Dhaka is dead, long live Dhaka
Mahdin Mahboob

Perhaps it is time to declare this city "officially dead"

  • Traffic jams, as well as air, water and sound pollution are common features of Dhaka 
    Photo- Creative Commons

It is customary in some countries, kingdoms to be precise, to say: "The king is dead, long live the king," when the monarch of that country passes away. It means that the news of the king’s death is being given, while the second part implies allegiance to the new king, who usually is the deceased king’s son, brother or chosen successor.

With Dhaka, the capital, and most vibrant city, of Bangladesh continuously ranked and proven to be extremely unlivable for its 15m, or so, population, I believe it is time to declare the city, home to many of us, “officially dead." Living in this city, for the vast majority of its citizens, is becoming increasingly difficult, for many different reasons.

Although many new people are moving into Dhaka everyday, this should not "mislead" one to think that the metropolis is becoming increasingly attractive for residents and potential residents. Unfortunately, the overall system in Bangladesh has over time, become very centralised, with almost everything becoming Dhaka-based. Not only is the country’s government system run from Dhaka, most of the country’s business organisations have their head offices and the majority of their operations based in the capital city. Strangely enough, a lot of factories and industries are also based here, including those of the country’s top foreign currency earning industry, ready-made garments. Military and civil defence services also have a big presence in the city, not only in terms of the amount of land that has been taken up for the purpose, but also the vast number of people directly or indirectly associated with them. The best healthcare in this country is provided by hospitals based in the city (with certain healthcare services apparently not available anywhere else in the country) and apparently the best eduation in the country is available at the schools, colleges and universities based here in Dhaka.   

All of these factors add up to the fact that more and more people are trying to settle in Dhaka, with every square inch of space being taken up quickly. Also, for availing different services not available or available in limited scale outside Dhaka, people have to frequently visit the city.

The four hundred year old city of Dhaka has not been able cope with its ever increasing population and problems such as traffic jams; shortage of water, gas and electricity; and a high level of air, water and sound pollution are common in most parts of Dhaka. Rampant corruption is also common, with service takers ready to pay an “extra fee” to get their job done quickly or to avoid harassment.

However, living conditions in Dhaka can still be improved, and the daily problems can be brought down to an acceptable level – if immediate steps are taken by our country’s and the city’s decision makers. If the country can be decentralised, taking some of the pressure off the megacity, for example by taking the factories and industries out, it could do wonders in improving the prevailing conditions.

Also, other than government policies that could, and should, be taken, it is encouraging to see that the common people are coming forward to save their city from the chaos. More people are now becoming environmentally conscious, and people today are seen to use bicycles, instead of using a fuel-burning alternative form of transportation. Although these might seem like small changes, these small changes will one day, hopefully, bring about big changes, and Dhaka will rise again from the ashes.

Dhaka is indeed dead, long live Dhaka!

For a better read, try DhakaTribune!
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Mahdin Mahboob

Mahdin Mahboob is the Founder-Chairperson of Savar Foundation, working towards the rehabilitation of Rana Plaza collapse victims.

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