BACKGROUND Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971 after a violent civil war and the new country has faced a range of pressing development problems ever since. Bangladesh has a relatively undiversified economy which has remained dependent upon the production of rice and jute, and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with an estimated population of 113 million in 1990. Over 80 per cent of the population live in the rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood, which is still based primarily upon human labour and animal draught power. Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to natural disasters in the form of floods and cyclones, which has ensured that the government and other agencies have been repeatedly forced to steer a difficult course between development and relief.