Combating the mosquito menace was a key promise in the manifesto of Mohammad Hanif, who became the first elected mayor of the undivided Dhaka City Corporation in 1994.
“There would be a permanent mechanism to curb the menace in the city,” said the Awami League leader, in his election manifesto.
But eight years later, BNP leader Sadeque Hossain Khoka, who would soon succeed Hanif as the mayor, said the measures taken by the AL leader to solve the problem fell short of people’s expectations. “Perhaps, the mosquito repellents were adulterated or there were some problems in those. If elected, I will try to use the right repellents and technology,” he said at a press conference during electioneering for the second DCC polls.
Since then, Dhaka city has seen a rapid unplanned urbanisation with changes to its infrastructural and environmental landscape. The responsibilities of the city authorities have also changed. City dwellers, however, hardly got respite from the mosquito nuisance.
Before becoming Dhaka South mayor in 2015 -- four years after the DCC was split into two -- Sayeed Khokon, son of late mayor Hanif, too said mosquito control was one of his top priorities and promised to launch frequent anti-mosquito drives in the capital.
Despite that, city people continued to endure the menace in the last five years.
Mosquito-borne diseases -- dengue and chikungunya -- turned acute in the city several months ago, and many blamed the two city corporations for their failure to prevent the outbreaks.
Government documents show around 166 people died of dengue and more than 1.01 lakh were infected with the disease in the last nine months. The disease apparently broke out in the capital and then spread to elsewhere in the country.
Ahead of the city polls this time, the manifestos of all the mayor candidates have once again featured the commitment to combat the mosquito menace.
Besides, the candidates have come up with pledges of making Dhaka an “intelligent city”, “a top-class metropolis”, and “a tourist hub”,
Talking to The Daily Star, experts and a number of city dwellers, however, said they were not very optimistic about the new mayors being able to keep their words.
The mayoral aspirants were throwing away “fancy words” only to woo voters, several city dwellers said, adding that pledges of curbing mosquito menace, reducing the perennial traffic congestion and waterlogging were something that they had been hearing for decades.
And the lack of optimism stems from the past mayors’ failure to resolve the problems in all those years, they said.
“The promises that we have now come across are the ones that we are all too familiar with,” said Sardar Anwar, a resident of West Rajabazar area.
“For two decades, we have been assured that the waterlogging problem in our area will be solved. But the situation only worsened,” he said.
Mohammad Ismail, who lives in Dhanmondi, said traffic congestion makes him suffer on a daily basis. “The situation is taking a turn for the worse every day. “
Experts said city people have a bagful of promises and commitments made by the candidates, but the candidates neither have the authority nor the capacity to fulfil the promises under the current administrative system.
They pointed out that over four dozen government bodies were involved in development and maintenance works in the city.
Entities like Wasa and Rajuk function under different ministries and the city corporations have no control over them, they said, adding that progress on most of the work suffer a setback due to a lack of coordination between those bodies.
“We are happy that the mayoral candidates have understood the woes of city dwellers and they want to solve the problems. But I doubt how many of them have the realisation that they don’t have that power and jurisdiction to do so,” said noted architect and town planner Mubasshar Hussain.
“They all have to understand that although they will be elected through direct votes of more than 30 lakh people, they are less powerful compared to the mayors of many small cities,” he said.
While explaining this, he said the candidates promised of solving waterlogging. But most of that responsibility falls on the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa), said Mubasshar, also the vice president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa).
M Hafiz Uddin Khan, a former adviser to a caretaker government, said, “We know their [mayors’] limitations and what they can do. Forget about turning Dhaka into a tourist hub, we will be happy if they can properly perform their existing duties, including mosquito control, road and footpath maintenance, and waste management.”
“The candidates have said they would ease the traffic congestion, but do they have the power to so?” he questioned.
“Traffic management is not so easy, and there are so many problems related to this. A city corporation cannot alone solve this problem,” Hafiz Uddin said.
He went on to explain that several other authorities were involved in overseeing the city’s traffic situation. For example, the traffic division of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police is tasked with checking traffic rules violation, which often leads to traffic congestion.
Many overweight and unfit vehicles break down on the road causing traffic jam. City corporations built roads, but their mayors cannot stop overweight and unfit vehicles from plying the roads.
Hafiz Uddin said the government should empower the city corporations properly to solve such problems.
Echoing similar views, Prof Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a teacher of public administration department at Chittagong University, said neither the city corporations nor the mayors can resolve the traffic issue, which is complex and multifaceted.
“A mayor cannot bring enough changes to impact the traffic congestion -- there needs to be a big structural shift. If mayors are not able to implement changes, it is not because they are not capable of, it’s because the structures around them will not allow them to do so,” he said.
On the mosquito menace, entomologist Prof Kabirul Bashar of zoology department of Jahangirnagar University, said the mayors have limitations in terms of power and therefore they must ensure maximum cooperation between different bodies of the government.
To battle the mosquito menace, priority must be given on waterlogging, an issue which is supposed to be handled by Wasa. So coordination is the key in this regard.
“No change will take place if the candidates make promises only to impress voters,” Kabirul added.