The United Nations predicts that by 2050 about 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. Bangladesh, predominantly a rural country, is in the process of going through rapid urbanization. However, this fast-paced growth in urban population is vastly unplanned and extremely imbalanced. According to website worldometers, 35.7% of the population lives in the urban areas. According to a study conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2015, about 2.23 million people live in slums across the country. The rapid, unplanned urbanization is considered to be one of the major reasons for the high levels of urban poverty, where around 40% live in low-income communities. It has also caused a spike in the vulnerability of the country and its people to natural disasters and climate change. The major vulnerabilities include Urban disasters, infrastructure vulnerabilities, lack of housing facilities, severe crisis for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) especially for low income communities (LICs), urban flooding, exposed to waterlogging, health hazards due to unplanned and inappropriate waste management, lack of child protection and lack of good governance among many others. Over the past years, many local and international organizations have taken up the agenda of improving conditions for the urban poor, but a lack of coordination among the stakeholders results in major gaps in policy implementation and reduces the effectiveness of the programs.
The Urban INGO Forum Bangladesh was established in 2013 through the initiatives of Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh, with the support of Islamic Relief and World Vision Bangladesh. It is a consortium of 14 INGOs working on different issues in urban areas in Bangladesh. The initial objective of the forum was to ensure collective effort through better coordination, smooth communication between organizations working towards similar end goals, and networking among the urban stakeholders. The Urban INGO Forum Bangladesh became active with the INGOs working in urban areas with the aim of supporting low-income communities in an effective and broader way where organizing Urban Dialogue would be one of the initiatives among them.
This year the forum organized the 5th Urban Dialogue on November 01-02, 2017 on “Inclusive and Resilient Cities”. A total of 24 organizations partnered and 14 organizations funded for the urban dialogue where more than 750 people participated. The dialogue focused on to allow participants to highlight the unaddressed urban issues and to create an opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders at different tiers to complement government initiatives. Urban issues were addressed at the policy level, and evidence-based solutions were used in formulating development policies for sustainable urban services. The 5th Urban Dialogue was conducted through five parallel sessions over the two days. The following demands came from the parallel sessions during the 5th Urban Dialogue 2017:
Session-1: Urban Development Policy Framework: Reflection from the Lens of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA)
- The government will integrate DRR and CCA in urban sector plan ensuring people, public and private partnership, the establishment of a decentralized fire safety system, promote the culture of volunteerism and also ensure inclusive policies and enforcement of existing laws.
Session-2: Sustainable Water and Waste Management System for a Healthy and Resilient City
- The government will take appropriate measures to ensure safe water supply (aligned with SDG 6*) for low-income communities at an affordable cost in partnership with the private sector, NGOs, and the civil society. All urban reform efforts should be built around accelerating water connections to poorer households and communities - including subsidizing household connections and removing the requirement of land tenure as a condition for service provision. The government will also finalize and approve the draft Waste Management Rules (2010)/ Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (3R) Strategy and take necessary steps to implement it.
Session-3: Resilient Settlement for Green Cities: Our Way Forward
- The government will take appropriate measures to promote and adopt alternative and green construction materials in housing and infrastructure, through ensuring affordable housing for slum-dwellers and urban poor.
Session-4: Basic Rights and Services for Urban Poor
- The government will ensure basic services for the urban poor including primary health care for the slum, squatter and pavement dwellers through inter-ministerial coordination, and bring them under social safety net coverage through urban specific policies and programs. The government will recognize urban extreme poor as equal citizens of the country through the unhindered provision of National Identification Cards and Birth Certificates.
Session-5: Cities for All: Make Cities Safe and Resilient for Women, Youth, and Children
- City authorities will have pilot initiatives youth in planning, execution and monitoring social accountability of key stakeholders.
- Ministry of Local Government, rural development and cooperatives will institutionalize youth engagement in governance at the local level (City Corporation, municipalities, Wards).
- The Government will acknowledge youth, women, and children as driving force and implement relevant policies to ensure their participation in planning and protection issues for resilient cities.
The Urban Dialogues ended with a Plenary Session, through an interactive discussion among the government body, donors, private sector, civil society organizations, multi-level stakeholders and audiences about issues on urban crisis, gaps and future initiatives hosted by Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC). In the plenary session, the core points of all the sessions conducted over the two-day event are summarized, and the future action points are drafted through discussion. These action points, known as the declaration, are going to be published as a roadmap for the Urban INGO forum. The 6th Urban Dialogue will follow-up and measure the successes and shortcomings based on these declaration points.
Following are the issues identified from two days long urban dialogue:
- We recognize and find the importance of urban context and the urbanization process for development of Bangladesh. At existing growth rates of 2.8%, the country’s urban population will reach 79 million or 42% of the population by 2035. Today’s rural issues will become tomorrow’s urban problems, thus the time to act is now.
- 28% of the population is living in urban areas which will become 50% in three decades. Rapid urbanization has increased unplanned population growth and settlement, migration, and pressure on administrative boundaries. This trend towards urbanization cannot be halted as the economy evolves from a low to a middle-income country. We also recognize that climate-induced disasters and associated risks will only accelerate the trend of rapid urbanization and increased rate of migration.
- Higher population density and poorly planned cities in Bangladesh creates negative externalities. Urban expansion taking place in slums exacerbate socio-economic disparities. In absence of pro-poor urban governance, protecting rights and dignity of poor urban dwellers is not possible. Over-centralization and inadequate popular participation have been identified as the main causal factors.
- People, poverty and disaster risks are increasingly concentrated in the cities. The vulnerable groups, children, women, youth and the aged encounter severe problems in their daily lives in terms of having basic services, safety, and security, protection and livelihood. In Bangladesh, gaps in institutionalization and capacity of disaster management committees and volunteers at all levels were also identified as one of the challenges for managing urban risks at the city level.
- Hazardous and labor intensive job affects the health condition of the poor community; therefore, the urban poor find themselves in a difficult situation to escape poverty.
- Housing crisis for the migrated people is recognized as one of the major concerns for the urban citizens. Also, it is important to switch towards eco-friendly building materials to ensure support for a green city movement.
- Double diseases burden, fragmented health system and unclear role of different ministries, departments and stakeholders is causing unaffordable and inequitable access to health service by an urban low-income population which has a significant impact on urban poverty.
- Housing crisis for the migrated people is also recognized as one of the major concerns for the urban citizens.
- Unskilled labor, limited employment opportunities, degraded environment, poor housing, road safety and hazards for the urban communities, lack of access to safe water and sanitation services, causes poverty in urban areas. Gaps in including urban nutrition in National Social Security Strategy paper and link up with other urban social safety net programs also considered as one of the major problems for the city.
- Private-public partnership is not widely addressed in case of urban development
- We recognize that the City Wide Approach through inter-agency coordination and collaboration both in government and non-government agencies in order to ensure effective utilization of shared resources is a gap for comprehensive, inclusive and future urban development.
The two day long 5th Urban Dialogue came to a conclusion with Fred Witteven, National Director of World Vision Bangladesh, Summarizing the last two days session. Zia Choudhury, Country Director of CARE Bangladesh read out declaration points. The session was closed with concluding remarks and vote of thanks to Dr. Maksud Kamal, Chairperson, Dept. of Disaster Science and Management, University of Dhaka. The event was a huge success and culminated in a number of fruitful ideas and way forward in building more inclusive and resilient cities. The Urban INGO Forum Bangladesh will continue aligning their work to the declarations and try to achieve desired results.