Over 2,000 people live in a slum with an area of one acre in Dhaka. In total, the number of slum dwellers in the capital is near to 50 per cent of the total population that is around five million. About 5.5 million people do not have clean water option and over 6.5 million people have no access to any sewerage facility.
The Economist's Intelligence Unit has published a survey on October 7 assessing the level of hardship in which Dhaka has been ranked 127th among 130 cities in the world. Melbourne and Vancouver emerge as the best cities in the world to live in, followed by Perth, Vienna and Toronto. Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, is the worst place to live in and Dhaka, jointly with Lagos, has been placed third hardest to live in. The Economist Intelligence Unit's hardship rating has been made by looking at 12 factors grouped in three categories: health and safety; culture and environment; and infrastructure.
A recent UN estimate shows that Dhaka is likely to become the second largest urban agglomeration with 22.8 million population in 2015, surpassing major cities like Sao Paulo, Mexico City, New York, Mumbai, Los Angeles and Kolkata.
In 1971, the total urban population in the country was 5 million, while in 2001 the number increased to 29 million. The average rate of growth was about six per cent during the period. This indicates that the urban population in the country has doubled every 12 years due to the migration of rural landless and marginalised people.
Before the last national election in October, 2001, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organised a national policy forum to brief the political leaders, in which urban governance was one of the main issues. Following that forum a 12-member task force was also formed with Prof. Nazrul Islam as its convenor to formulate measures for good urban governance. The task force identified some major problems that are creating obstacles for urban development.
For urban liveability, the deteriorating law and order situation was a major issue, which is escalated by violence and crime and creates a sense of insecurity among the people. Inadequate urban utility services (such as supply of water, sanitation and sewerage, electricity, gas, fuel, telephone, solid waste management, etc.), insufficient transport facilities and weak management of traffic and insufficient education, health and recreation services has made the urban problem more acute.
The housing problem is particularly serious for those in the lower income group. The problem causes the proliferation of slums and squatter settlements, especially in large cities such as Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi. Moreover, biased public policies, poverty and inequality are common problems.
Air and water pollution and even sound pollution in cities and towns are of major concern. The environmental problems, particularly in Dhaka city, have reached a very high level. Moreover, illegal occupation of open spaces, parks, gardens, lakes, rivers and other water bodies and the irrational cutting of hills and trees degrade the urban environment further.
It is perceived that the root cause of all these problems is weak urban governance. It would be very difficult to defuse the crisis overnight due to the present aimless, corrupt, inefficient and terrible urban administration.
Private real estate developers are blamed for initiating different housing projects in the periphery of the city in violation of the environmental laws and other existing regulations.
The quality of urban governance could be improved with the intervention of a strong and active civil society. The civil society can mobilise public opinion and make an effective demand on public agencies to formulate urban development plans with public participation, and implement such plans with earnestness and adequate transparency and accountability. The civil society can also prevail on the corporate private sector to refrain from undertaking anti-people projects.