The demand for urbanization is rising worldwide, so is the steady influx of city-bound rural people. New mega cities are being built up, and millions of people are leaving their rural surroundings behind for the lifestyle and opportunities big cities seem to offer.
Currently, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. The rate was only 30 percent in 1950. It has been estimated that by 2050, the urban population will reach the 66 percent mark. The phenomenon of internal migration is far too common in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka. Dhaka is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. According to a UN report, Bangladesh ranks 11th in the list of the world's most overpopulated cities. In 2014, the city had a population of 17 million, which was 9 million in 1990. A survey conducted by the Global Cities Institute of the University of Toronto reveals that Dhaka will be the third most populated city in the world by 2050. The population will grow over 35 million by that time. The massive load of the population is already affecting the lives of Dhaka City dwellers. Even with existing hassles, rapid urbanization is going on strong. Dhaka has been declared the 2nd least livable city in the world already. In the annual Livability Ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an UK-based research organization, Dhaka scored 38.7 out of 100. The report lists 140 cities worldwide based on 30 different indicators such as healthcare, education, culture, environment, and infrastructure.
Dhaka is one of the oldest cities of Bangladesh. Various historical documents suggest that the existence of urbanized settlements in Dhaka date back to the 7th century. The city area was ruled by the Buddhist kingdom of Kamarupa before passing to the control of the Sena dynasty in the 9th century CE. After the Sena dynasty, Dhaka was successively ruled by Turk and Afghan governors descending from the Delhi Sultanate. In 1608, the Mughals arrived in Dhaka for the first time. Dhaka was renamed as Jahangirnagar in 1610. After the death of the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, the Mughal dynasty started to crumble, and the capital was shifted from Dhaka to Murshidabad. After the Mughals, the British ruled the region for almost 190 years until the independence of India. In 1947, Dhaka became the capital of the East Bengal province under the dominion of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka became the capital of the new state as per the constitution.
As a capital city, Dhaka is more than 400 years old. Based on old documents and archeological evidence, urbanized settlements were initiated in Dhaka 800 years ago. During the Sultanate (over 600 years ago), Dhaka was turned into the state capital of Bengal. Along with the Wari-Bateshwar ruins in Narsingdi, many archeological sites have been found around Dhaka that take Dhaka’s history back thousands of years. To get to know Dhaka’s history better, the history of the Bengal province has to be emphasized. If we take that approach, Dhaka’s history can be traced back to thousands of years in the past. Since some of the earliest archeological sites found so far, including Rajasan in Savar, king Harishchandra’s Mound Palace, and the Dagarmura archeological site are examples of the Buddhist tradition, Dhaka’s history should start from the Pal dynasty. If we do so, Dhaka’s history will have to be taken back to the mid- 8th century.
The ever-growing population is an ongoing problem for Dhaka. In the first population census in 1872, the population of Dhaka was found to be 69,212 which increased to 79,076 in 1881, 1, 25,000 in 1911, and 2, 39,000 in 1941. After the partition in 1947, many people migrated from India to Dhaka, taking the population to 336,000 by 1951. According to the 1961 census, the population in Dhaka was 556,000, which is about a 44.63 percent growth in a decade. The growth rate increased drastically after 1971 and reached to 1,680,000 by 1974. According to the 1990 population census, the population in the Dhaka megacity area was 6,887,000. The 2001 census found that the population had grown to 9,673,000. By 2011, it increased to 114.172 million. Every year, approximately 629,000 new people are being added to Dhaka’s population. A city with a population of at least 10 million is called a megacity by the UN’s Human Settlements Program called UN‐HABITAT.
A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report published in October 2016 found that Dhaka is one of the most densely populated megacities in the world, with a density of 43,500 people per square kilometer. Of the neighboring megacities, population density is 32,400 per square kilometer in Mumbai and 26,400 per square kilometer in Hong Kong. Compared to the other three main cities in the countryChittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi, the population in the Dhaka metropolitan area has increased much more rapidly in the last 13 years. The report also said that the populations of Dhaka and its adjacent areas have doubled in the last 20 years. By estimating the type of growth, it has been found that the population of Dhaka megacity is increasing by 1700 people per day. While the annual population growth in the country is 1.47 percent, in Dhaka it is 3.82 percent. In some areas adjacent to this megacity, the growth rate is over 20 percent a year.
