Most public playgrounds and parks in Dhaka city are off-limits to the majority of residents. Children, in particular, remain deprived of opportunities to play outside.
Urban planners, architects, environmentalists, civil society members, and rights groups have attributed the problem to the negligence of planning authorities.
The Dhaka North and South City Corporations have around 60 playgrounds and parks under their combined jurisdiction. But they are not the only authorities.
The Public Works Department, Rajuk, Department of Forests, and the Department of Environment are also involved in the supervision and management of open public spaces.
While the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) is running a project to free and develop 19 parks and 12 playgrounds, the other agencies have taken no similar initiative.
“All playgrounds and open spaces in the city are slowly being grabbed,” Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) member secretary, Iqbal Habib, said.
“There is no breathing space for the children and elderly in the city and the authorities are turning a blind eye to the issue.”
Other environmental organizations such as Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Poribesh BachaoAndolon, and Green Voice shared the same concerns.
Despite this, evidence shows that little has changed since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instructed the authorities in September 2010 to immediately recover all of the children's parks and playgrounds in the capital.
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The then undivided Dhaka City Corporation conducted a survey across the city and found a number of playgrounds were occupied illegally or were being used for other purposes. Unfortunately, the situation has only worsened over time.
Many of the parks and playgrounds are bereft of grass. Allowed to pile up over time, the sand creates a dusty atmosphere in dry weather and becomes muddy when it rains. In either scenario, it is the common people who continue to suffer.
In the course of its explorations, the Dhaka Tribune also discovered a number of makeshift shops inside several playgrounds and parks. Reckless littering sees waste, both liquid and solid, coalescing into festering cesspools of filth.
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Garbage is piled up in front of one of the entrances to Farmgate Park Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune
39% never visited any parks
A 2016 report by Work for Better Bangladesh Trust (WBB) concluded that the majority of open spaces in Dhaka are used by government agencies and private organizations, limiting public access.
The report stated the two city corporations failed to ensure citizens’ needs for parks and other open spaces, as per the city’s overall development plan.
“There is not enough open space in Dhaka per head in accordance with health standards,” WBB Program Manager Maruf Hossain said. “I urge the government to develop public spaces for public use.”
Dhaka’s development plan recommends an average of at least 0.052 square metres of parks and 0.5 square metres of open green spaces per person, although the World Health Organization (WHO) and Leadership in Energy Environmental for Neighborhood Design recommend nine and 20 square metres respectively.
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Makeshift shops occupy the children's playing area at Nayatola Park, similar situation prevails inside most parks in Dhaka city Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune
A survey conducted of 374 people revealed that 60% of them had visited their nearest park in the past, but that a shocking two out of every five people (39%) said they had never visited any.
The study also revealed a lower percentage of women and elderly people were visiting parks, citing the poor environment.
Another survey was conducted on 739 individuals and found that nine out of ten (91%) wanted the landscape to be improved, with facilities such as seats, benches and rain shelters installed.
The survey also found that most parks were noisy and lacked proper lighting, water supply, waste disposal, sanitation, and walkways.