THERE might be debates on the ways to measure how safe and liveable a city is, but there are certainly some indicators that are pretty reliable to measure whether a city is safe and liveable for its residents. For example, if a woman can walk alone and safely at night along a city road, it indicates that the city is safe in some respects — there is personal security for residents.
Similarly, a liveable and safe city must ensure health security, planned and developed infrastructure, quality education, safe environment and other issues and, at the same time, it must also offer the facilities that a city is expected to do. In the twenty-first century, when people are being predominantly urban, cities represent countries, their administration and people too. Studies show that more than 56 per cent of the world’s population live in cities and the gross domestic product of most countries now heavily depend on urban areas. To mention, New Climate Initiative, a think tank, estimates that urban areas create around 85 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product.
A bleak picture of a city portrays and represents the bleak picture of a country. To put it in other words, the safety state of a country can largely be guessed by looking into the safety and security state of its major cities.
Does Dhaka, the bustling capital of Bangladesh with an estimated 180 million residents, qualify as a safe and liveable city when compared with other major cities in other parts of the world or even in South Asia? The residents of Dhaka will certainly answer in the negative. In every reliable indicator of a safe city, Dhaka fails to offer its residents the security that a safe and liveable city is supposed to.
There is no denying that Dhaka has failed to urbanise itself into a liveable city by offering its residents the expected facilities and security. In reality, Dhaka has turned into an impossible city where comfortable living is way far away. It is, therefore, no wonder, embarrassing though, that Dhaka has been ranked the third worst liveable city in the latest Global Liveability Index 2019 and the fifth least safe city in the latest Safe Cities Index 2019 report, both prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Dhaka is trailed by two war-torn cities — Damascus and Lagos — to be the third worst liveable city in the Global Liveability Index 2019, which ranked 140 major cities in five important liveability standard indicators — stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.
It is reasonable to guess that if Damascus, which is mired in multi-party foreign invasions and infighting, and Lagos, which is steeped in sort of a civil war, had not been torn and tossed by devastating wars, Dhaka would have been ranked the worst liveable city because Dhaka earned its berth without having to go through any war-like situation. Dhaka’s overall score in the liveability index is 39.20 out of 100 in the index. The city scored 55 in stability, 40.5 in culture and environment, 41.7 in education, a measly 29.2 in healthcare and a paltry 26.8 in infrastructure.
In the Safe Cities Index report, which ranked 60 major cities based on 57 indicators covering major indicators such as digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security, Dhaka is trailed by Karachi, Yangon, Caracas and Lagos.
Dhaka scored poorly in all the four major indicators of the Safe Cities Index, the overall score being 44.6 out of 100.
Dhaka fared worst in the infrastructure security indicator, both in the Liveability Index and the Safe Cities Index. In the liveability index, the city has scored 26.8 while the ideal is 100 and in the safe cities index, the city has scored 34.2 regarding its infrastructure.
The infrastructure index takes into account a number of reliable indicators such as transport safety, pedestrian-friendliness of roads, disaster management capabilities and others to measure and assess how safe and liveable a city is.
As for transport safety, Dhaka is synonymous with a nightmare. The transport system in Dhaka, not only to outsiders and visitors but also to its residents, has for long been frightening. From a terrible traffic situation to rampant deaths in road accidents make Dhaka streets alarmingly scary.
For pedestrians, the scene is particularly scary as, according to a study, around 72 per cent of the people killed in road accidents were pedestrians. Another study shows that that there is no footpath along 44 per cent of Dhaka roads, and about 82 per cent of Dhaka footpaths are in a bad shape and pedestrians face obstruction along about 65 per cent of the footpaths. The study also finds no facilities for pedestrians on 97 per cent of roads.
As for disaster management, Dhaka’s sickeningly poor abilities to respond to disasters and tragedies, small or big, were visible in managing the recent fire incidents.
In the health index, indicators such as access to health care, access to safe and quality food, air and water quality, number of physicians and hospital beds per 1000 people, environmental policy and others are measured and Dhaka scored a measly 29.2 in the liveability index and in safe cities index, Dhaka left only Lagos, Karachi and Yangon behind to be the fourth least safe in the health security index.
Poor healthcare and poorer access to healthcare, upsetting and poor availability of safe and quality food, polluted air — Dhaka is ranked the third-worst city on the world Air Quality Index — and unsafe water are what burden each and every one living in Dhaka.
In other areas such as education, environment, stability and digital security, both in liveability and safe cities index, Dhaka stands at an embarrassingly poor position.
Urban safety under the present economic-social-political order matters much and a disorderly transition towards urbanisation will leave everything and everyone in discomfort, to say the very least. The challenges of urbanisation, if not properly met, can cause substantial human and economic risks. The success or failure of cities will define the quality of human life in the years ahead.
Against the backdrop of such a poor state of Dhaka in both liveability and safe cities index, the flooding development rhetoric and narratives, which are trumpeted by the government and its leaders, sounds an embarrassment. The development narratives are an all-encompassing delusion, generated by the myth of continuous progress and assumption of endless economic growth while, in reality, unplanned development, the absence of good governance, housing crisis, inadequate healthcare facilities, aggression on environment, water stagnation, poor drainage and waste management have made Dhaka one of the worst cities to live in.
Monwarul Islam is an editorial assistant at New Age.
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