Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Sunday, August 19, 2018 03:57:38 AM
Follow Us On: Facebook Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter

Dhaka losing its charms fast

photo by

By
20th-Apr-2018       
Comments
Share your thought
Post a comment »
Read all () »

Rayhan Ahmed Topader :
The world’s worst job, global media declared last year after pictures of the workers neck-deep in waste went viral. According to UN Habitat, Dhaka is the world's most crowded city. With more than 44,500 people sharing each square kilometre of space, and more migrating in from rural areas every day, the capital is literally bursting at the seams and the sewers.
The cleaners, who make about £225 per month, risk their health and their lives to prop up infrastructure that is groaning under the weight of the population. Too many people, too few resources. Overpopulation is usually defined as the state of having more people in one place that can live there comfortably, or more than the resources available can cater for. By that measure, Dhaka is a textbook example.There is cities bigger in size than Dhaka in the world," says Prof Nurun Nabi, project director at the Department of Population Sciences at the University of Dhaka. But if you talk in terms of the characteristics and nature of the city, Dhaka is the fastest growing megacity in the world, in terms of population size.
“Cities can be densely populated without being overpopulated. Singapore, a small island, has a high population density about 10,200 per sq km but few people would call it overpopulated. The city has grown upwards to accommodate its residents in high-rises, some with rooftop sky-gardens and running tracks. The government has been trying to manage Dhaka city well, but has not been as successful as expected,” says Sujon, the sewer cleaner, over a creamy cup of cha, Bangladeshi tea, in the modest flat he shares with his family in bustling central Dhaka.
Bangladesh’s crowded capital, but the tragedy of 2008 was the worst. After a day of heavy rainfall left the streets flooded as usual seven workers were assigned to clear a blocked manhole in Rampura, in the centre of the city. Normally, cleaners cling to ropes to stop them getting sucked in by surging water when they clear blockages. But these groups were new to the job. They didn't know about the impending danger or how to work in that situation, says Sujon. So, sewer water swallowed them. Bystanders smashed the road open with hammers and shovels. Eventually, they dragged out three workers, dead. Another four were seriously injured; one later died in hospital. The accident instilled fear in us, and for months we were even afraid to look into the sewers. During Bangladesh’s relentless monsoon season, Dhaka is submerged several times a month.
The overburdened drains clog and the low-lying city fills with water like a bathtub. Newspapers such as the Dhaka Tribune bemoan the inundation with pictures of flooded buses and quotes from peeved commuters and despondent urban experts: Dhaka underwater again; It's the same old story. On the sides of the roads, in the blinding rain, the ragtag army of sewer cleaners goes to work. Some poke bamboo sticks into the manholes. Others are plunged, half-naked, into the liquid filth and forced to scoop out the sludge with their bare hands.
Outside, painted rickshaws tinkle through narrow, waterlogged streets. While Bangladesh is majority Muslim, like many in his profession, Sujon is Hindu. Hindus were singled out for persecution during the country's war for independence from Pakistan and remain subject to discrimination. He is also a dalit, belonging to the caste known throughout south Asia as untouchables and consigned to menial jobs. In Bangladesh, they are called by the derogatory term methor those who clean shit. I have inherited this from my forefathers and have no other work skills, says Sujon, who is tall and in his early 40s, with a long, thin face and neat moustache. I have a family to maintain, children to offer education and monthly bills to pay, including rent. I’m forced to do this job, although I know it brings me disrespect and disgrace. It is thankless, dangerous work. A friend of Sujon’s was killed when a septic tank he was cleaning exploded. Recently, Sujon's brother, Sushil, had to hang on to a leaking gas pipeline while trying to clear a 10-foot-deep manhole. If we had a washer or pump machine, the risk could be reduced,” he says. We could use the pump to dry up the manhole before going down to clear it up. Also, we need to have a ladder to go down.
But we just get an order to get the work done, so we manage people and try to finish it as quickly as possible. Then there are the health effects. Sujon blames a mysterious skin rash on the hours spent submerged. The sewerage lines are acidic and poisonous due to rotten filth. So cleaners are hundred percent sure to have health problems, especially skin problems. Often they don’t realise it at all.
They’ll buy and drink some local liquor, feel dizzy and fall asleep. They’ll be out of this world by then. If they had their senses they would realise the damage being done slowly. To live in Dhaka is to suffer, to varying degrees. The poor are crammed into sprawling shantytowns, where communicable diseases fester and fires sporadically raze homes. Slum-dwellers make up around 40 per cent of the population. The middle and upper classes spend much of their time stuck in interminable traffic jams. The capital regularly tops least livable cities rankings. This year it sat behind Lagos, Nigeria, and the capitals of war-ravaged Libya and Syria. It wasn’t always like this.
