Disparity between cities and villages is widening as most benefits of economic growth go to urban people depriving rural folks, the majority population, as successive governments continue to pursue urban-centric development instead of decentralisation.
Economists and urban experts said that better scopes of income, expenditure, education, healthcare, employment and amusement were created for the urban dwellers compare to rural people because of uneven distribution of the economic growth, over 6 per cent on an average in the past one decade.
Widening disparity is a common phenomenon in ‘urban-centric development’ although it is not viable, they said, adding that the benefit of the high economic growth could not cross the city boundary to rural area, home to 65 per cent of the country’s population.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies director general Khan Ahmed Sayeed Murshed said that the government should rethink the current urban-centric development policy against the backdrop of the scarcity of land and resources, environmental degradation and shortage of pure drinking water.
Otherwise, the future generation would suffer badly, he told New Age on Tuesday.
Besides the high prevalence of poverty, the rural areas also lag behind the cities in education standard.
Academics found rural schools to fall behind their urban compatriots because of shortage of competent teachers, laboratories, libraries and other facilities.
Acute shortage of doctors, labs and medicines crippled upazila health complexes especially to treat rising non-communicable diseases like respiratory problem, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular ailments despite achieving success in primary healthcare, according to a joint study by BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health and the icddr,b released in February.
Discrepancy faced by rural people keeps growing although 42.7 per cent of the country’s workforce is engaged in firm sector and has bolstered the economy by trebling the rice production since the country’s Independence in 1972.
The country has been losing at least 1 per cent of its cultivable land each year for growing unplanned urbanisation mainly in Dhaka and adjoining districts against the backdrop of shifting from agriculture to manufacture.
The Gini co-efficient, used to measure income inequality, increased to 0.483 at national level in 2016 from 0.458 in 2010 meaning that the rich became richer while the poor poorer during the period, academics and economists said.
The top 10 per cent households of the country held 38.16 per cent of national income in 2016, up from 35.84 per cent in 2010, according to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016.
It said that 1.01 per cent of the income went to the bottom 10 per cent of households in 2016 against 2 per cent six years ago.
According to former interim government finance adviser Mirza Azizul Islam, the reason behind the widening inequality is slower growth in agricultural production against the higher growth in manufacturing and services sectors in big cities and district headquarters.
Wealthier and skilled people get the major portion of income, he said.
Low wage in the farm sector, according to economists, has led rural youths to go oil-rich Arab countries for earning remittance which accounts almost one third of the country’s annual export earnings of $34.8 billion in 2016-17 and helping cushion the country’s balance of payments.
According to a 2014 survey by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic, 88 per cent of remittance was spent in unproductive purposes like buying apartments and land and other consumption.
Unproductive utilisation of remittance contributes artificial price hike of properties, increases the number of consumer class and loss of arable land, said former Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies director general MK Muzeri.
The most concerning feature of the urban-centric development, according to urban experts, is high internal migration faced by Dhaka and other cities like Chittagong by landless farmers, climate refugees and seasonal workers from rural areas.
Dhaka’s unrivalled population density, inadequate infrastructure, congestion, pollution, growing number of slums and sanitation problem have ranked it 214th among 231 cities in quality of living, although the high internal migration has enabled manufacturers of export oriented garment and leather sectors to get workers at low wages.
According to Dhaka University department of population sciences professor Narun Nabi, Dhaka will be the world’s third-largest city by mid century, with a population of some 3.5 crore as per estimate of Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto.
This will be an unmitigated disaster, he said.
He said that 40 per cent of the city’s population lived in slums and 80 per cent lived in conditions not much better. Population growth exacerbates these problems at a rate that outpaces ability to address them, he added.
Little has been done to develop mid-sized cities in other regions in a process of decentralisation which could be effective to check internal migration, said Centre for Urban Studies chairman Nazrul Islam.
Both economists and urban experts noted that decentralisation would not only solve the city’s problems, but it would also help checking growing disparity between urban and rural areas.
Finance minister AMA Muhith at a book launching ceremony in Dhaka on Sunday said that the ruling Awami League would include establishment of district government by 2023 in its manifesto for the upcoming general elections.
Establishment of the district government is imperative for the country to attain double digit growth from the present 7 per cent growth, he said.
Earlier, Muhith placed the idea of district budget in 2009 and ran for several years aiming at decentralising the budget making process. It was, however, abandoned in 2013-2014 because of opposition from bureaucrats.
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