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and UNFPA said that Dhaka megacity is the most concentrated urban area in the country. Four City Corporations (Dhaka North, Dhaka South, Narayanganj, and Gazipur), two big cities (Savar and Keraniganj), four cantonments (Dhaka, Mirpur, Savar and Rajendrapur) and a number of small towns are part of the Dhaka megacity, and 10 percent of the country’s population lives in this megacity. According to a recent study, Dhaka’s population will reach the 27-million mark by 2030, which will make this megacity the 6th biggest city in the world. The research also assessed the rate of internal migration. According to the research, 25 percent people come to Dhaka from various districts of the Dhaka division, 20 percent from Barisal division, 10 percent from Chittagong division, 6 percent from Rangpur division, 4 percent from Rajshahi and Khulna division, and 1 percent from Sylhet division.
Mayor of Dhaka South City CorporationAt first, we have to agree on the size of Dhaka. If we cannot specifically identify Dhaka’s territory, we will not get an accurate answer about its population. Without accurate data, how can we take development initiatives? It is quite unfortunate that 45 years after the liberation war we are still talking about our capital city’s territorial size. According to the draft of the 20-year infrastructural planning, RAJUK has 1,624 square kilometers of area. Three districts, four city corporations, five municipalities and 70 upazilas fall within this territory. This planning estimated that by 2020 Dhaka’s population will be 26 million.
Dhaka is the city of opportunity. This city has provided work opportunities to 1.8 million RMG workers, 1 million construction workers and 500,000 rickshaw-pullers. The lure of a better life is continuously attracting people from distant parts of the country to Dhaka. This attraction is known as the “pull factor.” On the other hand, many people are being forced to move to Dhaka after losing their homes and property to river erosion and natural calamities. This is the “push factor”. From education to begging, everything has a better prospect in Dhaka. Everything important in Bangladesh is Dhaka-centric. The other areas live in Dhaka permanently, even after retiring from their jobs. Ironically, people from villages and small towns often die on their way to the hospitals in Dhaka. The massive pressure of overpopulation is not only affecting the residential, social, and economic aspects of people's lives, but the environment is also taking a big blow from this situation. Dingy slums have sprung up over large areas of the city where homeless and poor people live. The main military headquarters in the country is located in the capital. Every day over 400,000 to 500,000 people also come to this city as commuters by launch, train, and bus. After receiving their desired service, they leave the city.
Dr. Sarwar Jahan
Professor, Urban, and Regional Planning Department, (BUET)During the Liberation War of 1971, Dhaka’s population was 1.5 million, which increased to 3 million in 1981, 6.5 million in 1991, over 10 million in 2001 and 15 million as of now. In the last 41 years, the population has increased 10 times. Geographically, Dhaka is located at the center of Bangladesh. This city has road, train, and water communication system with the rest of the country. It is the center of all power since all the major government offices operate from this city. As a result, everyone wants to move to Dhaka. Due to lack of proper communication systems and resources, the entrepreneurs do not want to venture out of Dhaka. Forty percent of the country's employment is in Dhaka. As a result, the influx of new people is only rising day by day. In Old Dhaka, 400-500 people live per acre of land, whereas the figure is 200-250 people in areas like Dhanmondi and Gulshan. The existing policies are allowing the construction of 14 to15 storied buildings, despite the high risk of earthquake in this area.
Dhaka is the city of opportunity. This city has provided work opportunities to 1.8 million RMG workers, 1 million construction workers and 500,000 rickshaw-pullers. The lure of a better life is continuously attracting people from distant parts of the country to Dhaka. This attraction is known as the “pull factor.” On the other hand, many people are being forced to move to Dhaka after losing their homes and property to river erosion and natural calamities. This is the “push factor”. From education to begging, everything has a better prospect in Dhaka. Everything important in Bangladesh is Dhaka-centric. The main offices of all the important government organizations and main buildings of most private organizations are located in Dhaka. Most of the well-known education and healthcare institutions have been set up near these public and private institutions. Since there is no decentralization, not more than a few quality academic and healthcare facilities can be found outside Dhaka. Even though there are some good educational and healthcare institutions, the locals do not have much faith in them. Everyone wants to get the best possible option they can afford, and the common belief is that Dhaka has the best of everything.
