Action needed in Bangladesh urban slums

April 2nd, 2015

Bangladesh has been facing the fastest urbanisation in South Asia. Currently, around 30% of 160 million people live in urban centers and contribute 60% of the GDP of our country. The Urban Authorities (11 city corporations and 324 municipalities) are responsible for providing a wide range of basic infrastructural (e.g. water supply, sanitation, waste management) and social services for a livable and healthy environment for all urban dwellers. Slum dwellers and low income communities (around 20-25% of total urban population), essential and important stakeholders who are contributing USD 5.5 billion annually to GDP), remain deprived and excluded from formal services. Slums are characterised by high population density, limited sanitation and hygiene facilities, poor housing, a very low socio-economic status for a majority of residents, a lack of security of tenure and poor governance. Where those services do exist, quality is low and costly to afford. Despite their significant contribution to the urban economy, unplanned growth leads to polluting environment and adverse impact on public health and poverty reduction.

kitchen waste bicycle collectorMunicipalities in Bangladesh face financial constraints to provide services and are heavily (around 75%) dependent on national allocation which comes from different channels including an insignificant annual block grant (4,000,000 taka per municipality in FY2014-15) to each of the 324 municipalities and a special allocation (more than 200% of the Block Allocation) for selected municipalities by Local Government Division under the Ministry of Local Government Rural Development & Cooperatives) and national urban projects/programmes by different national departments such as the Local Government Engineering Department.

Political choices and the influencing capacity of the mayor are always important issues to access this special allocation which is mostly used for the development of selected hardware (i.e. civil construction) mainly for influential people and there is little allocation for social and environmental development, poverty reduction and governance improvement. The current national allocation to different municipalities is not equitable, performance based or demand led, restricting the ability of municipalities to meet the needs of the poor and this is a policy issue that requires civil society engagement.

A few national projects, such as urban governance and infrastructure improvement (UGIIP) managed by the Local Government Engineering Department and supported by a consortium of development banks and donors facilitated selected municipalities to develop the Pourashava Development Plan, where the Poverty Reduction and Governance Improvement Action Plan were important chapters and demonstrated performance-based demand-led and targeted allocation.

These practices were highly appreciated by urban sector stakeholders and urban dwellers in project towns. This experience could be scaled up by the revenue but this is not happening although the Government has identified the key ingredient to realising the goal of sustainable urban development is good governance.  Policies (Draft Urban Sector Policy) and strategies (Vision 2021) and National Investment Plan (7th Five Year Plan 2015-20) focused on institutional reforms and decentralisation of responsibilities and resources to local governments; participation of civil society including women in the design, implementation and monitoring of local priorities; building capacity of all actors (institutions, groups and individuals).

Time is running out to design and implement actions to catch up with the declarations and commitment

Some donor-supported projects, such as UGIIP have demonstrated good practice with a few municipalities. They have shown that it is possible to allocate budgets in ways which actually benefit slum dwellers, through developing and funding Poverty Reduction Action Plans.  These practices should be scaled up across all municipalities, but this is not happening despite the good intentions of policies, strategies and the national investment plan.

Now is the time to make these good intentions and nice words a reality for the protection of the interest for urban poor.

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