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Concrete solutions from a concrete jungle

  • Published at 06:26 pm November 2nd, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:48 pm November 2nd, 2017
Concrete solutions from a concrete jungle
Since 2011, Dhaka has claimed its position among the five most unlivable cities in the world. This year, Dhaka was ranked the third most dangerous megacity. Amongst the many discords in the city, we can still find sustainable solutions. Dhaka’s declining conditions and dysfunctionality due to influx provide an impetus for transformative social change. The dire circumstances surrounding Dhaka reveal gaps which need to be addressed through innovating and creating scalable solutions.   From the despairs of the past, comes city solutions for tomorrow. Bustling life in a bewildering city  Dhaka falls short of meeting the cornerstones of what constitutes a functioning and robust urban landscape: affordable housing, quality education and healthcare, a functioning mass transport system, public services, space for public recreation, etc. One major factor contributing to Dhaka being ‘uninhabitable’ is the ongoing phenomenon of rural to urban migration within Bangladesh. 63% of the total population growth in Dhaka city is owed to migration. Each year, an estimated 500,000 people migrate to Dhaka from all over Bangladesh, in the pursuit of a better life.   These conditions are not unique to Dhaka: Chittagong, the country’s second-biggest urban centre, faces similar challenges.   Even though Chittagong is the second most popular destination for internal migrants, it, in fact, attracts less than half of the population which migrates to Dhaka.   Push and pull factors: Migration matters   People migrate to Dhaka for a number of reasons. It includes economic, environmental or social in nature. While it is difficult to pinpoint individual motivations, the overwhelming majority of migrants identify as economic migrants. They move to the city seeking job opportunities and to escape rural poverty.   When disaster strikes, families are often left with nothing. Bangladesh is the ground zero for climate change making this phenomenon all too common. Climate change and natural calamities are also major factors for why people move from rural to urban: river erosion, salinity intrusion, cyclones, storm surges and flooding have increasingly contributed to the steady number of migrants who moved for environmental reasons. Social factors such as conflict within families, marriages, the community at large and even political have also attributed to migrants fleeing from the countryside and taking refuge in cities. One in every nine migrants moves to the city to escape societal pressures and abuse. 55.4% of the total migrants in Dhaka are motivated by economic factors, while one in every four cites riverbank erosion as their primary cause of migration. Seven out of 10 households in the country do not live in permanent housing. With the onset of climate change and its effects, this number is expected to increase over the coming years.
  63% of the total population growth in Dhaka city is owed to migration. Each year, an estimated 500,000 people migrate to Dhaka from all over Bangladesh, in the pursuit of a better life.
  The Dhaka dynamic Dhaka is the capital city and the largest urban centre in Bangladesh. Not only is it the only megacity in the country, but with a population of over 14 million, it is one of the fastest growing in the world and soon expected to become the second largest urban agglomeration after Tokyo.   Apart from being the country’s political capital and the headquarters of its military forces, Dhaka is also the epicentre of Bangladesh’s trade, commerce, industry and cultural activities.   For all the above mentioned reasons, Dhaka attracts the bulk of internal migrants in Bangladesh. It is the destination of choice of migrants from both rural and other urban centres as they look for work in the informal sector, constituting a third of the workforce, or in manufacturing, particularly in the ready-made garments sector which accounts for 80% of the country’s total export earnings.   In slums, four out of 10 people over the age of 12 are literate. Children living in slums are 2.5 times more likely to be excluded from schools in comparison to the national average.   “A country within a country”   40% of the total urban population of the country reside in Dhaka. Dhaka city alone accounts for 35% of the total GDP and 30% of the total workforce in the country.   As 2,000 new migrants pour into the city everyday, most of them take refuge in one of the 4,000 slums and squatter settlements across Dhaka. Approximately one in every four persons live in a slum across the city. Slums in Dhaka are characterised by their high population density, precarious housing conditions, lack of access to basic facilities and social services, and no tenure security.   At roughly 200,000 people per sq. km (the total population of East London), the slums in Dhaka are 300 times more densely populated than the rural areas.   Urban poverty and progress   BRAC’s urban development programme strives to create more liveable cities of tomorrow.   To tackle urban poverty, BRAC has launched its flagship EMPOWER project which operates as resource centres in slums across Dhaka and other urban centres in Bangladesh.   The project aims to mobilise voices of the people living in urban poverty, improve basic service delivery by creating a referral system with other NGOs, strengthen local urban governance institutions, and advocate with national policy-makers and housing authorities to incorporate pro-poor urban policy into their planning process.   The project will be operating in 20 cities across Bangladesh including Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal and Sylhet.   Long-term solution: Decentralising desh   The existing trend of urbanisation in Bangladesh is alarming and requires further intervention by policy-makers. The concentration of resources, facilities and economic opportunities in Dhaka is fuelling mass migration. It is also resulting in a decline in the growth of other major urban centres in the country. The government has taken some steps in this regard. They have committed to establishing medical colleges and higher institutions in every district in order to decentralise education. More needs to be done. Quality education and healthcare facilities will create a balance where basic facilities are more readily available in the second tier cities. This change in dynamic will facilitate migration to these cities and ease the pressure from Dhaka. A functioning mass public transport system will encourage urban residents to commute from suburbs and satellite towns. This will ease the burden of the housing demands that are increasingly imposed on urban centres. Dhaka should become more service-centred and less of a manufacturing base. The government can incentivise businesses to relocate their factories to other regions which in turn will ease the flow of migrants seeking jobs in the capital.   Footsteps to follow: a resilient Dhaka   Dhaka’s urbanisation is not dissimilar to London and New York from the 19th century as both these cities were centres of industrialisation. In the last hundred years, they were able to reverse the process and revitalize their urban landscape. We are at the crossroads of creating a global model city that defines regeneration in the 21st century.          
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