The Beginning of Bangladesh and UN Partnership
The relationship of Bangladesh and the United Nations began in the formative Liberation War of 1971, when the 1970 elections in Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan) was won in a landslide victory by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who would have been Prime Minister of Pakistan, yet was not recognized by the Pakistan central Government. Up to this point, there had been ongoing tension between the citizens of West and East Pakistan, and the election was perceived as the final straw. Bengali nationalists initiated guerilla warfare in the territory, and in response the Pakistani army cracked down on the citizenry. In March 1971, millions of people sought refuge in neighbouring India, and on the 23rd of April 1971, the Government of India requested the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance to East Pakistan refugees.
Then Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, initiated the UNHCR led response with initial assistance from WFP and UNICEF. The Secretary-General was gravely concerned with the situation in East Pakistan and the responsibility of the United Nations. Negotiating with the Pakistan Government, it was agreed that the UN would monitor the administration of humanitarian aid to the people of East Pakistan, and ensure unrestricted communication and safe passage of the international humanitarian community to deliver assistance. This mission would become UNEPRO (the United Nations East Pakistan Relief Operation), spearheaded by Bagha A. El-Tawil, who was appointed as the representative of the Secretary-General for the operations.
In July 1971, a coordinating body was established with the Government of India that included UNICEF, WFP, FAO, WHO and the League of Red Cross Societies. With escalating conflict in the region, the Secretary-General placed a memorandum before the Security Council expressing concern both for humanitarian issues and the threat to peace and security. By this point India and Pakistan were waging a conflict of their own at the Jammu and Kashmir border, with both sides contributing to the political instability in the region.
Negotiations and debate on the conflict in the sub-continent continued at the UN in New York, but were otherwise unsuccessful. The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden sponsored a draft resolution for the General Assembly to appeal to both India and Pakistan to promote voluntary repatriation of refugees, and to continue humanitarian efforts of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner of Refugees. During the General Assembly, Member States debated in favour of cease-fire and troop withdrawal in India and Pakistan. Part of these discussions included the fate of East Pakistan, with India recognizing the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
On 16 December 1971, India announced at the Security Council that Pakistan armed forces had surrendered, and reaffirmed it had no ambitions to claim territorial ownership of East Pakistan. The Security Council met again on 21 December 1971, and the President announced that an agreement had been reached. Resolution 307 (1971) was adopted, which called for a ceasefire, the repatriation of refugees, and continued relief operations in the region. Finally, on 2 July 1972, India and Pakistan signed the Simla Agreement, ending their conflict and committing to observing the principles and purpose of the United Nations Charter. With the regional conflict winding down, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh emerged as a new state.
This timeline of UN "milestones" presented is not exhaustive but rather illustrative of Bangladesh and UN partnership, and in turn what Bangladesh has contributed to the global community. UN programming may not always be visible, but initiatives highlighted here have contributed to development progress in the country. Please click on each year and title to expand and read more about these milestones.
On 8 August 1972, Bangladesh applied for membership to the United Nations, and after almost two years of debate and deliberations the Security Council unanimously recommended the admission of the new country. At a plenary meeting of the General Assembly on 17 September 1974, the admission of Bangladesh was adopted unanimously, recognizing its sovereignty and independence. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed the 29th Regular Session of the UN General Assembly in New York on 25 September, 1974, representing seventy-five million Bangladeshis in what he called, “The Parliament of Man”. He thanked the United Nations for its assistance, cited the principle of peaceful cooperation in the young country, and stated in his conclusion:
""[I am] re-affirming my faith in the indomitable spirit of man – in the capacity of the people to achieve the impossible and to overcome insurmountable odds... International cooperation and the sharing of resources and technology could no doubt [make the task of self-reliance] less onerous and reduce the cost in human suffering. But for us in the emerging world, ultimately we must have faith in ourselves, in our capacity through the united and concerted efforts of our peoples to fulfil our destiny and to build for ourselves a better future.
The National Family Planning Programme of Bangladesh has been one of the most successful health initiatives spearheaded by the government, with UNFPA support beginning in 1974. Family Planning has made it possible for young women to delay having children, space child-bearing, and choose the number of children, which has freed them to join the labour force. FP led to less pregnancy and delivery-related deaths. Young women and girls were also far less likely to experience unwanted or early pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and pregnancy related disabilities. Total fertility rate (TFR) dropped from 6.3 percent in 1974 to 2.3 per cent in 2011.
UNFPA supported the to conduct its first population census in this year, and has provided assistance in the last four population and housing census. this census data is an important population data source used in direct national, sub-national and sectoral planning.
After 3,000 years of existence, smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1979 due to a collaborative global vaccination programme led by the WHO. Four years before official global eradication, 3 year old Rahima was the last known smallpox case in the country and in the region. In 2009, to mark the occasion of 30 years of smallpox eradication, Rahima visited India to share her experience at the WHO regional office in New Delhi in 2009.
The Expanded Programme on Immunization has been one of the most successful health interventions in Bangladesh’s history, and officially began on 7 April for vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis, measles and polio. In 1985, in partnership with the Government, UNICEF, WHO and a range of local and international partners, EPI was intensified, with particular focus on the administration of the oral polio vaccine. Up until 1985 less than 2 per cent of infants were immunized, and within a decade infants immunized jumped to 62 per cent. Former UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh, Dodge Cole, described it as a “near miracle.” As of 2013, immunization child coverage has risen to over 90 per cent. These efforts have contributed to eradicating polio in the country by 2006, with the WHO officially declaring Bangladesh and 10 other countries in the South-East Asia region as polio-free in 2014. The strong tradition of proactive immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases has been realized again in 2014, as UNICEF, the WHO and national and international partners supported the government to roll out the largest ever measles-rubella vaccination programme.
Since 1981 UNIC has been providing information about the UN and Bangladesh in the country and globally. UNIC provides Bangla-language translations of publications from the UN and also promoting literacy and education through the formation of a 40 strong library network across the country, and engaging young Bangladeshis in the activities of the UN through the establishment of the Model United Nations in Bangladesh in 2002 in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Bangladesh was a member of the CHR from 1983 to 2000 and also from 2006 to 2012 as a member of the Human Rights Council.
The united nations Commission on Human Rights (chr) was established in 1946 through the united nations charter to create and develop the international legal framework that protects fundamental human rights and freedoms i.e. the universal declaration on human rights and subsequent human rights treaties. it is composed of 53 states member and its brief expanded over time to allow it to respond to the whole range of human rights issues and it set standards to govern the conduct of states. it also acted as a forum where countries large and small, non-governmental groups and human rights defenders from around the world voiced their concerns. in 2006 chr was replaced by the human rights council in 2006.
1986: Humayan Rashid Choudhury becomes 41st President of the UN General Assembly
Bangladesh deployed its first Peacekeeping troops in 1988, sending 15 military observers to participate in the Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIMOG). Starting from a group of 15, Bangladesh has sent over 8,700 troops, police, and military experts to missions around the world, and is the Top Troop Contributing Country to Peacekeeping Operations.
WFP in partnership with the Government started the Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) Programme, which focuses on food security and provides hundreds of thousands of ultra-poor women and their families an opportunity to move out of extreme poverty. In 2010 the VGD Programme was handed over to the Government in full, and is today one of the largest national social safety net programmes of the government.
During the conflict in the Middle East, IOM repatriated 63,000 expatriate workers in the Gulf region. Since then the agency has been deeply involved in undertaking advocacy and coordinating humanitarian and migration initiatives of the country.
Along with ILO, the agency supports over a million Bangladeshi expatriates working in insecure conditions abroad. In 2011, along with UNHCR, 35,000 Bangladeshi expatriate workers in Libya were repatriated when civil war erupted, providing life-saving supplies to these vulnerable people, ran evacuation flights, and with its partners in Tripoli UNHCR operated a 24 hour hotline for refugees and asylum-seekers.
On 26 January, 1990, Bangladesh became one of the first South Asian countries to ratify the convention on the rights of the child , which was an important milestone to promote and protect child rights in the country. in 1995, a historic memorandum of understanding signed with readymade garment manufacturers and exporters, along with UNICEF and ILO, committed to abolishing child labour from the country’s garment industry. In 2010 the National Policy for Elimination of Child Labour was adopted and in 2012 the National Plan of Action for Elimination of Child Labour was introduced.
