Unplanned housing is a major problem for the people living in rural Bangladesh. Although the government has implemented a few sporadic rural housing projects, namely cluster and ideal village projects etc in the rural areas, those are very small in number compared to the needs of the vast majority of the people. Also these cluster villages failed to meet the expectations of the concerned ones.
Very recently, the authorities have begun to put thrust on developing liveable towns and villages for the next generation in the country. They claimed development of a standard and planned habitat would ensure every people both in rural and urban area to get their own abode.
Addressing the officials of the Ministry of Housing and Public Works recently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the housing projects both the public and private sectors should be equipped with all civic facilities and services, and those housing facilities should be developed under a master plan.
The Prime Minister said lakes, water bodies and open spaces should be kept reserved for a development plan while a planned low-cost housing system should be developed for the poor living in slums scattered across the cities.
Meantime, the government has reportedly approved a draft law that would make official clearance mandatory for building houses in rural areas as well as use of lands across the country. The proposed law, many say, will bring discipline in land management and prevent misuse of land.
The new law is expected to facilitate framing up of strategic plans for forest land, hill areas and coastal belts. Nobody will be able to develop land at his or her whim. The country will have a national land use policy where there will be pragmatic policies for both urban and rural areas.
There is no denying that Bangladesh is one of the most land-scarce countries in the world. Though the National Land Utilisation Policy has focused on family-based land ceiling for rural housing and rural model house building, there is virtually no land-use plan for the rural areas that comprises about 85 per cent of the total land area.
The present facilities in respect of physical infrastructure, housing, water supply, sanitation, etc., are very inadequate in rural areas. A study suggests that housing shortage in the country is estimated to be 3.1 million units, out of which 2.15 million units are in the rural areas.
Even though space availability for horizontal expansion is limited, people are forced to go for it considering high cost associated with vertical expansion. On the contrary, it is observed that people in urban areas usually expand their house vertically because the cost of vertical expansion is cheaper compared to land required for horizontal expansion.
The fact remains that when the number of family members increases, people need to expand their houses. Since space is not adequately available, villagers expand their houses horizontally on agricultural land. In such a way, cultivable land is gradually being decreased. Numerous socio-economic problems are being created as a consequence.
For the last few years, The Grameen Bank and few non-government organisations (NGOs) are providing loans for rural house building that has opened a new area in the field of rural housing of Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, such organisations cater to the needs of a limited number of the rural population. Formulation of a proper institutional and legal framework for actively participating in rural housing, which was included in the National Housing Policy, is still not being implemented.
The government has recently started implementing a compact township project for rural people of seven divisions involving a fund of Tk 4.24 billion. It is a new concept of compact housing project, which includes residential facilities alongside agriculture and forestation.
In fact, the idea had originated from the concept of cluster villages, which was destined to provide urban facilities to villagers and save agriculture land. Analysts say such projects need to be implemented in participatory process in consultation with the local people. The poor and low-income group will definitely welcome such initiative, while the richer section might oppose it.
Each of the model villages is set to save about 13.05 acres of land needed for traditional housing. Besides, 16.26 acres of agricultural land will be saved, as the families will be provided with civic facilities through a single approach road.
It is witnessed that many poorly-built houses collapse every year in rural areas due to low quality housing, poor materials and wrong construction practices. However, the government, international agencies and private bodies can work in unison against these threats.
High growth rate of population in Bangladesh has, indeed, created enormous pressure on land. In addition to that, land use patterns are radically changing and adversely impacting the country's agricultural land, forest, water bodies and wildlife habitat. Making new homes on cultivable land is limiting the use of land for farm production.
Besides, corruption remains a major problem to streamlining the country's land management. A World Bank survey reveals that most crimes and corruption in Bangladesh take place in land-related services. There are almost 3.5 million land-related cases pending.
With the passage of new law for getting approval of rural housing, according to the analysts, the country's housing and land administration system is set to be stronger and transparent. The government expects that discipline would be restored to land management and misuse of land would be prevented.
In the national housing policy, due emphasis has been given on 'low cost housing'. As a matter of fact, low cost housing means housing at low cost for all sections of the population. The thrust is on housing at lower cost as compared to the prevailing cost levels. The prime objective is to reduce cost and make housing an eco-friendly one.
As natural calamities like flood and cyclone are common in the context of Bangladesh, such low cost housing should be made durable and must have good living conditions for the dwellers.