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7 days ago

Is Dhaka worth living in?

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The megacity Dhaka's livability ranking as done by the global body engaged in the task, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), has never been uplifting. Dhaka has been ranked 168th out of EIU's list of 173 cities. To many experts, the city's livability index will continue to deteriorate without any hope of reversing the trend.   In fact, the issue of livability has to do with the urban quality of life, which is measured by indicators like stability, healthcare, culture, environment and infrastructure. Given their high population densities, unplanned urbanisation and widespread poverty in the rural areas, the South Asian cities did never have the opportunity to grow in a healthy fashion. Dhaka is also not any exception.  However, this is not to exonerate successive governments that assumed power since independence from their responsibility to improve the situation. Capital cities everywhere draw people not only from different corners of the countries where they grow, but also from abroad. The lure is in the opportunities for work they offer. Before the country's independence, Dhaka was a sleepy little town of about a million, a provincial capital of then-Pakistan. At that time, the city had its adequate green top cover, spacious playgrounds and many water bodies. But when it became the capital of an independent country, it woke up from the pre-independence slumber.  Being at the same time the new nation's administrative headquarter and the commercial and industrial hub, people from every corner of the country made a beeline for the capital city. And when the entire country is a densely populated one, its capital cannot be otherwise. Backdropped by an overwhelmingly agrarian countryside, the city was yet to even think of the modern city amenities that industrial economies provide to their citizens. And as it has happened to most developing economies, except the few in Southeast Asia and Far East, Dhaka is yet to shake off the legacies of its colonial past.

The politics and bureaucracy that run it are an extension of what it inherited from that past. So, it is loath to embrace any change. Small wonder that it does not bear comparison with European cities like Vienna of Austria or Copenhagen of Denmark or Zurich in Switzerland. Forget about those great cities that value their citizens.  But can you believe that there are still cities in the world that are performing worse than Dhaka in terms of their livability ranking?  They are Damascus, the capital of Syria, Tripoli of Libya, Algiers of Algeria, Lagos of Nigeria and Karachi of Pakistan. Except Damascus and Tripoli which have been destroyed by wars, there is no such excuse, like Dhaka, for Algiers, Lagos or Karachi to languish at the bottom of liveability scoreboard. It is the same old colonial legacies in which they are smugly ensconced. Is it not reassuring that we are not alone so stuck in a rut?

Those concerned about Dhaka's well-being would come up with the oft-repeated explanations such as a lack of oversight and accountability on the part of the state and government agencies supposed to look after it. And why that is so is self-explanatory. Stressing the importance of good governance, some are also critiquing the ongoing development activities including infrastructure building rather as a problem than an answer to the city's woes. For these are happening at the expense of the environmental balance as the trees are being indiscriminately felled and wetlands filled up to expand the city.

However, Rajuk (capital development authority), which is said to be coordinating the city's urban development efforts since it came into being close to seven decades ago, says it is working to decentralise Dhaka in a phased manner by 2030. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the next five year would make a big difference to the city's liveability status!

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