THE latest Poverty map published jointly by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, World Bank and World Food Programme reveals disquieting trends. Nearly a third of the estimated 50million people live in the capital city. That the poor are flocking to Dhaka and other major urban centers are indicative of the fact that all major economic activities are concentrated around these areas, while the rest of the country lags behind. The results merely go to explain why urbanization overall is growing at nearly 30 per cent per annum.
Infrastructure development, empowerment of local government and more importantly, the decentralization of economic activities are seen as prerequisites for a balanced growth of the country. Unless, a more symmetrical approach is adopted, there is no feasible way to discourage the internal migration patterns being witnessed. For the third year in a row, Dhaka city has ranked second from bottom in a reputed international survey of 150 livable cities. Now we know why.
Looking beyond the economic factors, we find that many districts are disaster-prone areas with events such as river erosion and crop failures. However, with little in terms of industry, commerce and trade, the poor in these districts will inevitably go where there are opportunities. Now that major economic powers like Japan and China are showing greater interest in investing in Bangladesh, policymakers need to plan ahead that will allow for a decentralized pattern of setting up economic zones away from the urban centers, much in the same way that Malaysia has patterned its development path.