Nearly 50 percent of the national urban population is concentrated in the four metropolitan cities (Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi). Dhaka is the largest urban agglomeration of Bangladesh and enjoys a clear primate status in its urban structure. It attracts migrants from almost all of the 64 new districts and most of the 460 upazilas of the country. In addition of being a permanent destination of migrants, Dhaka also attracts thousands of daily commuters and circular migrants from the neighboring districts. Such a primate situation has resulted in Dhaka's rapid population growth (from 1.6 million in 1974 to over 10 million now) with all accompanying urban problems.
The capital city will continue to be the primary target for urban population unless very radical programmes can be implemented for decentralized urbanisation and reduction of 'Dhaka bound migration'.
The government has not yet adopted an explicit urban policy. However, a number of government documents and other initiatives have from time to time indicated the policy thinking of the government with regard to urbanization and urban development. The National Habitat Report, submitted to the UN Habitat I conference held at Vancouver in Canada in 1976 had recommended to identify various planning regions and in each region, one medium-sized town to be chosen as the focal point of regional growth in order to create a balanced spatial urban development.
The second five year plan (1980-85) envisaged that infrastructure and service facilities would be extended from 100 urban centres to 1200 growth centres throughout the country. The third five-year plan had incorporated the idea of upazila as a way of decentralisation. The fourth five-year plan talked about drawing up master plans for developing townships. However, the fifth plan did not provide any comprehensive urban planning guideline.
There is a need for guiding the progress of the country through a national human settlements policy, which will include policy on urbanization and urban development. Such a policy would consider deconcentrating growth in Dhaka city, encouraging growth of secondary cities and small towns, encouraging planned growth of rural towns or compact townships as a form of new settlements.
Experts feel that there is alsop requirement of reducing inequality within cities, by adopting a people oriented resource allocation, urban land- use and service delivery planning. Particular attention need to be given to allocation of land for housing for all income categories, particularly the low-income groups, and to space for economic activities of the poor.
It is necessary to provide low-cost shelter and urban services. Implementation of the National Housing Policy 1993 in good earnest could pave the way for ensuring urban development in a planned way. For this, establishment of planning departments or cells in each city and municipality is felt urgent. Town planners also stress the need for participatory urban planning.
The private sector, which is already in the housing business should not be kept as profit making only, rather they should be encouraged for propoor investments for a sustainable future of the capital and other cities.