Rapid urbanization and Bangladesh

From the beginning of mankind, it took around 10,000 years till 1800 AD to establish only 3% of civilization for the world. In earlier days urbanization was a slow process for the world but after 1950 the world has been urbanizing in a rapid number. Now more than 50% of the world’s populations are living in cities, towns or urban areas. In 1990 the world had only 10 mega cities, but the number  turned to 28 in 2014 and 16 mega cities are located in Asia. Statistical reports show that around 53% civilization of the world had happened in Asia, 14% in Europe and 13% in Latin America and the Caribbeans. Bangladesh is world's most densely populated country which is experiencing a rapid urbanization compared to the other countries of south Asia. In 1974 only 8.8% of the total population of Bangladesh was living in urban areas. In spite of the low standard of urbanization, now 28.4%, a major portion of population is living in 570 urban centers of the country. The urban population of Bangladesh for the year 2011 stands at 42.7 million. According to a World Bank estimate, by 2020, nearly every other male, female and child will live in an urban area. Of this urban population, more than half lives in the four largest cities: Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi. This is really a matter of great concern that this type of urbanization is taking place in the country in an unplanned way and as a result the cities, towns or urban areas are losing the livable conditions.

To understand the causes of urbanization in Bangladesh, we can describe it in a simple push-pull factor.Push factors, including population pressure, shortage of lands and lack of employment opportunities are commonly advanced as the main reasons for migration to cities in Bangladesh. In the absence of sufficient industrialization the pull factors are few. There is considerable evidence that cities of Bangladesh offer better economic and social opportunities than the rural areas. A major cause of rapid urbanization is that the agricultural sector is no longer able to provide proper economical shelters for the agriculture dependent rural people; as a result the people are becoming seasonal or permanent migrant in the cities, towns or urban areas. Natural disasters, social and political problems, conflicts, better opportunities are also other reasons encouraging migration towards the urban areas. Everyday thousands of people are migrating in the urban areas; many of them are poor and find shelters only in the slum areas which are a pressure for the cities. Despite so many negative issues of unplanned urbanization, rapid urbanization is a key feature of the recent development of Bangladesh.Now the cities have 60% contribution in GDP of Bangladesh. Social development, cultural and political development, higher literacy rate, quality of education and better health indicators are the positive impact of urbanization. But unplanned and uncontrolled urbanization process is creating tremendous problems and pressures for the country and cities:

  • High densely population and urban poverty
  • Unhealthy living condition
  • Hazardous /dangerous situations
  •  insecure tenure
  • Road, infrastructure and public transportation problems
  • Inadequate environmental concerns
  • Less protection against exploitation for the citizens
  • Increasing crimes
  • Shortage of basic services and urban utilities
  •  Fast depletion of Greenery and water bodies
  • Slums have spread beside high rise buildings
  • Horrific traffic jam is bringing life to a standstill, imposing huge costs on the economy
  • Pollution has become a serious threat
  • The air quality remains dangerously poor
  • Household, medical, and electronic wastes are increasing in volume and worsening in composition
  • Untreated sewerage contaminates neighboring rivers increasingly.

Urban poverty is a big challenge in the way of achieving the status of middle income country as 34% of urban people are poor” –Hossain Zillur Rahman

Urban Poverty is a major effect of unplanned urbanization. It is actually a multidimensional poverty pattern for the urban poor basically who are living in the slums as an ignored discourse to the state. Insufficient incomes, poor housing, high rent, price hike, mastans, exploitation, exclusions, inequalities, water shortages, poor sanitation and drainage, irregular electric supply, unplanned construction, increasing air pollution, risks are the common problems for the slum dwellers. As a result urban poverty becomes a big challenge for Bangladesh towards achieving middle-income nation status and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) too. To become a middle-income country Bangladesh require increasing GDP growth between  7.5 to 8 percent per year which is only possible by managing the urbanization process more effectively as it is proved that urbanization is contributing 60% in the GDP . On the other hand, if the government wants to achieve the SDG goal of eradication of extreme poverty, it will not be able to achieve that without addressing urban poverty and urban problems. As the NGOs and government safety net programs are working to build a better developed Bangladesh, but many of the projects are implemented by targeting the rural poor not the urban poverty.   

The first Bangladesh urban forum (2011) proposed some Strategic approaches for urban upgrading by focusing three major problems (i) Urban Governance; (ii) Urban Poverty; and (iii) Urbanization and Growth. They proposed to give priorities to the following dimensions while formulating the National Urban Sector Policy:

a. Patterns and process of urbanization
b. Local urban planning
c. Local economic development and employment
d. Urban local finance and resource mobilization
e. Urban land management
f. Urban housing
g. Urban poverty and slum improvement
h. Urban environmental management
i. Infrastructure and services
j. Urban transportation
k. Health and education
l. Social structure


m. Gender concerns
n. Urban children, aged, the disabled and the scavengers
o. Urban Recreation, Playground, Park, Open Spaces and Graveyards
p. Cultural and aesthetic development
q. Rural-urban linkage
r. Law and order
s. Legislation
t. Urban governance
u. Urban Research, Training and Information

Five years have already passed from the submission of proposal by Bangladesh urban forum but the situation of urbanization is becoming even worse because of lack of proper implementation of the policies. Urban crisis are now above the danger mark. Now is the time to f re-thinking urbanization? Government should concentrate on following issues:

  1. Well planned urbanization process
  2. Decentralization
  3. Eradicate Urban poverty and a ensure  better living condition for the slum dwellers
  4. Street hawker and floating people 
  5. Proper distribution of basic services
  6. Effective urban governance
  7. Easy and Jam free transportation
  8. Control the price hike
  9. Coordination of Fiscal, Regulatory and Administrative Systems
  10. NGO involvement in urban issues
  11. Urban land management etc.

Without having a proper concentration on urban economy, progress of Bangladesh is impossible. Now a proper planned urbanization process can fulfill the dream of middle-income Bangladesh.

Information sources:

  1. 'Messy Urbanization' challenge to achieving SDGs B- The Asian Age
  2. Urbanization in Bangladesh: Present Status and Policy Implications-  ASA University Review, Vol. 4 No. 2
  3. Urban Dialogue 1- Organized by Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh Overview of Urbanization in Bangladesh
  4. making cities and towns work for all, Report of the 1st Bangladesh Urban Forum
  5. Urbanization in Bangladesh: Challenges and priorities- Hossain Zillur Rahman
  6. Urbanization and Urban Governance- Nazrul Islam 


Officer-Monitoring & Evaluation
Urban Development Programme, BRAC
Rangpur, Bangladesh

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