No matter how scarce the job prospects are, or how difficult the job market may be, most people believe that they will get some sort of job in Dhaka. The increasing number of English medium schools, coaching centers, training centers, hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers, shopping malls, etc., in every nook and corner of Dhaka city is an example of people's desperation to make a life in this city. Even a few years ago, people would go back to the villages or their hometowns after retirement. Many people preferred to have some peaceful, serene days before their death. However, the situation has changed greatly. Most people who move from other areas live in Dhaka permanently, even after retiring from their jobs. Ironically, people from villages and small towns often die on their way to the hospitals in Dhaka. The massive pressure of overpopulation is not only affecting the residential, social, and economic aspects of people's lives, but the environment is also taking a big blow from this situation. Dingy slums have sprung up over large areas of the city where homeless and poor people live. The main military headquarters in the country is located in the capital. Every day over 400,000 to 500,000 people also come to this city as commuters by launch, train, and bus. After receiving their desired service, they leave the city
Professor Dr. AKM Nurun Nabi
Population expert, founder and chairman of the Department of Population Sciences in Dhaka UniversityThere is no alternative to Dhaka in our country, so people are rushing to this city. There are many reasons behind this migration. Education, employment, better healthcare, a search for a better life in general, and all of these are valid reasons. This city is the place to develop one's skills. In the 1950s, the district-upazila level small towns used to serve the people well. However, now they are not being able to keep pace with technological advancements. All the administrative offices are in Dhaka. Even Chittagong does not come close enough when it comes to the facilities available in Dhaka. We have to build alternative towns to decrease the dependency on Dhaka. By using small-scale technologies, non-agricultural developments can be achieved in rural areas. By doing so we can control the influx of Dhaka-bound people.
In the modern age, Dhaka has established a reputation as the center of quality education in Bangladesh. Since the establishment of Dhaka Government Collegiate School in 1835, the city opened its door to a new type of education for thousands of people. Along with general education, a number of vocational institutions were set up in the city. The Law Department of Dhaka College in 1863, Dhaka Medical School (adjacent to Mitford school) in 1875, and Dhaka Survey School was founded in 1876. All of these institutes were later converted to full technical and specialized education centers. With the establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, Dhaka became the epitome of higher education for students countrywide.
Currently, a number of public, private, and technical institutions are providing education on a wide range of subjects including the arts, science, commerce, engineering, medicine, fine arts, music, etc. Most of the renowned intellectuals, high-ranking bureaucrats, military officials, diplomats, technocrats, doctors, lawyers, and writers that we know today were educated in the educational institutions of Dhaka. The developments in education are one of the contributing factors behind the rapid expansion of the city. Of the 82 public and private universities in the country, 60 are in Dhaka. Similarly, 28 out of the 75 government and private medical college hospitals are in Dhaka. Not only in terms of quantity, but this city also provides the best options when it comes to the quality of education. According to BSS data, over 10.773 million students study in the schools, colleges, universities and madrasas in the country. Of them, 3.03 million (28 percent) reside and study in the Dhaka division.
Former secretary, Ministry of Planning, Government of BangladeshThe government has a number of plans to reduce the population pressure in Dhaka City. To create more job opportunities throughout the country, the government has taken the initiative of establishing 100 new economic zones. We have found that people from the coastal districts, especially Patuakhali and Barisal are coming to Dhaka at a high rate. To provide job opportunities to them, we are establishing the Payrabondor port. Once the port is established, industrial factories will be set up in that area, opening many new job opportunities. Many people are also being given benefits under the social security program. This program will discourage migration to Dhaka.
