City dwellers for unique plan to save Dhaka

Ershad Kamol | Published: 00:00, Jan 03,2020 | Updated: 15:02, Jan 04,2020

 
 

Dwellers in Bangladesh capital demand the newly elected mayors and councillors in the upcoming Dhaka south and north city corporation elections scheduled on January 30 will take effective measures for making Dhaka liveable and green

They expect the mayors and the councillors will not abuse their power for personal gains, as they did before. They hope that the elected representative of the mega city would work for the welfare of an estimated 1.5 crore city dwellers by making the city clean through developing quality waste management system, keeping the roads and footpaths functional for movements, ensuring public health facilities, including controlling the mosquito menace and providing entertainment facilities as per the mandates.

The Local Government (City Corporation) Act  2009 has entrusted the city corporations with over 120  types of duties under 28 major heads like public health; death and birth registration; bus, market and slaughterhouses managements; disposal of dead bodies, construction of public roads and footpaths; drainage system management; providing public safety, creating scope for public amusements by constructing parks and recreation centres, patronising education and culture, facilitating social welfare activities among other responsibilities.

But living in a green city with required essential facilities remains a far cry for the Dhaka dwellers as the city had been ranked by the British Economist Intelligence Unit in last September as the third worst liveable city in the world.

According to the annual Global Liveability Index for 2019, Dhaka scored 39.2 out of 100 and ranked 138th out of 140 cities followed by Lagos in Nigeria and Damascus in war-torn Syria. The ranking is made evaluating the stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure of the cities.

The Bangladesh capital’s air quality was ranked the most polluted in the world on several times in the past few days and appeared to be a great concern for public health. On Monday, Dhaka’s position was third on the AQI with very unhealthy air quality engulfing the entire city.

‘Ahead of the city corporations elections, the mayoral and councillorship candidates come up with various lucrative pledges for providing more civic facilities. They even come to houses of the voters to impress them. But unfortunately they forget all the pledges after elections,’ a Lalmatia dweller Lalarukh Selim said.

‘We pay household taxes and count additional money for the garbage collectors. But, we see dirt and dust on roads and pavements. And we face difficulties while crossing dustbins as solid and rotten kitchen wastes are dumped indiscriminately near those bins on the busy roads,’ she said.

A residence of Niketan Naila Azad expresses surprise seeing the city corporations’ inability to even control mosquito menace  and keep the water bodies and drains clean, which is essential for ensuring public health. 

In the Local Government (City Corporation) Act  2009, 26 types of resource bases are earmarked for collecting revenues like holding taxes, rates and fees, conservancy rate, rent and fees from market, lease money and others, exempting nearly 33 per cent of the total population of Dhaka, those who live in slums.

Still, the city corporations, including Dhaka South City Corporation and Dhaka North City Corporation, face fund crisis due to lack of transparency in assessment and poor collection efficiency.

Local government and rural development minister Md Tajul Islam has been vocal on the inefficiency in tax collection. In several public meetings he repeatedly said, ‘It is also the failures of the mayors and councillors who could not come up with innovative programmes to attract citizens to pay taxes.’

Town planners and architects observe that over the years those who were elected as mayors and councillors in Dhaka had no clear idea on the functions of the city corporations as a local government body to provide facilities to the urban dwellers.

After being elected, they said, the mayors and councillors remained alienated from the people and started working to ensure their own benefits and fill the coffers of their political masters.

‘A mayor or a councillor might not have the professional knowledge for planning and execution civic services. But, they should keep in touch with people, try to understand their demands and requirements, and take initiatives for providing those facilities,’ Bangladesh Institute of Planners general secretary Adil Muhammad Khan pointed out. 

‘So, plans should be prepared analysing the demands of the wards. But in reality, the central government orders the city corporations to execute plans and projects by the mayors through the city corporation officials,’ he said.

The councillors, he said, remain completely out of the whole system and after being alienated they remain busy with their own businesses like contractorship.

Thanks to the evil nexus of corrupt contractors, mayors and councillors, no actions have ever been taken against the contractors who do not complete their projects properly for which they often strike underhanded deals with officials. Nor do they clear debris and construction materials on the roads flouting Road Digging Policy 2019 for months on end, with the aim to sell those at the cost of public sufferings and polluting the air, town planners said. 

