Worst city in the world | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 27, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 27, 2010

Worst city in the world

Second worst city Dhaka.

Harare, capital of Zimbabwe is rated as the worst city of the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the renowned weekly magazine “The Economist” published from London. The rating also revealed the finest city of the world. Vancouver of Canada is the best city of the world according to their evaluation. Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh has been rated as the second worst city of the world. The rating was published few weeks back. We actually do not know the exact variables they used for this study. But whatever variable they used, anybody with commonsense, can easily guess the possible ones.
The variables, if we want to mention, we can serialize them as : population, cleanliness, traffic congestion, load shedding, scarcity of water, gas and electricity, lack of open space(playground and parks), destruction of water bodies and river by encroachment by land grabbers, crimes on the roads and in the markets, lack of safety measures in the industries, dilapidated transports, lack of efficient and comfortable public transport system, gross violation of traffic rules both by the members of the public and drivers and so on and so forth.
Another related bad news for us is that Association of French and Bangladeshi scholars and trainees (FBAST) and the French Embassy in Dhaka revealed in a seminar on 21 November 2009 that Dhaka is currently the world's third most polluted city in terms of total suspended particulates (TSP) in the air. Old motor vehicles, brick kilns, construction activities and industrial exhaust have been identified as the main offenders, generating poisonous pollutants like lead and other heavy metals, carbon monoxide, hydro carbons, oxide of nitrogen and sulfur, dust, soot, ozone and other photochemical oxidants. However, dioxin and furans, two of the most toxic emissions identified internationally as having long term health consequences, have reportedly not yet been monitored in Bangladesh.
Based on these studies and research done in and outside the country and reports and articles published in different vernacular dailies, different authorities came up to take sporadic initiatives to address these problems. For example, we can mention the initiatives taken by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police in solving the traffic congestion in Dhaka without any results. Dhaka City Corporation takes steps for cleaning the city and finishes without any good result. But little was achieved earlier with the phasing out of the two-stroke 'baby taxis', the banning of old, unfit motor vehicles, efforts at improving the quality for fuel, instructions to regulate and maintain motor engines for efficient combustion, and the like. All have totally been defeated by the current chaos in the road transport sector, a vivid picture of which has been depicted in the Daily Star of 24 March 2010.
After publication of the news of rating by EIU and by other agencies, we hoped that the government will take appropriate measures (both short and long term) to improve the existing unbearable condition of Dhaka city. The present situation is not only increasing sufferings of the inhabitants but also the image of the city as well as the image of the country have also been shattered to the foreigners particularly to the foreign investors. Even our Bangladeshi expatriates do not like to come to Dhaka very often to see their kith and keens because of the unhealthy environment and excessive traffic congestion in the capital city.
Many opinions in the forms of editorials, articles, and letters to the editor have been published on the issue. One of the latest articles “Dhaka must not be a loser” by Dr Saadat Husain, a veteran bureaucrat, writer, researcher, trainer and currently chairman of the Public Service Commission, who thinks a lot regarding different issues of public interest despite his heavy schedule, was published in the Daily Star of 23 March 2010. My present small endeavor is in response to his thoughtful article.
He has identified all the problems that are making Dhaka city worse and unlivable. He categorically said that because of our weak organisational sets up and management inefficiency the departments concerned are not in a position to perform their duties and thus the situation does not improve. Dr. Saadat's write up mainly focused on the serialization of the problems, non-performing management and his heart-felt lamentation for his beloved city of Dhaka where he has been living for more than fifty years. I fully endorse his views and express same attitude towards ignominious ranking and unlivable situation in his beloved city.
I first came to Dhaka in 1967, while I was a high school student. I stayed in a hotel at Sadarghat and took bath in Buriganga river; still I remember the crystal clear water of not so narrowed river. We have destroyed the river with our own hands. We have also destroyed other rivers around Dhaka city, which, among others, are the significant reasons for the low ranking of Dhaka. To save Burigangha, it needs gigantic projects costing millions of Taka to clean the river bed, increase its natural flow and to demolish the illegal structures built by encroachers. The discharge of chemical waste from the river side industries and solid waste littered by individuals and organizations have destroyed the Buriganga.
To prevent littering, erecting illegal structures and discharge of chemical wastes by the unscrupulous industrialists is a matter of law enforcement and awareness building, not a matter of spending money from the government exchequer. Besides Buriganga, one more thing which I still remember is that while we were passing through Nawabpur Road (one of the busiest business centers of Dhaka now) in the morning, I found the road wet. Out of curiosity I asked my older brother who accompanied me at that time, the reason. He, a permanent resident of Dhaka, told that for removing dust for the welbeing of the city dwellers, water was sprinkled every morning on the important roads of the city. Excessive dust is one of the major causes of downgrading the rank of Dhaka now. News of air cleaning project of the World Bank is a great for the Dhaka city dwellers.
Dr. Saadat enumerated over population of Dhaka as number one problem today. Uncontrolled, untrained, less educated, law breaking people (some times educated people also break civic and traffic rules) have destroyed the city. But at the same time it is true that in a poor country like Bangladesh, where unemployment rate is 35%, poverty rate is above 60% and most of the economic activities are capital centered, it is very much likely to have influx into the capital city on daily basis. So devolution is the only remedy. Without government policy for increasing economic activities throughout the country devolution is not possible.
Dhaka city roads cannot bear the pressure of private cars. Establishing garments industry which employs huge manpower, running private universities, schools and hospitals, inter city bus station, important government and corporate offices outside Dhaka and strengthening the divisional and district towns by industrialisation are among few steps, which need government nod with a view to reducing pressure of over population as well as traffic in the capital city.
We have lot of problems. But no situation is totally beyond resolution, as Dr Saadat observed in his article. He further said, “It is impossible to make Dhaka an exquisitely beautiful and livable city in a short span of time. It is, however, possible to improve the situation, in a long term frame work through a determined effort by people who matter and the citizens who live in the city. A battle is lost not because of an unexpected setback in the field but because of the lack of willingness to fight back. We must not lose heart…"
I fully agree with Dr. Saadat and would like to add that without the honest cooperation of all the stakeholders, it is impossible to keep Dhaka livable by reducing pollution to a reasonable level. Bangladesh's entrepreneurs ought to be sensitised to install built-in-anti-pollution devices in their enterprises so that industrial exhaust is kept at the minimum. Besides, people friendly transport services, including sturdy, least polluting vehicles should be brought in. Dilapidated vehicles, which have been retrieved from the condemned heap, should immediately be phased out from the city roads. Digging city roads by different agencies and left for long without proper repair, rampant uncontrolled construction work by home builders and developers causing damage to the nearby roads, drainage, houses and environment should also be taken proper care of.
Awareness about the very real hazards of uncleanliness and air pollution must be addressed as a development priority. This is possible if government and opposition both join hands. If that miracle could be realized all who are potential air polluters could be made to abide by the air quality regulations. Stakeholders from all sectors -- energy, industry, transport, construction and environment -- must collaborate and cooperate sincerely to evolve dynamic partnerships among the government, the private sector and the general public to arrest air pollution, and improve the quality of Dhaka city in particular and the quality of life of the people in general.
We must upgrade the ranking of Dhaka city for our image, and for our survival.

M. A. Matin is Head, Dept. of Information Science and Library Management, Asian University of Bangladesh.

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