In the 1960s, before Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, Nabi recalls, it was possible to drive down empty roads in Dhaka. People bathed in Mughal-era canals in the old part of the city, which is still home to centuries-old architecture, although much has been razed in pursuit of development. The canals have been filled in, cutting off a vital source of drainage. Like much of the world; Bangladesh has undergone rapid, unplanned urbanisation.
The economic opportunities conferred by globalisation, as well as climate-induced disasters in rural and coastal areas, have driven millions to seek better fortune in the capital, putting a strain on resources. We can see a huge avalanche coming towards the city from the rural areas, says Nabi. People are pouring, pouring, pouring in. Do we have the housing infrastructure to accommodate them? Where are the facilities for poor people to live?
Bangladesh’s reluctance to decentralise and invest in cities beyond Dhaka has compounded the problem. You go to India, just the neighbouring country, you will find Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, so many cities where you can live, you can survive. Here, we only have Dhaka still. For most of modern history, cities grew out of wealth. Even in more recently developed countries, such as China and Korea, the flight towards cities has largely been in line with income growth. But recent decades have brought a global trend for ‘poor-country urbanisation, in the words of Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser, with the proliferation of low-income megacities. According to Glaeser’s research, in 1960 most countries with a per capita income of less than $1,000 had urbanisation rates of fewer than 10 per cent. By 2011, the urbanisation rate of less developed countries stood at 47 per cent. In other words, urbanisation has outpaced development, resulting in the creation of teeming but dysfunctional megacities such as Lagos, Karachi, Kinshasa and Dhaka. Dense urban populations, Glaeser writes, bring benefits such as social and creative movements as well as scourges like disease and congestion. Almost all of these problems can be solved by competent governments with enough money, he writes. In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar successfully fought traffic by introducing a daytime ban on the driving of carts in the city. Baghdad and Kaifeng, China, meanwhile, were renowned for their waterworks. These places didn’t have wealth, but they did have a competent public sector, writes Glaeser. In much of the developing world today, both are in short supply. In Dhaka, management of the city falls to a chaotic mix of competing bodies.
The lack of coordination between government agencies that provide services is one of the major obstacles. Seven different government departments  including two separate mayors are working to combat water-logging, an arrangement that has led to a farcical game of buck-passing. In July, mayor of south Dhaka Sayeed Khokon stood knee-deep in water and said the Water Supply and Sewage Authority (WASA) was liable but could not be seen much at work. WASA subsequently blamed Khokon. Elsewhere, north Dhaka's late mayor Annisul Huq, also visiting waterlogged areas, turned to a reporter in exasperation and asked: Someone tell me what the solution is? Since natural sources of drainage are scarce, the government has to pump water out of the city through several thousand kilometres of pipeline laid across the city. The reason why there is water congestion in Dhaka city is because it’s a megacity its population growth is too high, he says. WASA once worked for six million people, but today there are about 15 million people that are the reason why the natural water bodies and water drainage systems have been destroyed and housing has been built up. In 2013, the city signed a deal to dredge some of the canals following the example of Sylhet, another Bangladeshi city suffering from water logging but there has been little sign of progress. A Bangladeshi woman holds a glass of contaminated water in Dhaka. Many stories will be written by the people of this nation but dysfunctional administrations have not always been an obstacle to getting things done in Bangladesh.
The country has won praise for its adaptation-focused response to climate change. And some urban planners are rethinking the prevailing negative view of slums, while urbanisation which tends to bring declining birth rates can be a partial solution to overpopulation.
Glaeser points out that social movements formed in the confines of urban areas can have the power to change and discipline governments. In the meantime, however, the unchanged misery of the sewer cleaners serves as a reminder that, as cities grow, they tend to get more unequal. The whole system is against us, against our progress and our development. Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, but our community’s conditions remain the same.
(Rayhan Ahmed Topadar is a writer and columnist)  