The policy, however, requires them to remove construction materials within 24 hours from the spot and the contractors are paid for the task by the city corporations.

For its internal corruptions, they said, city corporations could not even make the footpaths and footover bridges from hawkers and beggars.

City corporations grossly ignored the uncontrolled disposals of domestic wastes, kitchen market wastes, faecal sludge and medical wastes kept on polluting the environment, damaging fertility of the soil and spreading malaria and causing respiratory problems, and several other water-prone diseases, Adil said.

‘But in the other countries, city centres function as the main sources of public gatherings, entrainment, basic education and primary health service providers,’ he said, adding that in Bangladesh cleaning roads, disposing wastes and issuing birth and death certificates are considered to be the basic functions of the city corporations.

‘The community centres, operated by the city corporations, are basically used for holding only marriage ceremonies,’ he said.

And it is ridiculous to see that even the segregated waste collection system at every household, environment-friendly disposal system at the community level and in the landfills could not yet been introduced, he continued.

‘Only 20 per cent area in the capital is under swage coverage. For absence of dumping wastes from the septic tanks in the remaining areas, people discharge faecal sludge into the storm drain meant for draining out rainwater,’ he said.

Rajdhani Unnyayan Kartripakkhya’s survey report for the capital’s next master plan till the year 2035 shows that at present an estimated 35,110 tonnes of solid wastes are produced every day, which will be 47,064 tonnes in 2025, in the fast-growing Dhaka.

About 37 per cent of generated waste is collected and dumped at the two landfill sites in Matuail and Amin Bazar. Other garbage is dumped in open spaces, beside roads and even in manholes and canals blocking the drainage system, the study reveals.

As a result, Dhaka city dwellers are faced with serious waterlogging problem even after a moderate rain.

Locals at Matuail and Amin Bazar said that following the development of the landfill sites after 1990s, birds in the vast low-lying areas of the two places disappeared.

It has also had impact on the health of the locals and serious environmental impact on the adjacent 200 acres of cropfields and fisheries, according to two separate studies carried out by CEGIS and four students of Dhaka University’s soil science department.

A local government body expert Tofail Ahmed finds limitation in very structure of governance as well as the function of the city corporations.

‘The corporation act has given so many responsibilities to the local government body and then took away all the power making the corporations completely dependent on the lawmakers and central government,’ he said, adding that the lawmakers and ministers treat the councillors and mayors just as their political activists but not heads of the local  government bodies.

‘In Dhaka, 52 agencies are responsible for providing different types of services on which the mayors have no authority – they include the police, WASA, DTCA, Rajuk and others responsible for planning the town, providing water supply and sewerage facilities and controlling traffic,’ he said.

Dividing Dhaka into two city corporations in 2011, he said, made the problems more complicated and created opportunities for the mayors and councillors to scape responsibilities by shifting blames on others.

The experts and urban dwellers hope that the central government start to realise that power should be vested in these organisations for the proper functioning of the city corporations and the elected mayors and councillors should dedicatedly and honestly provide services to ensure the welfare of the city dwellers. To make the city Dhaka liveable and turn it into greener and friendlier place, there was no exception but to keep the pledges they make to the public before the elections.

 

An abode of some 17 million people, mega city Dhaka is beset with numerous problems and its citizens are largely deprived of civic amenities and basic rights. As Dhaka people are going to vote for their mayors and councillors this month, New Age reporters Ahammad Foyez, Rashad Ahamad, Wahid Ullah Bakul and Shamsul Arefin Khan talked to a number of professionals living in Dhaka and asked about their expectations from the next mayors and councillors. They expected that the manifestoes of the candidates must not be empty rhetoric and Dhaka should be a city where people could happily live, work and play.

 

Neaz Rahman

Urban Planer Khondker Neaz Rahman said that most of the time authorities and people concerned are terming Dhaka as an ‘engine of economic growth’ while there was no indication of turning it into a liveable city for it residence.

‘Dhaka is responsible for more than one third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product though the city is less than 1 per cent of the county in size,’ he said.

The urban planner said that as the driver of the economy, Dhaka played a key role in ensuring a large number of formal employments.

