The City Panorama

A.S.M. Nurunnabi

Dhaka city is fast becoming unliveable. The uncontrolled spread and sprawl gripping Dhaka has turned the city into a cavernous 'monster' spreading out in the most alarming manner in all directions. Total chaos exists in the urban fabric.

Topping the list of problems besetting the city is air pollution that has reached such startlingly high levels that it has overtaken Mexico City and Dhaka has now the dubious distinction of having the most polluted air in the world. The level of its sound pollution must be among the highest and has become a serious threat to human health.

Among other city problems are the high-rise buildings both as commercial complexes and residential apartments which have obscured the skyline and deprived adjacent smaller structures of light and air. The streets have become grossly inadequate to accommodate the horrendous traffic of a city of 9 million people. The few open spaces that were the lungs of the city have been taken over by land-grabbers. Even the beels and low-lying areas of the city, which used to act as catchments for excessive rain water during the monsoon and thus alleviate the flood problem to a large extent have been taken over by mastaans and god fathers, and turned into slums or marginal residential areas. Almost all the lakes and ponds that used to be the most attractive features of the city have been filled up and converted into markets or slums. Even the river Buriganga, lifeline of the capital, is dying due to encroachments by land-grabbers and large-scale water pollution from tannery wastes flowing into the river. The population congestion is so acute that Dhaka looks more like an ant hill than a human settlement. Its waste disposal system is so primitive and ineffective that one wonders why epidemics don't occur frequently. The burgeoning road traffic with rising numbers of reconditioned cars and rickshaws makes passage through the city streets truly a painful ordeal.

The unplanned transportation system simply amounts to a wastage of time and money, and eventually of national wealth. The misuse and abuse of available land within the city limits remain the prime cause for crisis in housing and other basic civic facilities. In fact the whole city seems to have been "developed" for a small minority at the expense of the majority and the country as a whole. For Dhaka, the existing control mechanism has been nebulous and almost totally inoperative.

A city is not a mere physical expanse or population. A city is like a living thing and its urban features and qualities are its organs. But when beset with physical ailments in the form of urban crisis, the city is left crippled and maimed.

In the opinion of experts, Dhaka is headed for disaster unless the problems besetting it are met head-on with total political commitment. The problems are monstrous. But they can be solved, if both the people and the government are determined to do so and cooperate unstintingly with each other.

The main problem of Dhaka is simply over-population. The best

way to stop people's migration to the capital is to create sufficient employment opportunities in others cities.

Landless, destitute and unemployed people make a beeline for places where employment opportunities are abundant. Subsequent governments have encouraged entrepreneurs and given them certain incentives to set up industries in the northern towns. After the construction of the Jamuna bridge, the road link which was previously absent, has now become a viable proposition. If the government ensures adequate supply of power and gives the entrepreneurs certain other incentives in addition to tax holidays and lower tariff, they will be positively motivated to locate their projects in the north. And the migrants from the villages in such situation will head for the north instead of Dhaka. This may go a long way to reduce the pressure of population on Dhaka.  

Source: The Daily Star, March10,2001