Foreign Aid to Bangladesh

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Foreign Aid


With the population of 120 million and a GNP of US$170 (UNDP), Bangladesh remains heavily dependent on foreign aid for its development, scio-economic programmes and waging war in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Statistics indicate that military expenditure in Bangladesh is officially 15% of the budget. Bangladesh spends about US$400 million on defence annually. Official figures of military expenditure give a distorted picture. It is common knowledge that many military expenses, such as food, housing, infrastructure, are accounted for under other budgets and therefore are not marked as military expenses. According to unofficial sources, Bangladesh spends an extra $125 million on counter-insurgency in the CHT annually. The USA, Great Britain and China continue to provide training to the Bangladesh armed forces. While Japan, USA, Middle Eastern and European countries continue to be the major aid donors to Bangladesh. The following table shows the amount of financial aid Bangladesh was receiving in 1988-91 when the regime was at the height of genocidal campaign in the CHT, unfortunately the trend still continues.

(in Million US$)
Name of Donor 1988-89 1989-90 1990-91
Japan 340 335 345
ADB 300 274 290
IDA 297 463 334
Canada 119 104 112
EEC 66 47 53
USA 95 100 102
FR Germany 57 50 55
Netherlands 52 43 27
United Kingdom 44 52 31
UN (Exclu. UNICEF) 66 58 99
UNICEF 25 24 -
Sweden 31 37 22
Denmark 18 51 33
Norway 25 35 20
Saudi Arabia 15 8 -

Increasingly donor governments have made human rights an issue in the disbursement of development aid. Up to now, however, donor governments have not been willing to apply the human rights criterion at all strictly. In Bangladesh they have shied away from making aid conditional on the observance of human rights in the country, including the CHT. Donor governments have continued to give huge amounts of aid to Bangladesh while they go no further than expressing 'concern' about the situation in the CHT when they meet the Bangladesh government e.g. during the annual Bangladesh Aid Consortium meeting, held in Paris each April. None has considered taking more concrete action such as making continued aid to Bangladesh conditional on a speedy solution to the CHT crisis, or applying cuts in the aid disbursed, despite questions raised in some of their national parliaments. Recently, the European Economic Community (EEC) has expressed its willingness to fund withdrawal programmes of the Bangladeshi settlers from the CHT, but EEC is fully continuing its other aid programmes in Bangladesh. Such contradictory behaviour raises questions about the donors' real commitment to human rights in Bangladesh and elsewhere. The donor community continues to dodge its responsibility by ignoring or down-playing the fact that only thanks to their aid, the government of Bangladesh is able to maintain a huge military force in the CHT. After years of serious allegations of human rights violations in the CHT, the donors can no longer plead innocence, nor hide behind the argument that they are not funding development projects in the CHT. Human rights violations are a national problem, and have to be addressed by means of national measures in Bangladesh. Those who fund development programmes in the CHT have allowed themselves to become willing instruments in the hands ofthe Bangladesh government and army, and can be called direct accomplices to the violations. One of these is the Asian Development Bank, which has funded huge schemes in the CHT; others are those governments which give direct support or training to the Bangladesh military.

Apart from the national development programmes the Bangladesh Government often seeks foreign aid for the economic and social development of the indigenous people of the CHT. After receiving the aid the mititary regime uses the money for the military and for the Bangladeshi settlers and not for the local people. For example,

  1. USAID (United States Agency for International Development)
    Financed Kaptai Hydroelectric Dam benefited the outsider Bangladeshi settlers, while dispossesing thousands of Jummas of their arable prime land.
  2. SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency)
    Funded Forest Development Proiect created job opportunities for the Bangladeshis only.
  3. UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund)
    Aided Drinking Water Supply Scheme benefitted only the army camps, the Bangladeshi settler colonies, urban centres, and concentration camps.
  4. WHO (World Health Organization)
    Organised Malaria Eradication Project has been used to protect the armed forces and the Bangladeshi settlers.
  5. ADAB (Australian Development Assistance Bureau)
    Sponsored Chengi Valley Road Building Project has been used to facilitate military deployment in the remote parts of the CHT and to open up the interior to the Bangladeshi immigration.
  6. ADB (Asian Development Bank)
    Assisted Livestock and Fisheries Programmes have benefited the Bangladeshi settlers only.
  7. ADB (Asian Development Bank)
    Financed Joutha Khamer Projects or Joint Farming Projects are really concentration camps for the Jumma farmers who have been forced to leave their ancestral homes and farmlands to accommodate the Bangladeshi invaders.

The Jumma people and various Humam Rights Groups had appealed to donor countries to stop their aids to Bangladesh. Sweden responded to their appeal by stopping the Forest Development Project on the grounds that the Bangladesh Government refused to employ the Jumma people in the project. Australia, similarly, pulled out of the road building project because the road helped the military and the Bangladeshi settlers to move deep into the Jumma homeland.

All development programmes in the CHT are controlled by the military and are part of the counter-insurgency programme. The CHT Development Board, the only government development agency in the CHT, is still chaired by the GOC (General Officer in Command), the highest army commander in the region. The Anti-Slavery Society 'recommends to the international funding agencies and national governments providing development aid for projects in the Chittagong Hill Tracts that they withdraw support where such projects are against the wishes and interests of the indigenous population and that all future projects are carried out only after consultation with indigenous people's representatives. So far donor governments and international donor organisations have chosen to sit on the fence. They have been unwilling to develop alternatives to the present aid policy or make a positive contribution to a solution of the CHT conflict. One such possibility would be to fund the resettlement of Bangladeshi settlers outside the CHT.


  1. Why Should the World Care? - By Peter Indenburg


  1. Life is not ours: the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
  2. Jana Samhati Samiti Report

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