAID assistance, Bangladesh has reduced its population growth rate from over 3.5% in the mid-1970s to 1.6% today. The average number of children each fertile woman bears has dropped from 6.5 to 3.3 in the same time period.
USAID has played a key role in developing critical institutions such as the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Control (ICDDR/B), which was responsible for the development of Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) and other major treatments of cholera and several other key diseases which threaten children.
USAID played a lead role in the creation of the Social Marketing Company, one of the premier international success stories in private production and marketing of contraceptives and ORT.
USAID support for microfinance programs has totaled over $100 million. Over $90 million in Title III local currency funding has helped develop PKSF, an umbrella Government of Bangladesh organization, which serves as a provider of capital to almost all major microcredit programs in the country.
USAID central funding for the Grameen Bank, and project funding for Proshika and other key microcredit groups has also greatly benefited the microfinance movement in Bangladesh.
USAID’s long involvement in agriculture and agricultural research has matured into a market-led agribusiness approach focused on high-value production of fish and seafood, vegetables, poultry, and livestock. A large percentage of the households involved in these enterprise programs have involved women entrepreneurs.
USAID helped Bangladesh to replicate the U.S. rural electrification cooperative model beginning in 1976, a program which has flourished. The Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (REB) is responsible for all power distribution outside of Dhaka because of its history of operating success.
New energy programs are just getting underway, and are designed to promote clean energy technologies. Programs will help improve regulatory structures, promote private power and gas development, encourage regional energy cooperation, and spur the use of clean technologies.
These programs began in 1996 and have involved a “democracy partnership” comprised of civil society groups in villages throughout the country.
With assistance from The Asia Foundation and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, USAID has granted those groups funds to help fight trafficking of women and children, combat domestic violence, expand women’s knowledge of their legal rights, develop village-level alternative dispute resolution systems to protect women’s rights, and develop local union councils which respond to local needs in villages throughout Bangladesh.
More recent programs have begun to work with the national Parliament, linking committees with civil society groups to enhance citizens’ input.
With USAID funding, the Solidarity Center has supported the Bangladesh Industrial Garment Workers Union (BIGUF) in improving conditions for garment industry workers. As a result, child labor in that sector has been nearly eliminated. Workers have received health care, literacy skills, and emergency loans. There is engagement with the Ministry of Labor on minimum wage and labor law enforcement.