THE COVID-19 outbreak that has exposed the vulnerability of national health care, stalled national education, slowed down the economy, left people jobless and strained society also appears to have showed that Dhaka, the capital city, can no longer hold the burden of its development. This also partially holds true in the case of the second biggest city, the port city of Chattogram. Dhaka and, partly, Chattogram, which have drawn higher investments over the years, have developed beyond their capacity, forcing a continued internal migration, from less developed regions. Now when many people, mostly after having lost their income and job and having, therefore, found it difficult to continue to live in Dhaka four months well into the outbreak of the novel coronavirus infection, have started heading back to their places of origin in outlying areas, they find, as New Age reported on Friday, that it is the most unfortunate incident of their lives. The outlying areas that they left behind decades ago now fail to provide them with opportunities of health care, education, livelihood that they had in Dhaka or Chattogram. An estimated 50,000 tenants are already reported to have left Dhaka for their village homes as they cannot pay for living in Dhaka amidst the financial fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The city of Dhaka is said to be home to about 10 million people, with 10 million more living in the greater Dhaka area. And in 2016, when Dhaka’s population was lower, about two million families, as city police statistics says, were tenants. Recent studies show that 13 per cent of the people have lost their job, with the COVID-19 fallout already heaving left a significantly negative impact on employment, income and expenditure of people. With more people feared to continue to flow out of the capital city because of the COVID-19 fallouts, it does not appear to be an easy task for the government to tackle the situation that may be in store. A private research also shows that about 30 per cent of the total population live in city areas, big or small, and they contribute 60–70 per cent to the gross domestic product, which does not sound, as economists say, to be a comfortable proposition. Economists and governance campaigners believe that the people who have headed back to outlying areas would not have to fall into such an unfortunate predicament if they could find job and had access to better education and health care in their places of origin. Many of them, in fact, may not have needed to head to cities in search of a better living.
Such a situation appears to have resulted from the urban-centric development policy which calls out the government on having the development of all areas in focus. People are now forced to pay the penalty for the wrong policies that successive governments have pursued in having its development focus only on cities. The authorities must, in view of the crisis that people are now forced to go through, have an equal focus on the development of all regions to head off an impending disaster and to afford all citizens an equal opportunity for their living.
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