Bangladesh has about 60 million people in urban and rural areas that are food insecure and not consuming the minimum daily food intake required for a healthy life. The causes of food insecurity stem from extreme poverty linked to unemployment or underemployment, inadequate access to land for cultivation, social marginalisation and vulnerability to natural disasters. Women and girls, in particular, often face additional challenges that increase food and nutrition insecurity, such as fewer income earning opportunities and complex intra household dynamics where women and children's food needs are not prioritised, particularly during pregnancy and after delivery.
Despite a high level of food insecurity in Bangladesh, food availability is adequate and markets function effectively. However, seasonality and the price of food have a significant impact on the food security and nutrition status of vulnerable populations in Bangladesh. The country's two lean seasons exacerbate levels of food insecurity and undernutrition, adn contribute to reduced food availability adn a lack of employment opportunities, particularly for the rural ultra poor. Rice is the principal crop in Bangladesh, providing about two thirds of the population's dietary intake.
Bangladesh has alarming rates of chronic and acute undernutrition, including the highest prevelance of underweight children in South Asia. Almost one in two children under five ar chronically undernourished (stunted) and 14 percent suffer from acute undernutrition (wasting). Undernutrition leads to lower productivity and higher morbidity and mortality, with the WHO estimating that two in three deaths in children under five attributed to undernutrition.
Of the 60 million who are food insecure, less than half are covered by safety net programmes. Programmes have had a beneficial impact but the effectiveness of the safety net system is impacted by poor coverage, imprecise targeting and weak administration. According to the government's National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction, the key elements in the fight against hunger include strengthening social safety nets and welfare programmes, improving the status of women, ensuring modern and child nutrition, increase school enrollment and expand school feeding programmes in schools, and preparing for the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.
Based on these priorities, WFP's aim is to contribute towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by improving maternal and child nutrition, continue to scale up and support school feeding programmes, enhance community resilience to disasters and the effects of climate change, and strenghten government safety nets.
WFP has been assisting the poorest people of Bangladesh since 1974 and has distributed 14.6 million tons of food over the past 34 years and has been at the forefront of responding to malnutrition and food insecurity, helping communities reduce the risks associated with climate change, in particular floods and cyclones.
WFP has a strong track record of partnering with the Government of Bangladesh on climate change adaptation. Over the past 30 years:
- 25,000 km of roads and 11,000 km of embankments have been reconstructed (including raising roads above flood levels);
- 4,000 km of drainage/irrigation canals and 2,300 acres of water bodies (mainly ponds) have been re-excavated and brought back into productive use; and
- 37 million trees have been planted.
In 2008, WFP assisted 7 million vulnerable people, essentially women and children, and distributed 161,630 metric tons of food.
In 2009, WFP plans to assist 10 million beneficiaries at an estimated cost of US$ 215 million.
WFP Bangladesh has six field offices situated across the country and during 2007/8 WFP set up two new offices in Barisal and Bagerhat to respond to Cyclone Sidr.