We are very good at making excuses for Dhaka’s problems
Elections are upon us, and with that, we are flooded with promises about the future of the city.
Subway lines, elevated expressways, better quality housing for the slum population, and so on -- all are forthcoming.
In reality, we will continue to be plagued by the same problems we have been dealing with for decades now -- just about all of them have gotten worse, not better, with time.
The things that truly characterize Dhaka are the air and water pollution, traffic congestion, lack of safety, infrastructural inadequacy, sickening noise levels, and most importantly, a lack of civic sense in the general population.
We may complain about the flawed methodology of foreign rankings, but there is a very good reason Dhaka is consistently given a spot as one of the least liveable cities in the world, right up there along with Baghdad and Damascus.
We can fill reams of paper waxing poetic about how far the city has come, and we can offer solutions that seem to make sense (who wouldn’t want a modern, advanced transit system?), but until something is done to change the rot at the core, so-called development projects -- beautification projects -- will be like putting make-up on a cancer patient.
There is nothing wrong with make-up, but in our case, that too is invariably a botched job; as a result, Dhaka is ugly both on the inside, and on the surface.
Of course, even if we do manage to give Dhaka something of a facelift in the short term, it is only a matter of time before the rot within -- comprised of toxic attitudes, retrograde values, a lack of civic sense or respect for one’s fellow citizens -- explodes back out onto the surface.
What makes Dhaka the city of nightmares is not a lack of this or a lack of that. The Garden of Eden was perfectly idyllic without elevated expressways or shopping malls or skytrains.
It is the active campaign of ruining and polluting the city as fully and thoroughly as possible that makes it a kind of living hell.
The air you breathe day in and day out is making you sick; the ungodly levels of noise in the city are wreaking havoc on your brain, your roads are full of garbage, littering is happening everywhere at every moment, your rivers which you claim are an important part of your life are so dirty that they are beyond any sort of cleanup operation.
Our actions towards our city have been shallow, short-sighted, and greedy; while focusing on economic development, we forgot that citizens need to act with a basic sense of responsibility towards their community and environment.
Literacy rates have gone up, but that is only because the literacy rate statistic is a deception -- the way “literacy” is measured renders it meaningless; and it misdirects from the fact that we are still a vastly uneducated population.
A visit to any kind of government institution will expose a person to the absurd levels of waste and inefficiency; often it even seems that public officials enjoy being as useless and abusive as possible towards those they are meant to serve.
We talk about solving the traffic problem, but almost always forget to address the fact that traffic jams are often caused quite deliberately by traffic police, or by unnecessary coddling of VIP movement.
Excuses for our sorry state will be made till our ears bleed: We were set back in 1971 and never recovered.
It’s America’s fault. It’s the World Bank’s fault. We are doing the best we can from our poverty-stricken state, and so on.
But if self-deluding excuses sometimes make people feel better about themselves, in this city of no joy, who am I to take that away?
Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.