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20 May, 2019 11:10:26 AM


Bangladesh and its story of development

Authorities should develop secondary cities and towns throughout the country creating job opportunities and quality education and health facilities outside Dhaka
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Bangladesh and its story of development

The country is continually going with unequal economic development process. A study commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Planning Commission based on the 2011 population census in Bangladesh revealed that some 69 percent of the country's urban populations are concentrated in its eastern part comprising three divisions – Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet.

This shows a regionally imbalanced urbanisation and industrialisation where employment is available. While cities and towns in the western part comprising four divisions – Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi and Rangpur – are not only smaller in size but also growing more slowly than those in the eastern part to the comparative all round sufferings of the people of those regions.

The study says, 34 percent of the population of the eastern part live in urban areas, compared to 17 percent in the western part of the country. The study said compared to the western region, the eastern part is much better off having certain vital urban facilities such as natural gas, electricity, transport, credit and markets. Among the country's four largest metropolitan areas, Khulna and Rajshahi may actually have lost population over the decade between 2001 and 2011. Such news about unhealthy and uneven urbanisation is a startling revelation that the urbanisation that is taking place is menacing to the balanced development.  

The population of Dhaka city rose by 46 per cent between 2001 and 2011, while that of other eastern cities and towns grew very slowly. The capital is witnessing massive migration inflow which is creating serious problems to the city dwellers and the surrounding environment. To accommodate the ever-increasing population concentrated in the capital and its vicinity, the wetlands, farm land and forests are being depleted fast to the ruin of ecological balance of the city. If this trend continues, the overall development of the country may face a big challenge in near future. The filling up of lowlands in the capital and its peripheries is already making it very difficult for the authorities to keep the city’s environment clean and run the water supply, garbage and drainage systems properly.

Both unfortunately and unbecomingly, Dhaka has become the ultimate urban centre for people from across the country and about 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated from the city. But the large scale migration to the capital city has created huge problem for the city’s already worsened water, drainage and garbage systems. Such economies may fail to materialise citizens’ wellbeing when electricity and water supplies are unreliable and when the urban transport system is poorly managed, congested and chaotic. Almost similar is the condition of other cities and towns in the western part of the country.

Thus Bangladesh is experiencing an unbalanced regional urbanisation. The cities and towns in the western part of the country are witnessing low and minus growth in contrast to those in the eastern part. The negative and unhealthy fallout of this phenomenon is the massive migration of people, as it has happened, to the capital city of Dhaka and other western part cities and towns of the country. Urbanisation, in fact, is a development phenomenon and it can have negative impacts on the economy and environment in absence of any proper planning. Dhaka city has only one percent – 1371 square kilometre – of the country’s land, but it has more than 10 per cent of 160 million total population of the country. Urbanisation of Bangladesh is heavily focused on the capital city of Dhaka having a population of about 16.2 million. This unusual pressure of population makes Dhaka an unlivable city.   

The proportion of the population living in urban areas was only 9 percent in 1974, which stood at 28 percent in 2011. Bangladesh's population is projected to increase by some 39 to 53 million over the next 30 years till 2046. The Dhaka megacity had a population of 14.2 million in 2011, which comprise about 34 percent of the country's 39.8 million of urban population. As per the United Nations (UN) estimates, in 1960, Dhaka had only one-tenth of Indian city of Kolkata's population, but it had passed Kolkata by 2005. The area of Dhaka city has also surpassed the area of Kolkata by this time – Dhaka being 1371 square kilometer while Kolkata is 185 square kilometre in area now. Dhaka’s growth is so uneven and desperate because of heavy centralised development process that it has become the most crowdy and traffic congested city in the country, nay the contemporary world. As a result traffic snarls in capital Dhaka cost about US $4.6 billion a year in lost time, fuel and health consequences, among other things.

The Bangladesh capital city of Dhaka has been growing fast for the last 50 years without any plan. For the greater interest of the country, urgent steps must be taken to stop the menacing unplanned urbanisation and massive migration to the capital city from across the country. Some 42 percent of inter-district migrants went to Dhaka district alone and 56 percent to the three districts – Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj – giving Dhaka the status of a megacity. To stop the menace the study recommended some specific policies for sustainable urbanisation and management of massive migration towards the Dhaka megacity. Specific policies should be taken to decentralise some employments and other facilities from the Dhaka megacity, give priority to development of secondary towns, decentralise city administration and empower local government, impose restrictions on development of certain industries, businesses and services within or near the megacity, create adequate employments and associated facilities in and around rural regions saving the rivers, forests and water bodies, and protecting the megacity from environmental and social catastrophes.

The government should immediately buy wetland in and around the Dhaka megacity. Otherwise, the wetland will be occupied and filled by the land grabbers for unplanned expansion of the megacity. These days everybody wants to come to Dhaka as the Dhaka city alone is a major business and industrial hub and contributes 40 percent of country’s GDP, while Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur together contribute 60 percent. This depicts the picture of a gross imbalance in the over all development process of the country. To reduce migration inflow to the megacity it needs, in addition, to ensure quality education and health facilities in the other cities and towns of the country.

The General Economic Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission said the study will help the government take policies and plans in the future. It, however, said it is now difficult to distinguish the rural area from the urban area as the condition of roads are good in rural areas and the people now enjoy electricity and cable television facilities there. It maintains that "What you have in Dhaka city is available in the rural areas”.  But it could not claim that there are equal quality education and health facilities throughout the country so that people need not run to Dhaka for those. Even employment opportunities are scanty in rest of the country outside Dhaka where people from the hinterland rush to for that.  

Against this backdrop, authorities should develop secondary cities and towns throughout the country creating job opportunities and quality education and health facilities outside Dhaka, decentralise administration and develop commuter trains or other transport systems connecting Dhaka city to rural areas and empowering local governments. Such measures may ensure people across the country to find the facilities of quality education, health facilities, employment and other requisites near their homes. This will help them not to rush to Dhaka to suffer in terms of money, time and other hazards connected with leaving home to take advantage of those necessary facilities or unfortunately go without those because of their inability to afford those at more than necessary or exorbitant costs involved out in Dhaka.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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