‘But what is the condition of the lives of the city people who are contributing to the strengthening of the country’s economy? Is the city is safe for its citizens? Are there any spaces or plan for nature? The authorities should find the answers of such questions,’ he argued.

The city corporations have responsibilities of making the city in such way where people will be able to live with dignity as a citizens, he continued, further emphasising that the development indicator of the city should focus on livelihood of people to ensure a humane metropolis.

He added that though the Dhaka metropolitan region is called a metropolitan city, it lacks the characteristics of a metropolitan city – neither all the regions are planned accordingly nor look the same. There are densely populated areas whose match would not be found around the globe. The city is not actually a homogeneous city, he added.

Of the 1528 square kilometer area of Detailed Area Plan, more than 84 per cent are one-storied infrastructures while widths of 90 per cent of total roads are less than 20 feet, he said.

He also said that one third of the population are living in slams while residence for middle- and lower-income people are still unaffordable.

Only 26 canals existed on the outskirts of Dhaka while there were 65 in the 1970s. Water bodies in the city now took up 10.28 square kilometres, which occupied 29 square kilometres in the past, he said.

He said that the free spaces, including playgrounds and parks occupied less than 1 per cent which only go to making the city look dreary.

He said that 45 per cent of city waste are not been collected, as a result waste matters are polluting water bodies including canals, rivers and lakes.

Solving these immediate problems was tough but not impossible. To build a modern city, he said, a strong cooperation between the agencies was needed. Agencies involved — Dhaka North City Corporation, Dhaka South City Corporation, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha and Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority — needed to work together to identify and solve the problems, he added.

He said that Dhaka was one of the largest and fastest growing megacities where the rate of growth in the last twenty times higher than different megacities in the world.

Comparing Dhaka with other cities of the world would be unscientific as 90,000 infrastructures were built in Dhaka every year, he said, adding that Dhaka needed a unique plan to survive.

 

Swapna Reza

Swapna Reza, the general secretary of Caring Glory, a special education centre for the children with special needs, said that Dhaka is not an inclusive city where people with special needs can live a comfortable life.

She said that almost every infrastructure in the city has been developed without considering the needs of visually impaired persons, wheelchair users and people with other forms of impairments.

Swapna said that the people even cannot avail necessary medical support in hospitals as their structures are neither disabled people-friendly nor the psychology of the service providers is supportive.

She said that the same scenario prevailed in educational institutions and public facilities like park, road, footpath, and market.

 She said that every city in the world has incorporated facilities for people with special needs and Dhaka mayor should also come forward to ensure the similar facilities here.

‘Special people have talents and they need opportunities to explore themselves,’ she said, adding that getting equal support is their rights, not a privilege.

Swapna said that ramp in all public buildings and facilities were not installed yet in the city.

She said that where general people in Dhaka couldn’t move comfortably it was almost impossible for the physically-challenged people to commute.

She urged the next mayors to address the needs of special people everywhere.

 

Dilara Zaman

Actor Dilara Zaman, an enduring name whose presence in TV dramas turned her into an icon, lives in Uttara which is under Dhaka North City Corporation. Dilara Zaman is worried over Dhaka being ranked the third worst in Air Quality Index. She also shared her discontent regarding the never-ending onslaught of mosquitoes across the city.

‘I want to live in a Dhaka where the citizens can breathe fresh air and live without the fear of catching mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and others,’ Dilara Zaman told New Age.

‘The air of Dhaka city is full of dust which one can’t breathe freely. The drop in air quality has greatly tarnished the city’s reputation across the world. The city is now known as the city of dust. Besides, every night the dwellers have to face the onslaught of mosquitoes. Every night they lay siege on us. I have to lock myself inside of my home. We are forced to keep our windows and door closed at night. It is impossible to go outside without getting bitten,’ said Dilara.

The actress has high hopes for the upcoming mayor. She is optimistic that after assuming office the next mayor will identify the reasons of air pollution and address those and take effective measures to rescue dwellers from mosquito menace.

‘I am an optimistic person. I hope that the next mayor will do everything within his power to improve the situation. I hope he will take measures for improving air quality, rescue dwellers from  mosquito menace and speed up development works if possible to reduce sufferings of the citizens,’ she ended.

