Pakistan and Bangladesh are two separate and independent countries physically divided by India. Historically, this was not always the case: from 1947 to 1971 they were administered under the same government. The two countries share a number of attributes. They both have Muslim majorities and both have high population densities. The countries are two of the top ten most populous countries in the world. Their populations are youthful and mainly rural; agriculture is the main economic activity in each country. Infrastructure is lacking in many areas of each country. These similar factors indicate that both Pakistan and Bangladesh will face comparable challenges in providing for their large populations and protecting their natural environments.
Pakistan was formed with two separate physical regions, defined by religious predominance. East Bengal, on the eastern side of India, was known as East Pakistan, while the remainder, separated by more than one thousand miles, was known as West Pakistan. The two physical units were united politically.
East and West Pakistan, administered by one government, became independent of their colonial master in 1947, when Britain was forced out. Pakistan (East and West) adopted its constitution in 1956 and became an Islamic republic. In 1970, a massive cyclone hit the coast of East Pakistan and the central government in West Pakistan responded weakly to the devastation. The Bengali populations were angered over the government’s lack of consideration for them in response to the cyclone and in other matters. The Indo-Pakistan War changed the situation. In this war, East Pakistan, with the aid of the Indian military, challenged West Pakistan and declared independence to become Bangladesh in 1972. West Pakistan became the current country of Pakistan.
The physical area of Pakistan is equivalent to the US states of Texas and Louisiana combined. Much of Pakistan’s land area comprises either deserts or mountains. The high Himalayan ranges border Pakistan to the north.
Pakistan has a variety of climates that varies from tropical to temperate.
The lack of rainfall in the western part of the country restricts agricultural production in the mountain valleys and near the river basins. The Indus River flows roughly northeast/southwest along the eastern side of Pakistan, flowing into the Arabian Sea.
The Indus Valley is the birthplace of one of the largest ancient civilizations. You can watch this optional video about it and get a bit of history in with your geography lesson. 😉
Pakistan has a cold desert (also known as the Katpana Desert). It has sand dunes that are sometimes covered in snow during the winter. It’s one of the highest deserts in the world.
River sediments are deposited in large areas found between river channels and oxbow lakes formed from the constantly changing river channels. These “lands between the rivers” are called “doabs” and represent some of the most fertile land in the Indian subcontinent. The Indus River flows from the northern part of the Karakoram mountains and creates a large, fertile flood plain that comprises much of eastern Pakistan. Pakistan has traditionally been a land of farming. The Indus River Valley and the Punjab are the dominant core areas where most of the people live and where population densities are remarkably high.
The Punjab region:
The fauna of Pakistan also reflects the country’s varied climate.
Pakistan has the second-highest rate of deforestation in the world, which, along with hunting and pollution, has had adverse effects on the ecosystem.
Approximately 64 percent of the population lives in rural areas and makes a living in agriculture. Most of the people are economically quite poor by world standards. A lack of adequate medical care, an absence of family planning, and the low status of women have created an ever-increasing population, which will have dire consequences for the future of Pakistan. Service and infrastructure to address the needs of this youthful population are not available to the necessary degree. Schools and educational opportunities for children are rarely funded at the needed levels. As of 2010, only about 50 percent of Pakistan’s population was literate.
Today most of the people living in Pakistan are Muslim. About 85 percent of the Muslim population in Pakistan is Sunni and about 15 percent of the Muslim population is Shia. As an Islamic state following the Sharia laws of the Koran, it has been a challenge for Pakistan to try to balance instituting democratic reforms while staying true to fundamental Islamic teachings.
Pakistan has suffered from inadequate funding for public schools. As a rule, the wealthy urban elites have been the only families who could afford to send their children to college. With half the population consisting of young people, there are few opportunities to look forward to in Pakistan. Education has been supported in the form of Islamic religious schools called madrassas, which teach children the Koran and Islamic law. Much of the funding for religious schools comes from outside sources such as Saudi Arabia. The result is a religious education that does not provide the skills needed for the modern world. Pakistan has worked to build schools, colleges, and universities to educate its people. The situation is that population growth has been outpacing what little budget was allocated for educational purposes.