Born in Bangladesh in 1991, a little girl named Meena was introduced to Bangladeshi children. Developed by UNICEF out of a need to confront the discrimination against girls in South Asia, she talked about serious issues such as education, early marriage, unequal food and work load.Conceived with the help and guidance of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons,
animation was an accessible way to reach children, and today she is not only a daughter of Bangladesh but also of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
UNDP ’s flagship project CDMP Following devastating floods in 1991, UNDP supported the establishment of the Disaster Management Bureau and finalized Bangladesh’s first “Standing Order on Disasters”. This begun the un ’s support to strengthening disaster management in the country, focusing on both preparedness in communities, government, and coordination with local and international actors. with the support of OCHA the coordination architecture for amongst different stakeholders was also established in 2007, ensuring the application of globally recognized standards for disaster preparedness and response. Over the course of recent decades, Bangladesh has steadily built its defences against natural hazards. Today, 88 million citizens have two additional days of notice for impending floods, 112 million people have access to early warning systems, 18 million school children know how to prepare for and react to disaster, and disaster and climate risks and vulnerabilities have been reduced for 3 million people.
Bangladesh commits to universal sexual and reproductive health to all its citizens, to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, to cut maternal mortality by 75% in 20 years. Through ICPD, UNFPA support contributed to bring maternal mortality ratio from 554/100,000 in 1994 to 194/100,000 in 2011. Population dynamics, migration and population distribution, age structure took central stage. ICPD has put People at the centre of the Development Agenda.
Piloted with the WHO’s assistance to the government, community clinics are now a hub for primary healthcare for rural communities, with each clinic catering for 6,000 people. Approximately 70% of the population have access to community clinic, and along with primary healthcare services, the 12,714 community clinics also provide 33 types of medicine free of cost.
Linking with regional and international commitments and frameworks UNESCO has assisted the government in implementing education initiatives that have led to increased primary school enrolment in the country and broadened the reach and access to education.
To reach the unreachable population literacy and non-formal education has been used within the framework of Literacy Initiative for Empowerment. In particular, in 2012 Mother Language Education services provided by Hill District Councils have witnessed 10 per cent higher attendance rates than non-MLE schools. The Government has committed to the development of a comprehensive mother language education package for Pre-Primary and early grades in five ethnic languages.
In 2000 the Millennium Summit brought together world leaders over three days to discuss the role of the UN in the 21st century. It is most famous for drafting the eight chapters of the Millennium Declaration and its adoption by 189 world leaders. It introduced to the world what we now know as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“The founders of the United Nations set out, in the words of the Charter, to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom — above all, freedom from want and freedom from fear.” – UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, “We the Peoples” report.
WFP began school feeding in 2001, identifying the importance of nutrition for the development of young minds and young bodies, which has also influenced an increase in school retention. The government adopted the UN model and is implementing its own National School Feeding Programme with the UN's technical assistance. From an initial 55,000 children, the government is now delivering and funding school feeding for 1.8 million children, with a view for further handover and scaling up as of 2015.
UNDP worked with the government to introduce clean fuel programmes, which included the ubiquitous CNG auto-rickshaw fuelled with compressed natural gas rather than engine fuel, contributing to the lowering of the country’s carbon footprint.
Bangladesh has been one of the early responders in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh and has been able to keep the HIV prevalence low in comparison to the neighbouring countries. UNAIDS leads the UN Joint Team on AIDS, addressing the multi-dimensional nature of the disease. In 2004, the first National Monitoring and Evaluation Plan was introduced to target and monitor HIV/AIDS in the country. Key issues of migrant health were recently included in the national strategic plan for HIV and AIDS, with the support of IOM, UNAIDS and other stakeholders.
With the passage of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, children born in Bangladesh must now be registered with a birth certificate. Rolled out with the support of UNICEF in 2006, teachers and healthcare providers reinforce the birth registration campaign to allow access to health and education services as well as protect them from child trafficking, child marriage, and other abuses. Proof of identity and recognition allows people to access their rights to social services, and with the support of UNDP and UNHCR, later led to the process of national identity cards handed out to 81 million people, the registration of Urdu speakers as Bangladesh nationals, as well as issuing individual identification documents to registered Rohingya refugees over the age of five.
UNIDO works towards improving standard setting, certification, accreditation, and metrology to an internationally accepted standard, establishing the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute, Bangladesh Accreditation Board, introducing the National Quality Policy, and the promotion of ISO (International Standardisation Organisation) management standards, amongst many others.
The Access to Information programme was introduced to the country by the government to digitalise public service delivery, beginning the embracement of ICT as a powerful enabler for the nation’s socio-economic transformation. In 2007 UNDP assisted the government in introducing more ICT related service delivery, such as the ePayment system for payment of utility bills. Public service delivery kiosks were also introduced and are used in 4574 Union Parishads, 321 Pouroshavas, and 407 City Corporations across the country, with more than 50 million services provided since 2010.
