For a liveable Dhaka
It is almost impossible at this juncture to wish for a ‘beautiful’ Dhaka, a ‘healthy’ Dhaka, an ‘efficient’ Dhaka – such has become the bleak outlook of people living in Dhaka – and most people would now settle for a liveable Dhaka. People continue to pour into the city in staggering numbers, the city continues to grow haphazardly, the quality of amenities, facilities and services of the city continue to deteriorate, the air and water have become un-breathable and unusable, and we are all stuck in perennial traffic jams. All this has been said for a while now, including the threat of extinction of our beloved capital from all its ills in the near future. But our governments and city authorities have consistently failed to address any of the major issues that plague the city.
Dhaka city, regularly rated one of the most unliveable cities in the world, contains just about every single ill that is borne out of unplanned growth. Sixteen million reside in 360 square kilometers, with an estimated 350,000 added every year, making it the ninth largest city in the world. Most housing in the city, whether it be upper class neighbourhoods or slum dwellings now fall short in meeting even the health and environmental standards of housing around the world. City services such as electricity, water and gas are becoming scarcer by the day, while even services such as health care and law enforcement suffer because of the unplanned manner in which the city has grown. All forms of pollution are extremely high endangering the lives of city dwellers, especially the future generations. It is fairly understandable why Dhaka city dwellers hold such a bleak outlook.
The governments, past and present, have so far succeeded in only spicing up the rhetoric, most city dwellers would concur. Traffic jams continue to eat away at precious economic and health hours, while almost all steps to address the problem have failed. And now we await the big projects – flyovers, expressways, metro rail – with a pinch of salt, hoping they will finally create some breathing space for us. The city plan – Detail Area Plan – has been on the stove for nearly 17 years, as, despite being gazetted, it remains trapped in the hands of an inter-ministerial review committee. Meanwhile, people are being asked to pay more and delivered less of electricity, supplied no water or unhygienic water, while new lines for gas and electricity have been held back, setting up a precedent for discriminatory treatment of city dwellers.
But of course we live here and given its ability to create opportunities for our livelihood, most of us do not have anywhere else to go, or at least cannot afford to. And that is why in our own way we continue to look for ways to make our dwelling more liveable. More importantly, Dhaka is the driving force of our economic, political and social life and the more it suffers, the more we suffer as a nation. Many amongst us have grown up in this city or have migrated here, have seen its glory days or at least better days, and have come to love it in our own ways.
It is in that spirit that this special supplement brings together a host of urban experts and industry practitioners to go into depths of what plagues the city, and how it can be addressed. We hope our policymakers and authorities will wake up to the concerns (pleas, to be more appropriate) of city dwellers from all ranks of life and take steps to make the city liveable. And hopefully, from there, we can start once again to dream of a beautiful ’Dhaka, a ‘healthy’ Dhaka and an ‘efficient’ Dhaka.