More than sixty languages are spoken in Pakistan, including a number of provincial languages. Urdu—the lingua franca and a symbol of Muslim identity and national unity—is the national language understood by over 75% of Pakistanis.
The traditional dress for both men and women is the Shalwar Kameez.
Pakistani cuisine is similar to that of other regions of South Asia, with some of it being originated from the royal kitchens of 16th-century Mughal emperors. Most of those dishes have their roots in British, Indian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Pakistani cooking uses large quantities of spices, herbs, and seasoning.
The capital of Pakistan when it was under British colonialism was Karachi, a port city located on the Arabian Sea. To establish a presence in the north, near Kashmir, the capital was moved to Islamabad in 1960. This example of a forward capital was an expression of geopolitical assertiveness by Pakistan against India.
Located in the high mountains of the north is the former Kingdom of Kashmir, a separate kingdom before the British divided South Asia.
In 1947, when the British drew the boundary between India and Pakistan, the leader of Kashmir, the maharajah, chose not to be a part of either country but to remain independent. About 75 percent of the population in Kashmir was Muslim; the rest, including the maharajah, were mainly Hindu. This arrangement worked for a time, until the Muslim majority was encouraged by their fellow Muslims in Pakistan to join Pakistan. After a Muslim uprising, the maharajah asked the Indian military for assistance. India was more than pleased to oblige and saw it as an opportunity to oppose Pakistan one more time.
Today Kashmir is divided, with Pakistan controlling the northern region, India controlling the southern region, and China controlling a portion of the eastern region. A cease-fire has been implemented, but outbreaks of fighting have occurred. The future of Kashmir is unclear. None of the countries involved wants to start a large-scale war, because they all have nuclear weapons.
One of the main physical geography features of this area is the importance of water. The Indus River flows through Kashmir from Tibet and into Pakistan. The control of this river system is critical to the survival of people living in northern Pakistan. If India were to place a dam on the river and divert the water to their side of the border, to the dry regions of the south, Pakistan could suffer a water shortage in the northern part of the country. Another aspect of the Kashmir conflict goes back to the division of Pakistan and India, which pitted Muslims against Hindus along the border region. The religious differences have come to the surface again in the conflict over the control of Kashmir. Extremist movements within Kashmir by the Muslim population have fueled the division between those who support Pakistan and those who support Hindu-dominated India.
Bangladesh is a low-lying country that is associated with the types of marshy environments found in tropical areas and river deltas. Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate characterized by heavy seasonal rainfall, high temperatures, and high humidity. The region is extremely prone to flooding, particularly during the monsoon season because of the high amount of rainfall.
The only exceptions to Bangladesh’s low elevations are the Chittagong Hills in the southeast, the Low Hills of Sylhet in the northeast, and highlands in the north and northwest.
Keokradong is one of the highest peaks in the Chittagong Hills.
One of the most important rivers of Bangladesh flows southward from the Himalayas through India and into Bangladesh. While in India, this river is known as the Brahmaputra River, but when it enters Bangladesh, it is known as the Jamuna River. It provides a major waterway for this region and empties into the Bay of Bengal.
Contributing to the immense flow of water through the country are the Ganges and the Meghna rivers, which join up with the Brahmaputra River near the sea. The Ganges flows through northern India and is a major source of fresh water for a large population before it reaches Bangladesh. The Meghna is a collection of tributaries within the boundaries of Bangladesh that flows out of the eastern part of the country. The Meghna is a deep river that can reach depths of almost two thousand feet with an average depth of more than one thousand feet. The hundreds of water channels throughout the relatively flat country provide for transportation routes for boats and ships that move goods and people from place to place. There are few bridges, so land travel is restricted when rainfall is heavy.
Imagine a country the size of the US state of Wisconsin. Now imagine half of the entire population of the United States living within its borders. Welcome to Bangladesh. With an estimated population of over 161 million in 2020 and a land area of only 55,556 square miles, it is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. Most of the population in Bangladesh is rural, agriculturally grounded, and poor. The larger cities, such as the capital of Dhaka, have modern conveniences, complete with Internet cafes, shopping districts, and contemporary goods.
