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Addressing the Urban Challenge


Bangladesh has been experiencing rapid increase in its urban population ever since its independence in
1971. Urban population as a percentage of total population increased from around 8.8 % to nearly 23 %
during 1974-2001 period. It is estimated that by the year 2021 nearly one-third or 33% of the population
of Bangladesh will be living in urban areas. The urban population recorded during the 2001 Census was
nearly 28.6 million and is currently (2010) estimated at 40 million. The tremendous challenge of
absorbing such a massive number of people in urban areas and providing them with shelter, food,
employment, healthcare, education, municipal services and recreation facilities is made more difficult
given shortage of urban facilities and resources, skilled manpower and good governance. The
urbanization challenge unless managed well could pose a serious problem to the future growth prospects
for Bangladesh.

Trend and Pattern of Urbanization

The agrarian economy of Bangladesh having an area of only 147,750 km with acute problem of allocation
of land to agriculture, industry, and human settlement is experiencing a very high rate of urbanization. In
1974 people living in urban areas accounted for only 8.8% of the population which rose to 23.1% by
2001. One of the significant features of urbanization in Bangladesh is the predominance of a few
metropolitan centers resulting in an uneven distribution of urban population in the country. A large
proportion of the urban population is concentrated in Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna Metropolitan areas.
According to population census report of 2001, Dhaka Metropolitan Area had a total population of 10.712
million comprising 37.45% of total urban population. Next in the hierarchy, Chittagong SMA had 3.386
million or 11.84% of the total, followed by Khulna SMA with a total population of 1.341 million or
4.69% of total urban population. These three metropolitan areas account for about 54% of the total urban
population of the country.

A major cause of urbanization in Bangladesh is that the agriculture sector is no longer able to absorb the
surplus labor force entering the economy every year. Inability of the agriculture sector to provide
sufficient employment or sufficiently high household incomes to cope with a growing number of
dependents can encourage people to seek employment outside agriculture. In the case of Bangladesh the
rural to urban migration has contributed to more than 40 percent of the change in urban population. The
lure of employment opportunities existing in these cities is another

Contemporary Challenges

Urbanization brings along economic and social benefits, but it also poses some serious challenges,
especially when it takes place at a pace as rapid as the one in evidence in Bangladesh today. The current
and future challenges of urbanization in Bangladesh are many; such as, 1) The Challenge of the massive
size of the national and urban population, 2) Challenge of spatial imbalance in urbanization, 3) Challenge
of enhancing urban economic productivity and providing employment, 4) Challenge of urban poverty
alleviation, 5) Challenge of providing access to land and housing, 6)  Challenges in provision of urban
utilities and services 7) Challenge of education, 8) Challenge of access to health services, 9) Challenge of
providing transportation services; 10) Challenges of environmental management: degradation and
pollution, climate change and natural hazards, 11) Challenge of crime and violence, 13) Challenge
political social and cultural conflicts, 14) Problems of special groups, 15) Challenge of urban resource
mobilization, 16)              Challenge of institutionalizing urban vision, policymaking, urban planning and
planned urban development, and finally 17) Challenge of governance.

Impact of rapid urbanization on environment and SDG Compliance: Of these challenges, the ones related
to environmental management are of great concern to the interest of Sustainable Development Goals
(SDG) compliance. Rapid urbanization both in terms of population   growth and areal expansion has
direct impact on environment in the form of encroachment on water bodies, forests and hills. The pressure
cannot be managed despite laws against such illegal activities. Urban population growth coupled with
economic development (higher income of households) increase demand for buildings, which in turn
makes requirement of bricks. The manufacture of bricks (in the present technology) cause two fold
problems, first, exploitation of topsoil on fertile agricultural land and increase of pollution of air in urban
areas, the brick kilns being located near such places. Studies have shown that the pollution of air in Dhaka
is mainly due to brick kilns. New brick-making technology or innovation of un-burnt bricks needs to be

Population growth with economic progress also creates demand and supply of more auto transports,
thereby adding to traffic congestion and air pollution in cities. Lifestyle changes, such as indiscriminate
use of air conditioners, have influence on urban micro-climate causing temperature increase. Climate
change on a global and regional scale has impact of the frequency and intensity on natural hazards, with
greater probability of their occurrence in urban areas. Enormous financial resources are required to save
cities from floods and climate hazards. Flood control embankment, if required, must be constructed with
careful planning, otherwise problem of water logging in the control area may take place, causing yet
another hazard.  Unplanned urban development has also caused rapid reduction of open space and
greenery in cities and filling of water bodies.