Over the course of the last two years, Dhaka has slowly emerged as an important center of trade and commerce in South Asia. It is a great achievement considering how little Bangladesh had when it became an independent country. The Liberation War destroyed almost all the industries in the country. Alongside, the West Pakistani businessmen withdrew their capital after the liberation. Yet, in post-liberation Bangladesh, industrialization spread rapidly. With the timely initiatives of the public and private financial organizations, investment in commerce and industry increased steadily. After the liberation, Bangladesh established communication with the world market. Currently, Dhaka and its adjacent areas are considered an industrial zone. Dhaka is the most important commercial center of the country as well. A number of multistoried shopping malls and departmental stores have been set up all over the capital city where a wide range of products are sold. This new, international format of the marketplace is gradually taking over the old-style grocery stores in the city.
With the increase of a middleclass population in Dhaka, the market for consumer and luxury goods is expanding. Alongside, the city offers a wide range of options to the lower and lower-middle class as well. Hawkers, street shops, mobile shops, etc., are selling all the necessary products and goods at a very low price.
Even though the housing crisis hit an all-time high with the rising population growth, the residential arrangement in Dhaka City has gone through some amazing changes over the years. Along with posh houses on private property, a number of planned residential area and colonies were set up in Dhaka starting from the end of the twentieth century. This model worked for a long time, and still exists in many parts of the town. After 1980, the scarcity of land created the need for establishing high rise buildings for both residential and commercial purposes. Local engineers, architects, and builders are collaborating with international companies to build new buildings. In recent years, some areas of the city have turned into posh and attractive residential areas by establishing many expensive and luxurious apartments. Yet, one-third of the city’s population still lives in unhealthy slums. Recently, the government has taken up residential planning for middle- and lowerincome families.
With the establishment of the Dhaka municipality in 1864, Dhaka initiated modern trends of public service. Certain restrictions were imposed on the construction of houses, wide roads were constructed, a modern sanitation system was established, and water supply through pipelines was set up in the city. At the same time, the traffic system was introduced and power lines were established. Both government grants and private donations made these changes possible. In the last 30 years, many new amenities have been added to the list of public services. Internal communication systems within the city have been strengthened. Many new road networks have been set up, connecting the entire country to the capital. Gas supply was established in the 1970s, which upgraded the way people cook. In recent years, the establishment of a number of new power plants have made electricity more available to city dwellers. However, it is still not enough to meet the need. From telephone, telex and fax, to today's Internet, all the communicational changes started from the capital and gradually spread across the country. Even though there are many irregularities and problems, Dhaka still provides its dwellers with some amenities other parts of the country lack. This is the reason why so many people are moving to Dhaka.
Professor Nazrul Islam
Chairman of the Urban Research CentreThe government and policymakers are not thinking about the future of Dhaka City with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. Dhaka is moving at its own pace. Fifty-five percent of the people, who lose their homes and property due to climate change, move to Dhaka. Forty percent of the GDP comes from Dhaka City as well. Considering the bigger picture, special attention should be paid urgently to this city.
Dhaka is one of the central points of sociocultural activity, regional politics, economics, social, cultural and sports-related activities in South Asia. National and international conventions and festivals of culture, music, cinema, theater, dance, and literature are regularly being arranged in Dhaka. Most of these events take place in the Ramna, Segun Bagicha and Shahbag areas in the city. So, the government is planning to turn this area into the Dhaka Cultural Sphere.
Many public and private organizations including Dhaka University, Bangla Academy, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Bangladesh National Museum, Bangladesh National Archives and Library, the National Library, Nazrul Institute, Institute of Fine Arts (Charukola), Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts etc. are making a significant contribution to the country’s cultural activities. Lately, Dhaka is being praised for arranging international cricket, football, hockey, volleyball and other sports tournaments. The city hosted a number of international cricket tournaments successfully and earned praise all over the world.
As the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka is the center of all the important government offices. As a result, for any government-related activities, people have to come to Dhaka. For the convenience of work and business, many people end up living in the city.
Even though the medical facilities available in Dhaka have their share of problems, it is still better than what is available in the rest of the country. Dhaka has a number of hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers and other healthcare and treatment facilities. There are a number of big hospitals equipped with sophisticated equipment and trained physicians. As a result, patients from all over the country rush to Dhaka every day for treatment.
