A laudable initiative has been taken up by the global lender World Bank to help Bangladesh formulate a roadmap to transform the 'chaotic' Dhaka city into an attractive dynamic city by 2035. The local office of the Bank says it will help the government to make up the capital into a truly livable urban city.
Dhaka is classed as one of the least livable cities in the world with its messy traffic, overburdened vehicles, dense population and poor urbanisation activity. In order to address these issues, the bank convened an international conference in the city on Wednesday participated by a host of international experts.
The overseas experts mainly came from Oxford University, UK, Shanghai and Delhi. Dhaka's two city mayors, local ministers, policymakers, economists, urban planners and researchers also delivered their thoughtful opinions and expertise on how Dhaka could be turned into an attractive and livable city befitting a country graduating into a higher status.
There is no denying that Dhaka city is expanding fast as a sprawling, jerry-built metropolis amid a lack of modern plans and coordination among different agencies executing and overseeing its development works. The total areas of the two city corporations now stand at nearly 129 square kilometres (km) - 83 km under the DNCC and 46 kms under the DSCC.
Dhaka has indeed been experiencing rapid urbanisation since independence of the country. The degree of urbanisation is one of the fastest in the world, having a moderate level of inequality in terms of Gini coefficient, according to a recent report by the UN-Habitat. The environmental condition of the city, however, is rapidly deteriorating.
Unplanned urban expansion is creating tremendous pressure on limited resources in Dhaka. There are limited facilities to minimise huge flood flows during the wet season. In addition, slums are increasing at an alarming rate. Since urbanisation is mostly unplanned, the city is said to be extremely vulnerable to climate change affects.
It is believed that climate change may intensify the flooding condition of the city if necessary steps are not taken to stop urbanisation on wetlands and cultivated lands. Lack of coordination among relevant organisations is also hindering the dynamics of urban growth.
The government has to introduce land-use zoning so that natural lands can be saved, otherwise environmental degradation will make the city uninhabitable at the end of the day. Pollution will increase and water supply and sanitation facilities might collapse under the excessive pressure of city-dwellers. Unless migration is planned, Dhaka will turn into a city of ruins, where people will risk losing their living environment.
Joblessness, noxious emissions and toxic effluents from smoke belching vehicles have made the city life choking. Conscious citizenry are focusing on human factors responsible for deterioration of environmental quality in the city life. These are: population growth incompatible with development of resources, lack of adequate environmental considerations, poor management of waste generated through the production-generation process. Besides, land grabbers and politically influential people are vying with each other to encroach on the rivers and every available vacant space.
Experts suggest that decentralising government offices and relocating key installations and industries, mainly tanneries and readymade garment factories from the capital to elsewhere could bring the city back on track.
Without political commitment, reform of any kind to bring back sanity in the city life is virtually impossible to achieve. To arrest further deterioration of the capital city, political will, public advocacy and creating civic pressure are very much needed. Sustained awareness has also to be created through the media.
If population growth continues unabated, it will be hard to walk the city streets in a decade from now. Although China and India have the two largest populations in the world, its density is not as high as in Bangladesh. In fact, overpopulation is the number one problem for the country.
The unhindered growth of population in Dhaka is set to increase social inequality significantly over the course of the next decade. It will bring about tremendous crises in basic services including heath, education and food. While a certain quarters will manipulate those services, nearly 60 per cent of total city- dwellers will be deprived of those services.
Dhaka city, the centre of commerce and culture in Bangladesh, faces a grim prospect of total collapse within a decade, due to unplanned urbanisation, absence of civic facilities, and excessive population. With the World Bank coming to the scene, there are reasons to believe that a comprehensive, practical and farsighted plan would be taken up to save the city, which remains at the bottom of global ranking for the past few years.