Tariff
Add Rate

News Archive

Inside The New Nation

Editorial »

Sanctions by USA and European Union are welcome but more effective measures will be needed


IN the latest development, the US Treasury on Friday slapped sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units for involvement in "ethnic cleansing" and other human rights abuses against the country's Rohingya minority. In response to Myanmar's crackdown on the Rohingyas, the sanctions are so far ...

Sports »

Bolt arrives in Australia on football quest


Usain Bolt says he's deadly serious about becoming a professional footballer and plans to show the world what he's capable of after arriving in Australia Saturday for a trial stint with an A-League club.The superstar athlete has been given the chance to prove his worth by the Central Coast Mariners, ...

Entertainment »

Sonali Bendre`s son posts an emotional message


Family and close friends of Bollywood actress Sonali Bendre have come out as the biggest support in her journey of fighting cancer. The actress who has been diagnosed with high-grade cancer is undergoing her treatment in New York. Being a true fighter, Sonali has not shied away from sharing her ...

Entertainment »

Poet Shamsur Rahman's 12th death anniversary observed


Entertainment Desk : The 12th death anniversary of Shamsur Rahman, one of the major poets in modern Bengali literature, was observed on Friday in a befitting manner.Marking the anniversary, different socio-cultural organisations placed wreaths at the grave of the poet at Banani graveyard and arranged Doa Mahfil.Jatiya Kabita Parishad and Kabi ...

City »

BNP Vice-Chairman Advocate Khondkar Mahbub Hossain speaking at a discussion on 'Next National Election Under Interrogation Without Reform of Election Commission' organised by 'Chetona Bangladesh' at the Jatiya Press Club on Saturday.


International »

Ex-CIA directors issue unprecedented Trump condemnation


AFP, Washington :Former CIA directors and another half dozen of America's most senior spies have issued an unprecedented condemnation of President Donald Trump, after his decision to blacklist their colleague John Brennan.In a statement, ex-CIA bosses appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents - including Robert Gates, George Tenet, Porter Goss, ...

Editorial »

US editors slam Trump for exerting power over free press and strength of democracy


THE rebuke of the US President Donald Trump by over 350 US dailies and other media outlets in their editorials on Thursday has come as a coordinated response to Trump's dirty war against the media and in defense of the press freedom. His sustained attack on free media as 'fake ...

Sports »

Serena learned just before Konta loss that half-sister's killer had been freed


Serena Williams says she discovered just minutes before her match against Johanna Konta last month that the man convicted of killing her half-sister had been released on parole.Briton Konta inflicted the worst defeat of Williams' career by winning 6-1 6-0 in the first round of the Silicon Valley Classic in ...

City »

Convenor of Jatiya Oikya Prokriya Dr Kamal Hossain, among others, at a solidarity meeting organised by prokriya at the Jatiya Press Club on Friday demanding unconditional release of students who were arrested during quota reform movement.


Entertainment »

Radhika Apte gears up for her upcoming project in Mumbai


Radhika Apte who has been juggling multiple projects efficiently is in Mumbai currently promoting her upcoming series on an OTT.  The actress has a lot on her plate as she's currently promoting her upcoming Netflix original Ghoul which is her third project with Netflix followed by the success of her ...

Chittagong »

PSC Chairman expresses dissatisfaction


Sarwaruddin, Chattogram Bureau :Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Ministry of Railway ABM Fazle Karim Chowdhury MP expressed dissatisfaction over the irregularities, corruptions and mismanagement in Railway East Zone . The dissatisfaction over the activities in East Zone office was expressed on Thursday while exchanging views with the ...

International »

Chinese bombers likely training for US strikes: Pentagon


AFP, Washington :Chinese bombers are likely training for strikes against US and allied targets in the Pacific, according to a new Pentagon report that also details how Beijing is transforming its ground forces to "fight and win."The annual report to Congress, released Thursday, highlights China's growing military, economic and diplomatic ...

International »

Ex-Trump aide releases recording of $15,000 job offer to "buy silence"


AFP, Washington  :Former "Apprentice" and White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman released an audio recording Thursday which appeared to show President Donald Trump's daughter-in-law trying to buy her silence.The disgruntled former Trump champion gave a recording to NBC, featuring Lara Trump-wife of the president's son Eric-saying the offer of a ...

Life »

New cure for migraine


Life Desk  :The first drug to prevent migraine has been approved by European health officials. According to a report in The Guardian, the drug Erenumab will now be examined by English and Scottish health agencies to determine if it is viable to be used by officials of National Health Service. ...

Business & Economy »

Erdogan, Macron vow to foster trade ties


AFP, Ankara :Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron agreed in a phone call Thursday to foster trade ties, a Turkish presidential source said, after the lira's dramatic fall in the wake of escalating tensions with the US."Both leaders emphasised the importance of fostering economic and ...

 
Items that you save may be read at any time on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
 
Are you new to our website? Do you have already an account at our website?
Create An Account Log in here
Email this news to a friend or like someone
Email:
Write a comment to this news