The rural areas often suffer from a lack of adequate transportation, infrastructure, and public services. Poverty is common; income levels average the equivalent of a few US dollars per day. Remarkably, the culture remains vibrant and active, pursuing livelihoods that seek out every opportunity or advantage available to them.
The summer monsoons are both a blessing and a curse in Bangladesh. The blessing of the monsoon rains is that they bring fresh water to grow food. The northeast part of Bangladesh receives the highest amount of rainfall, averaging about eighteen feet per year, while the western part of the country averages only about four feet per year. Most of the rain falls during the monsoon season. Bangladesh can grow abundant food crops of rice and grain in the fertile deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, rivers that ultimately empty into the Bay of Bengal. About 55 percent of the land area is arable and can be used for farming, but flooding causes serious damage to cropland by eroding soil and washing away seeds or crops. Every year, countless people die because of the flooding, which can cover as much as a third of the country. One of the worst flooding events in Bangladesh’s history was experienced in 1998, when river flooding destroyed more than three hundred thousand homes and caused more than one thousand deaths, rendering more than thirty million people homeless.
Most parts of Bangladesh are fewer than forty feet above sea level, and the country is vulnerable to major flooding according to various global warming scenarios. Half of the country could be flooded with a three-foot rise in sea level. Storm surges from cyclones killed as many as one hundred fifty thousand people in 1991. In comparison, about two thousand people died when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2006.
Another environmental problem for Bangladesh is deforestation. Wood is traditionally used for cooking and construction. The needs of a larger population have caused widespread deforestation. Brick and cement have become alternative building materials, and cow dung has become a widely used cooking fuel even though it reduces the fertilizer base for agriculture. Even so, these adaptations have not halted the deforestation problem. The main remaining forests are located along the southern borders with India and Burma (Myanmar) and in the northeast sector.
The country is dominated by lush vegetation, with villages often buried in groves of mango, jackfruit, bamboo, betel nut, coconut and date palm.
Bangladesh is home to much of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.
Bengal tigers make their home in that area and also in the Chittagong forest (shown on a previous map),
Bangladesh has an abundance of other wildlife in its forests, marshes, woodlands and hills.
Bangladeshis suffer because of widespread water pollution from naturally occurring arsenic that contaminates water wells. The pyrite bedrock underneath much of western Bangladesh has large amounts of arsenic in it. Millions of people drink groundwater contaminated with this arsenic on a daily basis. Arsenic kills people slowly, by building up in their bodies, rotting their fingernails, giving them dark spots and bleeding sores. Arsenic is a slow killer and a carcinogen that increases the risk of skin cancer and tumors inside the body. Villagers in Bangladesh began being affected by these symptoms in the 1970s. In 1993, official tests indicated that up to 95 percent of the wells in one of the villages in the western region were contaminated. The widespread water contamination has also had a social cost. Reports indicate that husbands are sending their disfigured wives back to their families of origin, and some young people are remaining single. Stories are told of people who believe that the health problems are contagious or genetic and can be passed on to children, which causes dilemmas for women who are trying to find a husband.
White rice is the staple of Bangladeshi cuisine, along with many vegetables and lentils. Fish is the main source of protein in Bengali cuisine.
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Nanga Parbat in Pakistan
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Snow in the desert|
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By Dushy Ranetunge – “‘Kaballeva’ in Kandy: Rare photos of a Sri Lankan Armadillo” at http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/09/kaballeva_in_kandy_rare_photos.htmlRetrieval date 4.6.2011., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15395611
By Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble – mugger crocodile Crocodylus palustrisUploaded by Amada44, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25298615
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Girls dressed in shalwar kameez
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Chicken tikka kebab
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By Umair Mohsin from Karachi, Pakistan – Roti, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4015243
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Paksey, Rajshahi, Bangladesh
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Geography of Bangladesh
Relief map of Bangladesh
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By Faisal Akram from Dhaka, Bangladesh – Goodmorning Keokaradang, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31631879
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