Slum dwellers challenge politicians in Bangladesh

By Sabrina Hoque On 14.08.2019 PovertyCitiesResilienceGovernance

How collaboration is forcing top officials to listen to the country’s poorest

It’s rare that slum dwellers are able to talk to top officials and explain the changes they need to improve their lives.

But that is part of what happened at an important gathering at the end of June hosted by the University of Dhaka. The event was an ‘Urban Dialogue’, the 6th of its kind since 2013, attended by politicians and officials from government ministries and departments. This dialogue has been organized by Urban INGO Forum; a consortium of more than 20 International Non-Governmental Organizations, including Practical Action. We’re working together to tackle high levels of poverty among urban slum dwellers by bringing together government line-ministries, agencies and NGOs. Since 2015, we’ve also been collaborating with the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Dhaka. This year, the Urban INGO Forum organized the 6th Urban Dialogue with the theme of “Liveable City for All”. The theme is to make cities liveable for all in terms of inclusiveness, safety, resilience and sustainability, in alignment with SDG Goal 11.

In the inaugural session, Dr.Enamur Rahman; State Minister, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, was the chief guest. Four parallel sessions were held where officials, sectoral stakeholders and actors from different government, non-government and relevant private sectors participated to discuss the main urban issues, including:

  • Availability of decent housing or temporary shelters for poor people.
  • The role of children and young people in the transformation of cities.
  • Responsive urban services.

These are all ways of making cities more environmentally-friendly and resilient to climate change and disasters.

Community representatives including women, children and young people shared their perspectives and experiences.

Though cities are getting bigger, the basics of water, sanitation, waste management and faecal waste management lag behind. The poorest communities are worst affected. Although many of the national and international development organizations are working to address their needs, there is still much more to be done. Panel discussions at the event covered some of these issues:

  • Addressing the capacity gaps.
  • How to collaborate effectively with different stakeholders.
  • Ensure pro-poor growth policies of government, while also engaging stakeholders (both public and private).

The problems and recommendations identified during the day were collated in an urban declaration, which was shared at the concluding plenary session. Guests, including service providers, shared their opinions, comments and way forward. Ariful Haque Chowdhury; Mayor, Sylhet City Corporation (SCC) was chief guest in the concluding session. He spoke about the need for strong urban governance with adequate and separate urban policies and institutions to make cities liveable for all.

So what did the Forum achieve? First and foremost, it was an opportunity to put challenges and issues directly to key officials responsible for taking action. Second, it was an opportunity to share lessons from on-the-ground experiences to inform national policies and the actions of existing big urban development programmes. Last but not least, the declaration stated strongly that all need to commit to making sure urban services genuinely reach the last mile.