 

Fahmida Nabi

Popular singer Fahmida Nabi, who burst into the scene with dulcet voice way back in the 1980s, lives in Dhanmondi, which is under Dhaka South City Corporation.

Fahmida Nabi hopes that the next mayor will take steps for restoring the glory of old Dhaka, play an effective role in reducing noise pollution and traffic jam and address the mosquito menace as fast as possible. She also urges the citizens to play their part in keeping the city clean.

‘There are a lot of schools, colleges and universities located in Dhanmondi area so the streets of there remains choked with vehicles during a good part of the day, resulting in long tailbacks and noise pollution. I hope the next mayor will take steps to improve things. Besides, I hope he will restore Old Dhaka to its former glory,’ Fahmida Nabi told New Age.

‘The citizens have a huge role to play. No matter which step the next mayor takes, it will not be effective if we do not do our part. We must not block traffic on the street by parking our vehicles haphazardly and should not blow car horns unnecessarily. We should try to keep the streets clean and try to develop the habit of not littering,’ she added.

Fahmida Nabi hopes that the next mayor will deal with mosquito menace swiftly.

‘I hope the next mayor will move swiftly to address the mosquito menace. If he identifies the causes and address those quickly then the situation will improve. We also have to do our part by keeping our surroundings clean. It is our city. If we all work together then anything is possible,’ Fahmida concluded.

 

Hasanullah Khan

Dhaka Mariners Young general secretary Hasanullah Khan expects the next mayor from Dhaka South City Corporation to deal with several problems in his area like dust pollution, traffic congestion and minor crimes.

Hasanullah, who lives in the ward no nine of Dhaka South City Corporation, believes that the ongoing development works in Dhaka has increased the dust level and people have to suffer a lot for it, especially in his area.

‘There is huge development work running in the entire Dhaka city especially in my area, Motijheel. I think because of the many projects, the dust pollution has become severe in my area and the next mayor should pay immediate attention to control it,’ he said.

‘I think the traffic laws also should be maintained strictly. The metro work project and by-pass road project are going side-by-side and some other development projects are going simultaneously. I think the mayor should ensure that these works end by winter so that people do not suffer in the rainy season,’ he added.

The veteran organiser hoped that the newly-elected mayor and councillors should give the matter priority and they also should introduce a community-based security system in these areas. 

‘I think the development works must be finished at the earliest possible time and this should be the main priority. I am not talking about the metro project but the other projects. I think Motijheel people are suffering a lot for these undergoing work projects,’ he said.

‘I hope that the new representatives also must work on controlling crimes in my area. Though the crime rate has gone down in the last few years, but they should create community-based security systems. Previously in my no. 9 ward, there were about 100 guards, who work day and night in Arambagh in Fakirapool. I think they also should consider the matter,’ he added.

 

Ferhana Ferdous

Transparency International Bangladesh civic engagement director Ferhana Ferdous said that she expected the next mayors to develop a mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability to the taxpayers of the city.

She said that mayors use taxpayers’ money but they hold no accountability to the taxpayers and mayors obviously should be made them accountable to the taxpayers.

She believed that such accountability of mayors to the people would help them set up the priority and take pragmatic measures for a solution to the problems.

She believed that for the lack of transparency and accountability people were not getting better services that they actually deserve for a better life.

Ferhana explained that both Dhaka South and North City Corporations had bought mosquito-killing pesticide but thousands of people still suffered from dengue fever and many of them died as the pesticide was bellow standard.

‘Mayors could do this as they had no accountability to the citizen.  If the people could ask them about the procurement it could not have happened,’ she said.

As a taxpaying citizen, she hoped that the next mayors would ensure all the required services, including proper management of city waste, street light, basic health and education, and comfortable city streets.

She agreed that there were thousands of problems in Dhaka and all the problems could not be solved overnight. Priority should be set by the residents based on their requirements, she said.

‘Problem-solving measures should be bottom-up, not top-down,’ she said.

She also urged the next mayors to perform his/her duty for the happiness of people, not the party, who gave them the nomination or other supports.

‘Mayor is for all citizen of a city, not for the people of a particular party,’ she said.

