Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest nations, with overpopulation adding to its economic woes, and it is heavily reliant on foreign aid. The country's economy is based on agriculture. Rice, jute, tea, sugarcane, tobacco, and wheat are the chief crops. Bangladesh is the world's largest producer of jute. Fishing is also an important economic activity, and beef, dairy products, and poultry are also produced. Except for natural gas (found along its eastern border), limited quantities of oil (in the Bay of Bengal), coal, and some uranium, Bangladesh possesses few minerals.

Economy - overview:

Despite sustained domestic and international efforts to improve economic and demographic prospects, Bangladesh remains one of the world's poorest, most densely populated and least developed nations. The economy is largely agricultural, with the cultivation of rice the single most important activity in the economy. Major impediments to growth include frequent cyclones and floods, the inefficiency of state- owned enterprises, a rapidly growing labor force that cannot be absorbed by agriculture, delays in exploiting energy resources (natural gas), inadequate power supplies, and slow implementation of economic reforms. Progress on other economic reforms has been halting because of opposition from the bureaucracy, public sector unions, and other vested interest groups. Severe floods, lasting from July to October 1998, endangered the livelihoods of more than 20 million people. Food grain production fell by 4 million tons, forcing Dhaka to triple its normal food grain imports and placing severe pressure on Bangladesh's balance of payments. The floods increased the country's reliance on large-scale international aid. So far the East Asian financial crisis has not had major impact on the economy.

Way of life. Most Bangladeshis farm the land with simple tools and ancient methods, much as their ancestors did many years ago. Since the mid-1970's, however, there has been increasing use of fertilizers and new kinds of seeds. About 70 per cent of all adult Bangladeshis cannot read and write.

About 82 percent of the people of Bangladesh live in rural areas. Clusters of Thatch-roofed houses dot the nation's countryside. Most rural villagers build homes made of bamboo. A typical home consists of only one or two rooms. Few homes in rural areas have electricity or plumbing.

Most of the families in the cities and towns live crowded together in small wooden houses. Some wealthy city families have large brick or concrete homes. In urban slums, the houses are builds of cardboard, scraps of wood, or sticks. Most Hindus and members of other minority groups live together in distinct neighborhoods.

Many of the people of Bangladesh do not have enough food to eat. Although food product has increased since the mid- 1970's, the nation neither raises nor imports enough to feed its large population. Few Bangladeshis have much variety in their meals. Rice and fish are the tow most important foods. They are usually served together in a spicy curry sauce. Tea sweetened with sugar is a popular beverage, though some people may drink only water most of the time.

People throughout Bangladesh war loose, lightweight clothing because of the warm, humid climate. Most of the women wear a sari, a long piece of plain or printed cloth wrapped around the waist and draped over one shoulder. A short blouse in worn underneath. Many Muslim men wear a lungi, a tight skirtlike garment. The dhoti, worn by Hindu men, is a piece of cloth, wrapped around the waist and between the legs. Men may also wear shirts. People of rural areas generally go barefoot. City dwellers may wear shoes or sandals.

Bangladeshis like to spend their leisure time chatting with friends and relatives. The men usually gather in cafes, and the women visit one another at home. The people enjoy the festivities held during various Muslim and Hindu religious holidays.

Religion affects much in the lives of most Bangladeshis, including food, marriage customs, and family relationships. About 90 per cent of the people are Muslims. The laws of Islam, the Muslim religion, forbid the eating of pork; Most Muslim parents arrange marriages for their children. Most Muslims men in Bangladesh are too poor. The men in a Muslim family have far more authority and freedom than the women have. Many Muslim women avoid social contact with men who do not belong to their family, and they participate in few activities outside the home. They cover their heads with veils in the presence of strangers. In 1988, a constitutional amendment made Islam the state religion of Bangladesh.

Less than 10 per cent of the people of Bangladesh are Hindus. Hindus are divided into various social classes called castes. Each caste observes its own customs and rules of behavior. Caste regulations limit the extent to which members of one caste may associate with members of another cast. Hindu parents also arrange their Children's marriages. Intermarriage between castes in rare. Hindu women have few legal rights.

Most of the ethnic groups of the Chittagong Hills area practice Buddhism. Some groups combine Buddhist principles with local religious beliefs. Less than 1 per cent of the people of Bangladesh are Christians.