Urban population has been growing nearly 6% on average every year since the independence. At a time when national population growth was 2.2%, around 40 million people in Bangladesh lived in the urban areas, and out of them, 14% lived below the poverty line. Eighteen percent of our country’s land mass is at risk of going below sea level due to climate change effect which will force people residing in vulnerable regions to migrate to urban areas.
The country’s vulnerability intensifies with increased urbanization. The major vulnerabilities include urban disasters, infrastructure vulnerabilities, the severe crisis of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) especially for low-income communities, urban flooding, waterlogging, child labor, lack of good governance, etc. Although many of the national and international organizations are working in order to address these needs, there is always a demand for support to the low-income urban communities, to ensure their access to basic amenities and prepare them to be resilient to hazards.
In Dhaka, more than 44,000 people are concentrated per square kilometer and the city’s population increases around 1,400 people per day. The migrants can barely find a decent life in Dhaka city. They end up living in slums, stricken by extreme poverty and living a substandard life. The slum dwellers are the most vulnerable to climate change induced disasters in the new environment.
On November 21, 2017, a Round Table Discussion was organized by Habitat Bangladesh at the Daily Star Bhaban, to outline the urban disaster response issues relating to the impact of Climate Change on Urban life and way forward. Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh, a branch of HFH International, was established in 1999. It currently operates in 6 locations across the country, aiming to break the cycle of poverty that comes with poorly-constructed homes. To date, around 12,000 low-income Bangladeshi families have partnered with Habitat to improve their housing, water and sanitation, and living conditions. This represents around 300,000 people who have also received training in safe water and sanitation, appropriate construction technology, disaster response microfinance, and mitigation. Habitat’s ongoing 3-year project “Empowering Vulnerable in four urban slums by building resilience to every day and disaster risk”, began in December 2016. The activities are targeted towards a total of 26,070 people or 5,250 households in the Lalmath and Bauniabadh slums in Dhaka and in the Labanchara and Masghat slums in Khulna. The project aims to lead to more disaster aware slum inhabitants, help in establishing a resilient infrastructure, assist in diversifying the livelihoods of the dwellers and lead a dialogue with the relevant governmental stakeholders in order to reach sustainable solutions to the problems the urban poor encounter.The roundtable discussion was attended by a professor of Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka; keynote speaker from Department of Urban and Regional Planning, BUET; representatives of various national and international organizations, community volunteers, representatives of Dhaka City Corporation, and management and program related representatives from Habitat Bangladesh.
In her keynote presentation at the roundtable, Dr. Ishrat Islam, Head of the Department of Urban Regional Planning, BUET said, “If we think about the urban disaster and disaster resilience we cannot leave behind the one-third population living in the urban slums”. She also explained the scenario of urban disaster and impact of climate change on urban life focusing on the low-income communities in the city. She mentioned that in the next 20 years, 40% of the people of Bangladesh will be living in urban areas. The nature of urbanization in Bangladesh is such that it is strongly centered on Dhaka City. In terms of disaster, RAJUK urban resilient unit is a good example of how to handle disasters, but it is more important to have the community participate more. There are lots of training for Ward Disaster Management Committee (WDMC) and volunteers, but it needs to be made more effective. In case of any disasters, the sufferers are largely the poor people who are rarely responsible for climate change. Climate migrants are largest in number in Dhaka City, and land planning is very important for to ensure efficient land use and finances. There is a large number of policy documents which mostly do not relate to the root level. If policies were drafted and implemented in the context of the root level then it would have been more difficult to implement the coal power electric project in Rampal. Even though we have the ICT Act, gathering data is a big challenge in the context of Bangladesh, which often leads to poor implementation of even good plans, like in the case f building construction code, 1996. Risks need to be identified before making any plans, and the community-based disaster management committees should be at the center of such risk reduction activities.
“We have to accommodate the migrated people living in the slums. We have to own them and provide them with a better life. We have to empower the city, increase safety and ensure good governance so that everyone is benefitted” said Mr. Nurul Islam Nazem, Professor, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka. Climate migrants are more vulnerable in terms of house, education, income, and sanitation. A safe city is an empowered city. Good governance needs to be there. The city should be inclusive and decentralization is also crucial. We have all kinds of policies, but the policy is not ultimate. There needs to be proper strategic planning to ensure those policies can be implemented in the right way. The public and private partnership is essential to work on disaster.
Abdul Latif Helaly, Project Director, Urban Resilience Project, Rajuk, discussed the recent projects that the government is implementing and planning for better prospects of urban life, disaster management, and climate change issues. Geologically Bangladesh is vulnerable to various kinds of disasters. Earthquakes cannot be prevented but their economic loss and casualties can be minimized. In terms of disaster preparedness, Bangladesh has been able to achieve great reductions in casualties from 10 lakh deaths in the 1970 cyclone down to 3500 deaths in 2007. Disaster preparedness is an essential area in reducing the number of casualties, as in Cuba the number of affected people reduced due to preparedness.
RAJUK in collaboration with the World Bank has taken on technical urban earthquake resilience project I &II. The project is divided among four institutions RAJUK, DNCC, DDM, and the Coordination and monitoring planning commission. RAJUK has total 6 components under this project,
- Vulnerability assessment of vulnerable infrastructure e.g. educational institution, hospital and airport in case of a magnitude 7 and above earthquake.
- Risk-sensitive land use planning: earthquake hazard from soil pulling method amplification and liquefaction hazard, DAP does not have such methods.
- Urban resilience unit
- The database used for construction activities and plan approved electronically.
- Professional training program for related people who will be involved in building work and database management.
- Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) will be implemented and a testing laboratory will be established.
The roundtable session brought out the role of stakeholders in supporting and facilitating more sustainable and inclusive support to the low-income communities. Everyone emphasized the significance of comprehensive disaster response initiatives in the urban areas. The roundtable discussion culminated in the following recommendations to improve urban resilience to climate change:
- Ensuring that the spatial dimension of the plan is integrated with the sectoral planning and investment.
- Having a comprehensive understanding of climate change impact from geographical, social-economic and environmental perspectives.
- Risk-sensitive land use planning.
- Ensuring implementation of plan and building by-laws and codes.
- Focusing on issues of migration and developing skilled man-power in coastal areas.
- Informal employment should have a focus on national plan and policies.
- Immediate action plan at the local level with long-term vision and plan.
- Improvement of planning practice at the local level with adequate authority and accountability.
- Integrated and shared database for all agencies.
- Introducing financial tools and instruments for risk-sharing and risk-transfer are important but it is a challenging task.
- A comprehensive disaster risk reduction measure requires diverse and expanded forms of partnerships, such as networks among agencies, educational institutions, stakeholders and citizen groups.
- Social and environmental benefits of development need to be equally prioritized as economic benefits.
- There needs to be a greater political will in achieving these goals.