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VOL 23 NO 349 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Monday, November 07 2016


M. S. Siddiqui

Urbanisation, to a large extent, has become an undeniable reality for many countries.
Unfortunately, the nature of rapid urbanisation in Bangladesh is taking place without the benefit
of a substantive and sophisticated urban policy or vision. The rise of urbanisation is not a
convivial agenda but it has enormous potential to guide the country towards inclusive growth and
sustainable environment. The eleventh of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) envisioned by the United Nations -- is a call for sustainable cities and communities.
By and large, informal economic activities play an important role in fostering urbanisation. The
informal sector plays an 'intermediary' role in this regard - the transformation of a rural
agriculture-based economy to an urban industrialised economy. However, this transition varies
according to demographic and economic factors of a country.
In Bangladesh, as in other developing countries, poverty has long been associated with rural
areas. Nevertheless, rapid urbanisation during the last few decades has spread poverty in Dhaka
and other cities due to the transfer of rural poor to the urban areas. To some extent, urban poverty
reflects active rural-urban transmigrations because cities offer better opportunities for individuals
to improve their welfare. Indeed, cities have served poor people as platforms for upward mobility
in the past. Almost 70 per cent of the transmigrations are intended for better employment
opportunities. Urban poverty has got inadequate attention in the governmental policy, practice
and research due to the ambiguity of its causes and consequences.
Scholars often argue that the 'cycle of poverty' perpetuates the social exclusion of many people.
Their descent into a 'vicious cycle of exclusion' produces even more exclusion. The
impoverished city-dwellers comprise different groups with diverse needs, levels and types of
vulnerability. These differences are based on genders, physical or mental disabilities, ethnic or
racial backgrounds, household structures, and the extent of poverty itself. Different components
of social exclusion influence each other as it creates a spiral of insecurity ending in multiple
deprivations. The words 'income' and 'consumption' are the most frequently-used proxies for
defining poverty in multiple dimensions. Besides, poverty is also associated with insufficient
outcomes in terms of health, nutrition, literacy along with social exclusion, insecurity, low self-

esteem and powerlessness.

Urban poverty is better understood by an illustration of the informal sector in all its facets -people, activities and habitat. People denote the labour force, activities denote the occupations or
enterprises in which they work and habitat -- their shelter or residential environment such as the
slums and squatter settlements.
Moreover, the average welfare indicators such as, income, healthcare, education or sanitation
cannot give a correct picture of poverty within a city. As a result, cities of different sizes tend to
have different problems. In most cities, coexistence of the poor and the rich is an actuality
despite their intra-urban differences in social, environmental, and health conditions.
Until recently, the government has apparently ignored urban poverty. The 7th Five-year Plan has
an urbanisation strategy to address the challenges of health, shelter, land, infrastructure and
employment without any particular reference to the urbanised poor. Urbanisation is changing the
face of poverty in Bangladesh. The city is increasingly characterised by large slums, poor
housing, excessively high land prices, traffic congestion, water shortages, poor sanitation and
drainage, irregular electric supply, unplanned construction, increasing air pollution and an
incompetent urban governance causing problems of law and order.
Everyday, countless migrants come to Dhaka and usually start living in the slums in a miserable
condition. In 2003, a study found that 53 per cent of poor migrants of Bangladeshi cities are
living in private slums and 44 per cent squat on public land. Significant portions of the city's
population are living in the slums and squatter settlements experiencing extremely low living
standards, low productivity and unemployment. In spite of living in the city for a long period of
time, the urbanised poor have limited access to the economic and social systems of the city, the
migrated urban poor fall into mental state of insecurity due to the loss of social capital which
they were enjoying in rural livelihood.
In partnership with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and with support from the World
Bank, the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) undertook a comprehensive citylevel research study in 2015-16. The study revealed some details of urban poverty in the
metropolitan areas and municipalities like Dhaka and Chittagong. The urban areas include the
periphery of cities where all the problems and opportunities exist with accommodation and job
opportunities for the urbanised poor.
The research observed that Bangladesh is a populous country at the stage of development, the
informal sector provides as urban foothold for the rural migrants. However, the rate of jobcreation in the urbanised industrial sector suggests that this particular sector has lagged behind in
terms of the growth of the urban labour force -- not fuelled by migration or natural population
growth in the urban area.
Undoubtedly, increasing participation of the women in the urban labour force is another factor.
Majority of the migrant-labour force are not endowed with adequate level of schooling and skills
for competing for the formal sector jobs. The children of urban informal sector labour force -those who are already working as rickshaw drivers, hawkers, petty traders, maids, waste pickers,

construction workers, and similar urban informal occupations -- belong the new generation of the
urban informal-sector labourers.
The study also revealed that more than six per cent of steady economic growth over the last two
decades has not accompanied growth in jobs -- characterised as a 'jobless growth'. Since many of
the unemployed are underprivileged and they cannot afford to remain unemployed, such jobs are
created by poor themselves. Members of the informal-sector labour force such as rickshawdrivers, street-vendors, repair service workers and waste pickers denote such job creation for
earning their livelihood.
The urbanised population in Bangladesh was barely 2.64 million in 1960. Today, Dhaka
metropolitan area alone contains almost 15 million residents. Projections indicate that urban
population in Bangladesh will rise to between 91-102 million by 2050, about 44 per cent of total
population. Overcrowding, unplanned population growth and filthy slums have become the
hallmarks of the country's urbanisation process.
Bangladesh has three interconnected economic stories of urban transition. The first corresponds
to the growth policies centred on Dhaka and Chittagong and it is driven by manufacturing
growth. The country's massive urban sector, comprising of 525 urban centres, continues to grow.
Secondly, there is the consumption-and-service-sector-driven growth of the secondary cities. The
third story tells the expansion of rural non-firm sector fuelled by remittance inflows and a growth
in urban consumption.
The long-prevailing structural realities of landlessness and lack of assets, marketable education
and skills, disasters and the entailing loss of land and homestead to riverbank erosion, and the
death of the breadwinner in the family - all contributed to the branding of Bangladesh as an
underdeveloped country for a long time. In the recent times, the country's economic growth,
economic development, rapid urbanisation and its contact with globalisation have unlocked new
opportunities for the poor - both migrating and the settled poor in the cities such as Dhaka and
Chittagong. For such poor, one way to make a living is to engage in the informal sector.
The natural trend towards urbanisation cannot be halted or reversed. Local authorities like city
corporations and municipalities should assess the causes, characteristics, and location of poverty
within their jurisdictions in order to design appropriate poverty strategies and to make necessary
regulatory changes. Updated information regarding poverty and social development may be
acquired through the use of a city poverty assessment -- a tool using various poverty indicators.
The writer is a legal economist.