Strategies and Policies

Despite the challenges, urban areas demonstrate immense economic potential to generate growth in the
country and can be instrumental in enhancing prosperity and increasing per capita income. As income
grows and the economy relies more and more on manufacturing and organized services, urbanization will
grow. The challenge for public policy is to manage this natural transition of Bangladesh from an agrarian
economy to a modern economy well through appropriate institutions, programs and policies. The
Government is cognizant of this challenge. It also understands that this is a long-term challenge. The
back-log of unmet demand and new demand for basic urban services like housing, sanitation, water
supply and urban transport requires huge resources, sound planning, and strong implementation capacity.
These require strategic planning and implementation over a long period. Ambitious urban development
programs during the perspective plan period will be adopted. These programs will be based on the
policies and strategies as set out below:

1. Patterns and Process of Urbanization : the primary focal point will be the methodology to be
followed in the undertaking of urbanization in order to accomplish a more balanced diffusion of
urban centers in terms of population size, employment opportunities, availability of housing and
the presence of required infrastructure facilities

2. Urban Governance: Policies and strategies in this area give prominence on institutional reforms
and decentralization of responsibilities and resources to local governments; participation of civil
society including women in the design, execution and monitoring of local priorities; building
capacity of all actors (institutions, groups and individuals) to contribute fully to decision-making
and urban development processes; and facilitating networking at all levels

3. Urban Economic Development: This involves initiative to combine available skills to be suitably
upgraded, resources and ideas to stimulate the local economy towards the goals of job creation,
economic growth, poverty alleviation, as well as proactive measures to deal effectively with
changes in the national and global economies that are likely to affect the local economy.

4. Urban Housing: Access to affordable urban housing is an aggravating problem in the country as
population pressure increases and prices of land and construction costs rise. The policy in this
respect is to bring about improvements in the housing situation in terms of quality and quantity
of housing units, housing tenure and housing accessibility.

5. Urban Transportation: Policies and strategies in this area focus on developing an integrated and
balanced transportation system taking into consideration the needs of the road system, non
motorized transport, public passenger transport and mass transit. Issues such as a city’s balance in
the locations of employment and housing, demand management and the roles for the public and
private sectors will also be given due emphasis.

6. Urban Land Management and Planning: The objectives of the policy in this area are to promote
sustainable land-use planning and innovative land management practices, with the objective of
providing for the land requirements for urban development through integrated and
environmentally sound physical planning and land use.

7. Infrastructure and Services: Basic infrastructure and services at the community level include the
provision of safe water, sanitation, waste management and administration, social welfare,
transport and communications facilities, energy, health and emergency services, schools, public
safety, and the management of open spaces. Steps will be taken to provide the requisite and
affordable basic infrastructure and services so as to help safeguard the health, safety, welfare and
improved living environment of urban dwellers

8. Urban Poverty Policies: to deal with urban poverty focus on promoting equal access to and fair
and equitable provision of services in urban areas. Emphasis will be given to urban policies and
programs that ensure equal access to and maintenance of basic services, including those related to
education, employment and livelihood; basic healthcare services; safe drinking water and
sanitation; adequate shelter; and needs and rights of women and children who often bear the
greatest burden of poverty.

Analysis of the Strategy

As per the laid out strategy the plan will help the country to handle its ongoing urbanization
in a better way and in a better way and to make the optimal use of our cities and townships
as engines of development. Food security should address both rural and urban areas.
Bangladesh has made the impressive surge in agricultural production while simultaneously
undergoing substantial urbanization. What is necessary to understand is that supporting
stable urbanization will reap colliery benefits for the rural areas. Rural areas can gain
through remittances from urban areas and supplying agricultural products to larger
markets in urban areas. Considering Urban and Rural Development is indispensable in
order to achieve the ideal all round sustainable development goals .