Building the resiliency of the urban poor

Sumaiya Nehla Saif, Dhaka Community Manager
Dhaka, 12 January 2016

Dhaka is one of the fastest growing cities in the world with 15 million people and widespread poverty. It is a prime example of a megacity rife with emerging global challenges and rapid urbanization. A call to work on those challenges at both the national and international levels will come at Habitat III, which is shorthand for the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.

In recent years, Dhaka has seen a number of major earthquakes, fires, and other similar accidents due to brittle structures, flammable slums, etc. However, the responsiveness towards these recurring events leading to loss of lives and property has been negligible. Poor implementation of safety measures as well as lack of enforcement of structure or building codes, emergency codes, and so forth, have added to the problems.

Many organizations are recently taking up projects to address these issues. One active project called Building Resilience of Urban Poor has been initiated by the World Bank, collaborating with the Government of Bangladesh and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It has both a natural disaster management component as well as urban planning and housing policy component and has two main projects under its umbrella: the $116 million Urban Building Safety Project (UBSP) and the $179.5 million Urban Resilience Project (URP). Both projects are designed to strengthen emergency response capacity, reinforce existing infrastructure, and reduce the vulnerability of future building construction to disaster events while increasing preparedness.

The project provides low-interest financing through participating financial institutions to improve earthquake resilience in private buildings. It also aims to construct a Fire Service and Civil Defense Headquarters and refurbish fire stations to save lives during earthquakes and other disasters. The UBSP will renovate fires stations, which will be equipped with search and rescue and emergency management equipment under URP. The UBSP will also facilitate the renovation of private garment factories and schools, while URP further identifies vulnerabilities in critical and lifeline infrastructure to prioritize renovation and retrofitting works going forward. Lastly, URP will incorporate the training and technical manuals produced by UBSP for Public Works Department into the capacity building programs of RAJUK and the City Corporations.

A similar project has been initiated by CARE Bangladesh which aims to build a cadre of community-based leaders to identify, plan for and respond to natural and human induced stresses and shocks. If implemented while staying true to its budget and free of corruption, these projects are promising and invaluable steps towards sustainable urban development.

Photo: Sudipta Arka Das

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