In 2014, Urban October was launched by UN-Habitat to emphasise the world's urban challenges and engage the international community towards the New Urban Agenda. Since then the month was dedicated to promoting different urban issues and bringing the urban agenda on discussion table. It was one of the milestones for the urban practitioners and the communities in order to gather the initiatives on advocacy, outreach and communication on different urban issues, practices and promote actions towards sustainable urban development. The month also gives us the scopes for raising awareness and interest on different urban challenges, opportunities to the media and other communities and networks. Urban October is the month to stimulate the debates on future cities.
This year the month of October was kicked-off with World Habitat Day under the motto 'Public Spaces For All' and will conclude with World Cities Day under the motto 'Designed to Live Together.' As 'Sustainable Development Goals - SDGs' was approved by the United Nations with the aim of transforming the world, where one single goal (Goal No 11) includes the ambition to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, therefore Urban October receives extra attention from all the corners in this year.
In last two decades, Bangladesh made significant progress in order to eliminate poverty by achieving Millennium Development Goals. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) 2010 household survey, 31.5 per cent of the total population lives below the poverty line - including 17.6 per cent who are said to be 'extremely poor.' With better standard of living by having all the utilities, estimated 28 per cent of the population are still living below the poverty line in urban areas while many research reveals urban poverty rate is not decreasing as long as rural. Rapid urbanisation, increased rate of migration and unplanned extension of administrative urban boundaries are the major reasons for urban poverty. Along with these, limited employment opportunities, degraded environment, poor housing, lack of access to water and sanitation services for the urban poor, lack of education facilities for slum children, poor access to basic health services and labour demanding jobs are increased the sufferings of urban poor.
In spite of considerable development in last two decades, increased trend of migration is one of the major reasons for urban poverty in Bangladesh. In 2009, world's urban population (3.42 billion) surpassed the number living in rural areas (3.41 billion). In 2014, 28 per cent of populations were living in urban Bangladesh while half the population of the country will live in urban areas by 2030 (UNDP, 2014). Thirty eight per cent of city populations are living in slums alone. Since the independence, Dhaka city population have been grown six per cent yearly while national population growth was 1.7 per cent only. Thus, urban poverty has been institutionalised.
Migration has long been an important livelihood strategy for the people of Bangladesh. Every year, thousands of destitute victims of natural disasters pour into the cities from rural areas. Others come in the hope of a better life whenever the population rise to such an extent that people can no longer secure a livelihood, they migrated elsewhere. A research by Centre for Urban Studies (CUS, 2005) found eight reasons for migration to urban areas while 39.53 per cent of slum households are migrating for jobs, 17.2 per cent due to river bank erosion and around 20 per cent for meagre income.
In last August, Urban INGO Forum, Bangladesh has organised a dialogue with different levels of stakeholders including urban practitioners. Through the consultation, the forum identified some major issues for future development of the cities. They recognise and find the importance of urban sector, and the urbanisation process in Bangladesh is inevitable for future development; climate induced disasters and associated risks also increase the trend of rapid urbanisation and increased rate of migration, as vulnerable groups, children and women encounter severe problems in their daily lives; inadequate urban governance is a concern caused by over-centralisation and inadequate popular participation while public-private private is essential for urban development.
Considering the facts and growing realities, it is essential to put attention for building the future of Bangladesh where developing a healthy, safer, resilient and prosperous city would be the ultimate solution. For achieving these, some of the suggestions include:
?Government of Bangladesh needs to take immediate action to enact Urban Sector Policy. The policy is drafted in decades back and waiting to have the approval from the cabinet.
?The government will recognise the Low Income Communities (slum dwellers) as urban citizens and will ensure all the basic amenities for them.
?Dhaka WASA initiated Low Income Communities Unit (LIC Unit) in order to smooth and quick supports to the urban poor. It is expected that all other city corporations and municipalities realise the same and initiate a separate unit for poor communities.
?Urban Disaster Management should get special attention from all the corners. Interventions for urban disaster preparedness, especially earthquake and water logging, implementation of contingency plan and Bangladesh National Building Code are necessary. Urban Volunteers will be developed and trained and disaster management committee at all level will be equipped with necessary equipment for search and rescue during emergency.
?The government will approve the draft Housing Policy with the priority for the housing needs for the urban poor.
?Inclusion of domestic workers and other informal workers in Labour Law is essential and they will be recognised as workers.
?As per child protection policy and convention on the rights of the child, the government will take necessary actions to create a child friendly city ensuring all the necessities. Children will be free from all sorts of violence.
?Coordination should be developed between implementing (Municipality/City Corporation) and policy making institute (Department of Environment) for solid waste management. Engaging all levels of stakeholders, a mass awareness is needed towards a cleaner city.
?Finally, City Wide Approach through inter-agency coordination and collaboration both from government and no-government organisations are essential in order to effective utilisation of shared resources and sustainable urban development.
One year back, Urban October was launched to develop the awareness, promote participation, knowledge generation and engage international community towards a new Urban Agenda with the motto of 31 days of promoting a Better Urban Future. It is expected that this global call reach to every portion of local communities of the cities where every citizen can play a vital role during that journey.
Mohammed Norul Alam Raju is National Urban Coordinator at World Vision Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]