Dhaka towards a New Urban Agenda

Preyanka Chowdhury, Dhaka Community Manager
Dhaka, 24 October 2016

The Secretary of the Environment and Urbanization of the 20th Executive Council of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh, a contributor to the Daily Star on urban issues, and an architect and faculty member at Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, Sujaul Islam Khan, shares his impressions of the New Urban Agenda and contemplates the development predictions of Dhaka.

What are the major issues in Bangladesh's urbanization trajectory?

With 160 million people, Bangladesh is the world’s eighth most populous nation. It is a low-lying, deltaic country which is prone to regular water disasters such as erosion and flooding and will bear the brunt of climate change induced water calamities.

Unplanned urbanization, slums, lack of proper housing, infrastructure deficits, disruption of natural hydrology and pollution, poor waste management, and urban poverty are threatening sustainable growth of the nation. Wanton corruption, land grabbing, poor accountability of civil servants, and top-down elite biased decision making practices exacerbate the issues facing urbanization.

Has there been a significant commitment to the New Urban Agenda process from Bangladesh?

Yes, Bangladesh has been a significant contributor to the New Urban Agenda process. There is a consensus in the government regarding prioritizing urban management on the development agenda.

How can the New Urban Agenda have an impact on the ground in Bangladesh?

The draft document of the New Urban Agenda is an extremely pertinent document for managing urban growth to ensure sustainable development in Bangladesh. Even though it has been designed to address urbanization issues globally, it has special relevance for Bangladesh. The document emphasizes capacity-building, reconfiguring public agencies involved for urban planning on a nationwide scale, and re-organizing land use planning with development planning with an emphasis on environmental issues are very relevant to Bangladesh.

What are the major challenges of local implementation of a global agenda?

Political exigencies shape the process of prioritization of collective efforts in any given society. Such processes initiated by a top-down mindset have not often been conducive in the developing world. Scarcity of resources and institutional capacities for pursuance of goals which require positive political commitment, multi-sectoral collaboration and long-term strategic planning, monitoring and accountability handicap many efforts. Such goals need to become social movements with effective public-private collaboration.

How do you see Bangladesh's urbanization taking shape over the next decade or two?

Given the economic trends and projections, urbanization will continue for the next two decades. Quality of life in the cities will not improve due to urban mismanagement. Pressure on scarce land will increase and will hamper agriculture. If the river-linking projects in the upper riparian countries materialize, water will become scarce, exacerbating the downfall in agriculture. Climate change induced sea-level rising and water disasters will also trigger mass migration from the south.

The people of the Bengal delta are resourceful, resilient, and adaptable. Bangladesh, a nation plagued by poverty for almost three hundred years is now at the crossroads of prosperity. Given the track record of the tremendous amount of positive change over the last two decades in health, education, sanitation, communications, and many other sectors, I am optimistic that it will respond to the upcoming situation arising from rapid urbanization with ingenuity and effectiveness.

Photo: Tamanna Afrin

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