The National Food Policy was approved in 2006 with the support of FAO, which applied a comprehensive and integrated approach to ensuring the right to food and food security. Up to this point, efforts focused almost exclusively on increasing national food production. While agricultural development ensured shrimps were the second biggest export of the country, and IFAD supported initiatives made the country self-sufficient in rice, the National Food Policy broadened approaches to food security by outlining three main objectives: (1) adequate and stable supply of safe and nutritious food; (2) increased purchasing power and access to food for the people; and, (3) adequate nutrition for all individuals, especially women and children.
The combination of the country's improved capacity, coordination and leadership, and multi-hazard focus, Cyclone Sidr in 2007 saw 3 per cent less casualties than its predecessor in 1991, with 3.2 million people evacuated within 48 hours before the cyclone hit, and stockpiled relief and rescue items reaching 70 per cent of affected areas within 24 hours. Relief operations and recovery efforts were ongoing into the next years, with FAO, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, WHO and ILO partnerning with government to get the country back on its feet.
The Local Government Division implemented the Rural Employment Opportunities for Productive Assets (REOPA) project in 2007 with UNDP assistance. REOPA provided ladders out of poverty for female-headed households, combining safety net wage employment with training to build human capital, access to public services and savings to invest in micro-enterprises. Post-project evaluations have found project benefits to remain robustly sustainable; in some cases even increasing over time. The lessons of REOPA have brought about a deeper understanding of the graduation process from poverty and informed increased engagement by UNDP in the social protection policy arena. This engagement has most recently led on to very active UNDP assistance to the Government in the development of a comprehensive National Social Security Strategy. The success of REOPA has also resulted in the follow-on project Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities (SWAPNO), which will begin at the end of 2014.
Village Courts are an alternate, local system for affordable justice, which has seen the Village Courts programme provide access to justice to disadvantaged groups, poor and rural communities, in a timely manner. The court is already benefitting 400,000 underserved people and set to expand to cover approximately 20 million from the next five year plan period.
The Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received an award for Bangladesh’s achievement in reducing child mortality (MDG 4). Bangladesh is one of 23 countries on track to achieve this goal, and has the fourth most rapid rate of decline in child mortality. The country has experienced a 60 per cent reduction of under-five mortality in the last 20 years, dropping from 133 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 53 deaths per 1000 live births in 2011.
After the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April 2013, a Tripartite Declaration was initiated as part of the policy response to the disaster the following month, which included a National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire and Structural Integrity. In September of the same year, representatives from the government, the garment industry both locally and internationally, trade unions and non-governmental organisations formed the to develop a comprehensive and independent process that would deliver support to victims, family, and dependents in accordance with international labour standards, with the ilo acting as a neutral chair.
In 2012 the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, initiated an unprecedented global consultation involving more than a million people on the development agenda post the 2015 deadline of the MDGs. The consultation process attempted to define what sustainable development means – and how to do it. The outcome of these consultations will determine the new development paradigm, and acknowledges the evolving nature of development, the complexities of emerging issues that were not part of the MDGs, such as shifting demographics, migration, the effects of climate change, and technological advancement that has the potential to bridge gaps, yet a lack of access to these advancements can just as easily leave the poor behind and jeopardize development gains.
These concerns were captured in Bangladesh’s national consultation, and echoed by participants globally. The outcome of all national consultations have been consolidated into global reports such as the “A Million Voices” Report, the High Level Panel Report, and the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly. While the national consultation fed into the global process, the process also assisted in building consensus within Bangladesh on what the future of development means for the country.
The goals presented are the result of consultations across the country, in all 7 Divisions, involving local and national government, academics, experts, and Bangladesh citizens. These goals were proposed to the United Nations in 2013.
Goal 1: Unleash human potentials for sustainable development
Goal 2: Eradicate poverty and reduce inequality
Goal 3: Ensure sustainable food security and nutrition for all
Goal 4: Universal access to health and family planning services
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality
Goal 6: Ensure quality education and skills for all
Goal 7: Increase employment opportunities and ensure worker rights
Goal 8: Ensure good governance
Goal 9: Promote sustainable production and consumption
Goal 10: Ensure environmental sustainability and disaster management
Goal 11: Strengthen international cooperation and partnership for sustainable development