Most of the people who come to Dhaka in search of work end up in the slums. Dhaka has been struggling with residential arrangements for its growing population since the 1970s. Slums have existed in Dhaka City for a long time but their growth accelerated after the liberation of the country in 1971, mainly due to mass migration by the rural poor. The number of homeless, resourceless population has increased by many times in recent years, which has created the need to set up more slums. Currently, Dhaka has 4,720 slums, accommodating over 4 million people. The living condition in the slums is almost inhuman. The rooms are small and congested having next to no ventilation. Environmental services, especially water and sanitation, are very poor in the slums.
Over 500,000 people are moving to Dhaka every year. In the past, the migrant population used to build small houses over public land. However, with the massive burden of growing population and land shortage, most people have to stay in the slums. The rent of a small room in these slums is not at all cheap, considering the lack of security, sanitation or any other basic facility. Yet, rural people are flocking to Dhaka City on a regular basis. Most of these people have a somewhat unrealistic idea about work opportunities in the city. Completely unprepared to face the challenges of this city, many of them suffer cultural shock, and live a far worse life in Dhaka than they did in their own hometowns and villages.
According to World Bank estimates, every year an average of 700,000 people are coming to Dhaka in search of work. Most of these people are very poor. While some of them come here for better work opportunities, others are forced to come after losing all their belongings and properties to natural disasters. One-third of these people end up in the slums and countless others squat around or live on the streets as homeless people. Of the 160 million people in our country, 105.5 million are still poor. They make up 66 percent of the total population. Alongside, 31.3 percent, which is about 50 million, belong to the middle class, and only 4.40 million, 2.7 percent of the population, are rich. According to BBS’ agricultural census, the number of homeless families in Bangladesh is 1.51 million, and a good number of them reside in Dhaka.
According to a BBS survey, only 600,000 people were employed in FY 2013-14 and FY 2014-15. Meanwhile, almost 2.7 million people entered the job market during these two years. By that estimate, the number of unemployed increased to 4.8 million in two years. The International Labor Organization (ILO) report published in January 2016 mentioned that the employment rate in Bangladesh has decreased compared to the previous year. Not only that, the labor and job markets will consolidate in Bangladesh and the entire world in the next three years. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the employment rate in Bangladesh will decrease by 4 percent. In another ILO report published in 2015, Bangladesh was ranked 12th among the 20 countries where unemployment is rising. According to BBS data, employment has increased by 1.6 percent in the last one decade. Creation of new employment decreases by 2 percent. Every year 2.7 million people enter the labor market, but only 189,000 find jobs. In search of work, almost 1700 new people are descending on Dhaka every day.
Over the years, hundreds and thousands of people have lost all of their property and belongings to river erosion. Every year almost 25 acres of land are disappearing because of river erosion. As per the estimates of a number of organizations, over 4 million people have become victims of river erosion in post-liberation Bangladesh. Every year the number of homeless migrants due to river erosion is increasing by 200,000 to 250,000. After losing all of their land and property, most of these people move to the big cities in search of work. Some 500,000 people move to the capital, Dhaka, from coastal and rural areas each year. Many of these people are forced to move because environmental factors have made it hard for them to earn a decent living. Coastal flooding is occurring more frequently, destroying crops and rice fields that sustain villagers. Catastrophic storms and floods destroy homes, and often entire villages. In some parts of the country, severe drought makes it impossible to grow any food during the summer. In the past, people would come to the cities to earn some money, and go back home after saving up some money. However, as the effects of climate change are becoming more severe, more people are staying in Dhaka’s slums permanently. This influx to the cities is expected to continue since natural calamities are expected to rise in the near future.
There are a number of income sources in the cities. If the villages had more employment opportunities and income sources, so many people would not have come to Dhaka in the first place. It is not like no development initiatives are being undertaken in the villages. However, those are not quite adequate, or satisfactory to most people. A rickshaw puller in Dhaka can earn substantially more than an agricultural worker in the village. Most of the big industrial factories are located in and around Dhaka City. If some of these factories could have been relocated to rural areas, it would have opened up new work opportunities locally. All of the big industries are city-centric. As a result, rural people are moving to the cities in search of work. Even though living conditions in Dhaka City are harsh and almost inhuman, people are willing to go through a few years of discomfort in order to achieve financial stability.
