Towards Inclusive Urban Development in Bangladesh


October 16th, 2014

Do we think that ‘Urban Poor’ is an entity in contrast to simply poor or rural poor?

The study of urban poverty was started by Oscar Lewis, a famous humanitarian social scientist who is reputed for his noble work ‘Culture of Poverty’. In the early sixties Oscar Lewis conducted an ethnographic study ‘Five brothers of Sanchez”  of a family in Mexico city. He showed how a group of people lead  stereotypical lives which do not take them forward but rather pull them backwards. This pattern of life happens when a community passes a long time in deprivation particularly in economic deprivation what he branded as ‘Poverty of culture”.Children from Faridpur

The populations of developing countries particularly in Asian and African regions are mostly rural, therefore when images of poor and impoverished people come forward in development literature these are most commonly shown.  Economy, livelihood, housing, diseases and medication and festivals should be different between rural and urban communities.

Bangladesh has thousands of years of urban civilization but still urbanization has reached only 50% of the total population.  After Independence in 1971, the city became a major destination of literate and semi-literate people so rural to urban migration was a major component of urban growth.

Bangladesh is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world.  Urban growth is estimated at 6% each year while national population growth rate is 2.2 %.   Currently about 30% people live in urban areas, mostly concentrated in four metropolitan cities. A  World Bank study shows that each year between 300,000 and 400,000 people migrate from rural to urban areas where they are mainly poor.  As well as this migration the birth rate in the town has increased along with the urban population.  However poverty is higher in rural areas than urban areas but the poverty reduction rate is slower in urban areas as there is a lack of policy priority to address urban poverty.

Neglecting Urban People

Development history shows that urban populations have been deprived of development attention for a long time as policy makers do not understand that growth in urban centres is linked with national growth and economic development.    However the rate of natural growth is declining significantly (2.2%) but as redefinition of urban area includes many Pourshava and township therefore natural growth of indigenous people is also a cause of urban growth.

Many small townships which had municipality status during the British colonial period had a central water supply system, waste  management and sewerage system.  Dalits or harijans, a caste of the urban indigenous community, were employed to dispose of human excreta, collect kitchen waste and clear sewerage pipes.  

Urban civilization is old in Bangladesh but its development could not keep pace with cities in western developed societies. After the second world war the United Nations and World Bank concentrated their development investment into rural areas, because most of the people, and the country’s GDP came from the primary economy from rural areas.

We are aware that some development theories like Modernization theories and Rostow’s Five stages of development theory were wrong as they thought that development in some areas would trickle down development to the rest, but that did not happen and the majority of people in underdeveloped countries have had same living standard as in the past . On the other hand in the same country there were a few people who were fortunate to catch those development bundles as they were close to epi centre of development.    In the early 1990s we saw some conceptual  progress in the urban epistemology like Healthy Cities, Safer Cities and Liveable city yet they are narrowed to include human development aspect to more attention to its inhabitants along with infrastructure. After Rio Di Sustainable Development Summit and UN habitat policy makers of developing countries were able to take into account urbanization as policy priority.

Inclusive urban development and Bangladesh

Currently there are about 17 programs for urban development classified as assistance for poverty reduction, infrastructure development, private sector development and water and sanitation improvement. The projects Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR), Sanitation, Hygiene, Education & Water ( SHEWAB) and BRAC WASH cover 6.5 million people. Practical Action Bangladesh has been working with urban poor communities in Bangladesh with some development techniques such as Participatory Planning and Urban Governance. Some successful lessons were learnt in the implementation of phase one of the Integrated Urban Development project in small towns of Bangladesh.

A major challenges of our development initiatives is to incorporate participants in the identification, planning and implementing  of the development process. The Community Action Plan is one of the instruments which has been successful in including the urban poor in slum development and better addressing their real needs, especially those of  Dalits, a  caste who are excluded socially and economically from the development process.

Practical Action Integrating Urban Development Phase 2 (IUD 2) plans to empower the urban poor through participatory budgeting in the municipality. If the national policy is changed to take into account the two issues of IUD 2 then its bottom –up approach of taking the Community Action Plan to the Annual Development Program of municipalities would be able to implement poor people’s needs which are  reflected in their micro level Community Action Plan, now rarely implemented due to financial constraints. This will be a big step towards more inclusive urban development.

One response to “Towards Inclusive Urban Development in Bangladesh”

  1. flora Says:

    this is very good ok information but you need to tell us what it is like in urban development in Bangladesh. ok because I have an assignment to do and this only helps a little bit. remember that! thanks

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