Population rise and urban woes  

Shihab Sarkar     | Published: September 14, 2018 22:09:28

With the full-blown Bangla monsoon receding, the dengue onslaught is back once again. The scourge has become an annual one over the last one decade. The current year is no exception. According to health experts quoted by media, the outbreak this year is feared to become quite ferocious. Many have already detected the early signs of a vengeful return of the disease. It reminds people of 14 deaths in 2016. The casualties are feared to hit an alarming figure.

Despite its present scale of ferocity, the dengue menace in Dhaka can be traced back to the 1960s. Back in that period, it prevailed in Dhaka in a sporadic manner. Before 2000, the year of a fearsome strike of dengue in Dhaka, with 93 deaths, the disease had almost erased from the people's memory. It was in one or the other year that the intensity of its outbreak would cause alarm to people. The transformation of the disease into the present form of a dreadful malady is blamed by health experts on the city's population rise. Dhaka's transport and waste management sectors do not help the cause.

The relation between the unsettling presence of infectious diseases along with other hazards and the increase in a city's population may appear puzzling to many. But it no longer remains a conundrum if one points out the fallout of the country's unremittingly continuing population rise. The impacts of population bursts are encountered in scores of areas in a city's urban life. Nowhere are the ills more glaringly present in Dhaka now than in the transport sector. The murky developments that began crippling the normal traffic movement first surfaced in the early 1990s. Even the shambolic traffic infrastructure in Dhaka in war-ravaged Bangladesh in the early seventies had the semblance of a regular set-up. Moreover, signs of resurgence and nationalistic feelings could be found back then everywhere. This played a significant role in preventing Dhaka from collapsing into an enervating traffic chaos. In terms of traffic management, Dhaka had once more or less been free of major infamies. With a population befitting the provincial capital before 1971, the city could efficiently put into operation its fleet of public and private transports.  In fact, the capital's traffic scene began undergoing spectacular changes a little over a decade later. New modes of public and private transport began filling the roads, with a mass migration into the city from villages beginning its turn. Few could think, even remotely, that this outline of a traffic infrastructure would soon end up being a behemoth; and that in a decade it would prove unwieldy.

Characteristic of a fast expanding metropolis, the presence of motorised vehicles registered a mindboggling increase in the last four decades. The deplorable level which traffic operation in Dhaka has lately descended to has a lot to do with the city's population explosion. As could be seen in many other sectors, the road transport sector also suffered acutely from poor administrative oversight. The most severe blow had been dealt to it by the uncontrollable lunge towards recklessness and the tendency to defy traffic rules. Unabated increase in the city's population, thus, played its part in chipping away at the potential for normal growth of Dhaka.             

With a population almost half the present back in the 1980s, the emergence of newer urban woes had been a foregone conclusion. The sudden increase in the population of the Bangladesh capital was said to have been prompted by urban migration. This was different from that witnessed in the 1950s, following the 1947 partition. The global and regional perspectives turned out to be different in the 1970s onwards. In independent Bangladesh, opportunities for both blue and white collar jobs far outweighed that seen in the post-1947 period. In the capital of independent Bangladesh, with the number of higher-level students soaring fast, the concentration of the educated youths became an unavoidable reality. Apart from domestic migration, the higher birth rates among the Dhaka residents continued to add to the city's population. At the onset of the 21st century, the population of Dhaka had teetered on the verge of touching a near-exploding level.

Rapid increase in the population of a metropolitan city is a normal phenomenon. Dhaka is no unique case. But there are some facts, mostly unsavoury, which make it different from other cities. A most prominent among them is the overwhelming power of its various woes, the ones which can undo its achievements. In the case of Dhaka, the most terrible damage has been done to it by its utter lack of liveability. Starting with the miserable state of civic amenities, the city has over a couple of decades been plagued by the extreme forms of disregard for rules and law. What these errant practices inevitably lead to is a city wallowing in the detritus of an urban life gone haywire.

Given the residents of the city obstinately sticking to littering and dumping of waste into public places, the frightful comebacks of dengue, chikungunya and other diseases turn out to be a corollary. On the other hand, anarchy continues to rule the roost on the city roads, barring the interludes of attempts to bring discipline to the sector. Defining them as consequences of the authorities' failure to be up to the mark is common practice. But one cannot turn away from the great damper of overpopulation. A city struggling desperately to survive as a 'modern' one, yet remaining apathetic about its liveability, cannot avoid being dubbed ill-starred. Scourges like outbreak of vector-borne diseases, chronically chaotic roads etc appear to be par for the course for these urban centres.



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