Newcomers to Dhaka City usually end up in the slums, paying BDT5,000 to BDT6,000 per month for a cramped little room. Many of them leave their families behind in their villages or hometowns and share small rooms with strangers in these slums. The living condition in these rooms is miserably sub-human. There is almost no ventilation, daylight does not enter the room, and the sanitation and hygiene conditions are absolutely horrible. To go to work, most of these people use the cheapest available public transportation that has no regard for safety. Living in the capital, they are deprived of most basic human rights. The most unfortunate thing about migrating to Dhaka is that the achievements often do not measure up to the sacrifices. After missing out on precious family time, living in inhumane conditions, working long hours, and paying high rent, most people cannot save any money at the end of the month. They remain just as poor, only with a higher income than what they used to make in the villages.
Dhaka is the fourth least livable city in the world, according to a survey carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The largest city in the country was rated 137th among 140 cities in the survey. Dhaka is only ahead of Lagos of Nigeria, Tripoli of Libya, and Damascus of Syria. The three cities ahead of Dhaka belong to war-stricken, conflict-ridden countries. The rating quantifies the challenges that might be presented to an individual's lifestyle across five broad categories of stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. On stability, Dhaka scored 50 while on healthcare, the score is 29.2. The score on culture and environment was 43.3, education 41.7 and infrastructure 26.8. The ranking shows some improvements, as Bangladesh used to be the second least livable city in the world in 2015.
A male-to-female shift in rural to urban migration has been seen in Bangladesh, especially in the two major cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, according to a report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The study found a strong female dominance from ages 10 to 29. For Dhaka megacity, there are 167 female migrants for every 100 male migrants while the number is 166 for every 100 male migrants in Chittagong district. The change is mostly due to the demand for women workers in the RMG factories, which are located in city areas, the report added.At a seminar on October 19, 2016, UNFPA representative Argentina Matavel Piccin, said, “This trend, despite providing girls and women with new opportunities, comes with many challenges attached to them, which city administrations, policymakers, and employers need to pay close attention to.”
Experts say that Dhaka is drowning under the pressure of a population bomb. If the expansion of the city as well as the steady influx of new people cannot be stopped, Dhaka will turn into a non-functional city in the future. Dhaka is being ranked in top positions as the least livable city in the world every year. If steps are not taken to control the situation, one day we might have to abandon the city altogether. Decentralization is the only way to stop the incoming wave of population growth. If the educational institutions, industries and at least some of the important government offices can be relocated to other parts of the country, the overdependence on Dhaka will be reduced. In a democratic country, the government cannot impose a ban on people from moving to one area of the country to another. However, if rural and small town people are given the same amenities and opportunities as Dhaka dwellers, they will not have the incentive to move to Dhaka. With proper urban planning, Dhaka can be relieved of the burden of overpopulation.
To solve the traffic congestion problem in the long run and to improve the transportation system, some decision has to be made about Dhaka’s size and population. In order to control the traffic congestion problem, the city cannot be expanded anymore. In all of the big cities in the world, traffic control planning has ensured a fixed number for the size of the town. An UNFPA report regarding the population problem in Bangladesh made several recommendations about keeping the population under control. It stressed the decentralization of educational institutions, medical services, and banking services. By establishing industries in other parts of the country, the decentralization of employment can be achieved. To make transportation more time and cost efficient, commuter trains should be introduced. The report added that it has made similar recommendations in the past, but nothing was done to implement them.
Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Environment Movement (BAPA), said, gUnplanned urbanization is the main reason behind traffic congestion in Dhaka and its nearby areas. There should be bypass roads near Dhaka so that everyone does not have to cross Dhaka unnecessarily. Secondly, industrialization has to be decentralized in a controlled manner. Other big cities have to be given the opportunity to earn and spend money so that their dependency on Dhaka City is diminished. All the relevant ministries and organizations have to work together to make Dhaka livable again.