Liveability at stake

At a dialogue on Emerging Global Trends in Urban Thinking in the city this week, speakers said there is no need for any government to raise the gross domestic product (GDP) growth, rather it's the people of the country who will raise GDP on their own for survival.

GDP should not be the yardstick of progress rather liveability should be the indicator such as how people are progressing socially or the habits of dealing with hygiene, they said. Liveability means equitable access to resources, public transportation, quality of life, standard of living or general well-being of the people.

Liveability does not necessarily depend on economic affordability but on environmental and social consciousness. Revival of nature, not subjugation of it, should be the way of urbanisation andeconomic development, they viewed.

Such observations really deserve appreciation in the context of Bangladesh as there is an increasing trend here to measure the country's progress on the basis of GDP. In fact, as the experts viewed, progress will be visible when there will be equity and everyone abides by the law. In fact, Dhaka has been losing liveability because there is no rule of law. 'Predators' are the ultimate winners, they said.

So many development plans were taken up for the city, but none was implemented true to their potential due to unexplained reasons. Day by day, city land was gobbled up, almost all the rivers andcanals were otherwise filled and public places grabbed by powerful quarters in violation of master plans as the custodians were turned into 'predators'.

Working hour worth Tk 200 billion and fuel worth Tk 120 billion are lost annually due to the widespread traffic snarls in the city. Although there is little space available in the country, streams of people are moving here in search of jobs and shelter. As there is no plan whatsoever to address the issue, endless migration is taking place without any hindrance.

Apart from people living on jobs in government and private agencies, at least 2.0 million people working in different garment factories and other industries in and around the city find it extremely difficult to get a shelter in the confines of the city. The way low-income people live in slum areas of different parts of the city beggars description. Unhygienic condition leaves scores of them to suffer from many infectious diseases.

The role of the regulators should otherwise be proper to save Dhaka from devastation. Also establishment of rule of law and political commitment is necessary for healthy urbanisation. Growth centres are being set up indiscriminately throughout the country due to dearth of proper planning. The municipalities are approving the town plans although they are not capable of doing these.

The detailed area plan (DAP) could not be implemented in the first place due to pressure from the realtors and the powerful lobby as many of their projects could be affected. Although it was feasible, the metro rail project was not approved in due course. The cost of traffic jam could compensate the cost of the underground rail in one year's time. But no initiative was taken to build it.

Experts say double-decker buses replacing innumerable small buses and cars can help significantly relieve traffic problems to increase urban liveability particularly in Dhaka. More and more double-decker buses with a single-decker at its tail reserved for women is another way of dealing with the situation.

The number of private cars must be reduced to make way for optimum use of the road for public movement. At least 75 registered private cars add to Dhaka's traffic every day. Civic amenities like a public square for city dwellers at the old airport can significantly improve liveability, while a hawkers' plaza could resolve the traffic chaos at Farmgate. A liveable city must have open public places to build community ownership of the city.

It may be mentioned here that a recent survey of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a prestigious research wing of the London-based weekly Economist, described Dhaka as the most unliveable city in the world. Last year, the position went to Syria's capital Damascus.

City's environment is already threatened as a consequence of excessive population. Pollution is increasing and water supply and sanitation facilities in Dhaka might collapse under the relentless pressure of city-dwellers. If population growth continues unabated, a decade from now, it will be hard to walk on the city streets. 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 problems in areas of provision of basic services including heath, education and food.

Environmentalists have expressed concern about the environmental degradation of Dhaka city that evidently manifests its decline. Air pollution caused by vehicle emission, despite changeover to CNG-driven vehicles, is still the worst. Dhaka's sky is no longer blue, it is grey. Health experts say that the air in the city will soon become impossible to breathe. Dhaka city dwellers are, thus, being subjected to slow murder.

One of the major threats to the city due to declining groundwater levels is land subsidence, which can be triggered by earthquakes of greater magnitudes. Recently, a series of earthquakes of magnitudes ranging from 4.0 to 5.2 on the Richter scale jolted Dhaka and other parts of the country. Although no damage to the infrastructure of the city was reported there is a great potential of collapse of infrastructures and also of land subsidence associated with earthquakes, particularly in areas of greater groundwater-storage depletion.

Only way to reverse the trend is to make outskirts of Dhaka and other towns the epicentres of growth, create employment opportunities by way of SMEs (small and medium enterprises), opening of educational institutions, healthcare facilities, entertainment outlets like parks, cultural rendezvous of different denominations, etc.

Decentralisation of the administration, with self-contained zones of habitats so that people don't have to travel long distances, has otherwise been long overdue. Dhaka's civic governance does need to be radically improved by bringing the city under a unified authority


NB: Press Cutting Service

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat