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The city that forever sleeps

  • Published at 06:16 pm October 16th, 2018
There’s no escape
There’s no escape Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Dhaka could be crumbling under its own weight

There’s no nice way to describe Dhaka. 

Not limited to being dealt the short end of the climatic stick, Bangladesh is also one of the most densely populated nations in the world (something we can’t readily blame our colonial oppressors for, unfortunately), and at the centre of it all is our crumbling capital city.

Sure, there are now more restaurants, cafes, and multiplexes throughout Dhaka for us to return to time and again, and feel a sense of stagnation seeping into our lives, but what’s the point of developing a city when the city itself gets in the way of its denizens enjoying everything it has to offer?

A big part of this problem remains the sheer breadth of the population that calls Dhaka home (or second home, in most instances) -- as a recent Dhaka Tribune report found out, the city has a density of 47,400 people per square kilometre, making it, effectively, the most densely populated city in the world.

While the 47,400 figure is, of course, an average estimate, I doubt few would disagree with me when I say that it often “feels” like there are that many people in any given vicinity -- and nowhere does that statement ring more true than while stuck in traffic.

Ahh traffic … 

I have composed write-ups, read multiple chapters of books, listened to albums in their entirety, and come close to figuring out the meaning of life while doing my time in Dhaka traffic, which is more than people simply stuck on the same road, trying to make their way to some destination.

The traffic in this city is an entity, it has a mind of its own, and it is malevolent and wrathful in its ministrations.

You can forget about your best laid plans -- no matter how close or far the proximity between yourself and all the elements of your Thursday night (or whichever night, for that matter) you can be sure that the rest of the roughly 17 million people living in this city will have something to say about your hoity toity dinner plans in Gulshan, or something more hoi polloi as chilling at that one friend’s place -- you know, that one friend who never budges from his borough, insisting that any and all plans occur on his part of town. We all have someone like that in our lives.

A large contributor to the capital’s surplus population is the overt reliance on the city for practically all facets of our national economy. With the rest of the country witnessing little to no industrial development, millions of people from the fringes of Bangladesh flocking to Dhaka becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But that’s hardly the fault of those joining the influx.

If you are a regular reader of this newspaper, you may have noticed that we are big on the idea of “decentralization,” which refers to administrative measures that can help spread out our economy to the rest of the country. More jobs outside of Dhaka means less migration to the capital, thereby helping ease the pressure on the city and its resources.

While it’s unrealistic to expect such a miracle to happen overnight, there are certain steps that the government can take right now to achieve that goal in the long term.

One of those steps can be the development of satellite cities around the capital, to which we could perhaps relocate all of Dhaka’s administrative offices, similar to how South Korea is trying to tackle their own problems with overpopulation in Seoul.

Given that Dhaka has approached something close to self-reliance in its internal economy, there’s also a case to be made in the relocation of the innumerable RMG factories (at least the majority of them) to other, more logistically sound parts of the country, in order to bring their development up to speed -- the industry is the primary engine of our growth, as the old cliché goes.

Dhaka is a city that is forever asleep, but not because of the obvious reasons behind that tired old metaphor. It is a city that refuses to wake up and realize just how close it is to crumbling under its own weight, and we need to stop hitting the snooze button every time we are close to making that realization. 

Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.