Vol 9 - No. 9




(Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
         map are not members of SAARC)

Diabolic Dhaka


IT is not at all surprising that Dhaka has been ranked as the 2nd worst city in the world in a recent global survey of livability, as living conditions are deteriorating fast.

The survey conducted by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, based on 30 factors, including political and economic stability, healthcare, education, environment and infrastructural facilities, puts Dhaka just ahead of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

Another global survey revealed that Singapore edged out Tokyo and Hong Kong as the best city in Asia for expatriates to live in, while Dhaka is the worst, just ahead of Karachi.

Dhaka was also bracketed with the 10 most polluted cities in 2007 and 2008, with automobiles emitting 50,700 tons of carbon dioxide and 8,550 tons of nitrogen oxide annually, posing serious health threats. The study also found some 6.10 lakh children showing symptoms of asthma in Dhaka.

The measures taken so far to resolve the traffic tangle, which include introducing automatic traffic signalling and three-lane system, re-fixing office and school timings and dividing the city into seven zones, have seen no success. This clearly suggests that the problem is deep-rooted and comprehensive measures are needed to solve it.

At least 5.25 lakh motorised vehicles now ply the Dhaka streets everyday against 3.03 lakh in 2003. According to BRTA, more than 3,750 motorised vehicles hit the streets of Dhaka every month, with 180 new vehicles being registered on average everyday. The number of non-motorised vehicles in the capital is over five lakh.

Dhaka now has to accommodate over 10 lakh vehicles while it has the capacity for around 1.5 lakh vehicles with 250-300 kilometre roads. A city needs roads on 25% of its total area but Dhaka has roads on only 8% of its landmass. The number of vehicles in the city is nearly seven times the capacity of the roads, which is a major cause of terrible traffic tangle.

The capital city has already turned too ugly to behold. The ever-worsening traffic tangle, air pollution and severe scarcity of electricity, gas and drinking water have turned the capital into a diabolic city. The young generation, who are growing up in a claustrophobic environment, is becoming vulnerable to so many social ailments.

The underground water level in the capital has reached such an alarming proportion that the prime minister warned the nation about Dhaka facing an earthquake threat as its fallout. Experts have also been issuing similar warnings since long as the city is losing its geo-hydrological balance because of indiscriminate withdrawal of underground water.

The local government (LGRD) minister also expressed his grave concern about the city, apprehending that an unimaginable environmental disaster was awaiting the city dwellers.

In fact, these are old stories told afresh only to highlight the gravity of the situation.

The total population of Dhaka city grew from 0.1 million in 1906 to 12 million in 2008. Though nobody knows for sure, the guesstimate is that the present population of Dhaka is over 15 million, and more than two thousand people are being added to this number every day.

According to Social Science Research Council of the Planning Ministry, more than 71% of the city's nearly one million rickshaw-pullers were farmers prior to their migration to the capital. Lack of earning opportunities in the rural areas forced them to migrate to the capital though they used to enjoy a better livelihood in their villages. Stopping of such city bound exodus has become an imperative to protect Dhaka from becoming a vast city of slums.

Although two master plans for the city were formulated back in 1959 and 1997, they were never implementated. The Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan was prepared in the third stage. What is now imperative to make the capital livable is to curb further unplanned sprawl of the city and to expand the road network in accordance with the master plan.

Land grabbing and river pollution are, no doubt, other major causes of environmental degradation in the city. The land grabbers have now extended their greedy hands to grab the canals and rivers around the capital city. The government now has the list of land grabbers. Public expectation is that the government will deliver on the pledge to make Dhaka's rivers and canals free.

With the humiliating distinction of being the second worst city in the world, Dhaka is really a diabolic city plunged in manifold problems.

The government has finalised a Dhaka Mass Transit Authority Act to form an authority to operate metro-rail (mass rapid transit), dedicated bus service (bus rapid transit), subways and waterways in and around the city, aiming at facilitating speedy commuter movement.

Tk.107 crore has gone down the drain, as the mega project of circular waterways around the Dhaka city was shelved. The project was taken up in 2004, ostensibly to reduce traffic holdups in the capital.

Starting the construction in 1999, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has so far built three lines, 60 kilometres in length, in six years. About five years have already passed since the 20-year Strategic Transport Plan was prepared, and it may take decades to implement the metro-rail mega project.

The dwellers of Dhaka city have become quite accustomed to hearing about such mega projects turning Dhaka into a city fit for the 21st century, but have hardly seen any initiative that would suggest that there is hope for the future.

Dhaka remains as a problem-ridden city with terrible traffic congestion, scarcity of electricity, gas and drinking water, and lack of security, despite the promises by all the successive governments.

Therefore, the government needs to take some serious steps urgently to protect the city from imminent disaster. First of all, Dhaka bound exodus must be stopped and the huge number of unfit vehicles must be withdrawn from the streets. Dhaka is extremely over-burdened with more than 15 million people scrambling for its limited facilities and one million vehicles crawling on the streets.

   A. N. M. Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star. E-mail-

  [Source: The Daily Star] 


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