Ferhana said that in some cases residents have to pay twice for the same services. City people have to pay double for many services, including waste management as well as for saving them from mosquito bites, she said.

She urged that mayoral candidates to give their commitments to the voters addressing almost all the common problems of the city and also urged them to inform how the problems would be solved by expending their taxes.

‘I wish all the mayor candidates will come up at the same stage with their election manifestos,’ she said.

 

Fazle Reza Sumon

Urban planner and chief executive of TROYEE associates Fazle Reza Sumon said that Dhaka, a fast-growing mega city of the world, needed public participation in all stages of planning for solving its civic problems.

He listed traffic jam, waterlogging, lack of  sanitation systems, air pollution, noise pollution, absence of open spaces and the lack of proper public transport and usable footpaths as among the chronic civic problems of Dhaka.

‘Involve the community in each stage of the planning to solve the problems,’ in his advices to the mayoral candidates.

He said public involvement would create the sense of belonging for sustainable solution to the nagging problems.

Public involvement would make it easier to solve the problems and to make  Dhaka  liveable and safe for dwellers, said Sumon.

Sumon said that the would be mayors  should issue manifestos declaring their commitment to make Dhaka clean, green and an illuminated city.

He also called for running the two Nagar Bhabans with public participation to take care of the poor people to provide them with the same amenities as the rich get.

Sumon emphasized on ‘Community Strategic Plans’ setting out priorities and goals for the next 10 years to develop public places and infrastructure, environmental sustainability, local economy and employment, governance and leadership.

He also called for developing plans for operating the public facilities.

He also asked to prepare a ‘Local Area Plan’ for every ward to provide community facilities at every locality proposing location of  schools, parks, community centres, libraries, playgrounds, religious places, graveyards, and roads to be maintained.

He also suggested preparing a long term Financial Plan, Asset Management Plan and Workforce Management Plan to strengthen city governance and incorporate ‘smart city features’ to efficiently implement those plans and modernize community services.

 

Zobera Rahman Linu

Former table tennis star Zobera Rahman Linu expects the next mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation would help solve many issues, including illegal car parking, contamination of drinking water and petty crimes.

 The 16-time national TT champion Linu, who lives in Uttara area of Dhaka North city, also expects the next mayor to ensure civic facilities.

 ‘Whenever it comes to elections, the first thing I expect is that it will free and fair. It will help the mayor work with people’s mandate. I expect him to work for ensuring people’s comfort,’ she said.

 The former table tennis queen found out some problems in her area (Section-6 in Uttara) that she believed affect public life.

 ‘Roads may be widened for the convenience of commuters and pedestrians. But often they do not come of any use because of unauthorised car parking. The haphazardly parked cars block the road, pollute the environment and create traffic jams in residential areas. I hope the next mayor will take action against illegal parking,’ she said. 

 She said that the mayor has also a role to play in tackling burglaries and robberies that often happen in her area. 

‘Many times we hear the news of theft and robbery in my area. We want a secured life. I hope the mayor will coordinate with the law enforcers to solve it,’ she said.

She also urged the next mayor to take the time-bound project.

 ‘Road repairing takes a long time. We don’t see time-bound projects in this regard. It creates a hazard for pedestrian specially when it happens in the rainy season. I am one of the sufferers as road repairing work is going on for the last three months in front of my house,’ she said.

 

Raihan Rahman

To ensure a clean environment for city people, Dhaka north and south city corporation will have to take immediate effective plans of waste management. And all activities to this end should follw global standard.

The corporation should relocate the dustbins from the side of the roads as it very much unhealthy for the citizens as the waste volume in Dhaka city increasing every year in an alarming rate.

Both the landfills for dumping city wastes — at Amin Bazar and Matuail — are almost filled up as the two city corporations usually dump 5,000 tonnes of waste there every day.

The corporations need to introduce a community-based solid waste management system involving recycling and composting in conjunction with sanitary landfilling with possible provision for transfer stations.

To ensure an ecologically sound Dhaka, the problem of solid waste management needs immediate attention.

Goods-producing companies should be brought under extended producer responsibility for effective waste management as they were generating huge wastes, often avoidable, to make their products look attractive to consumers.

The waste-carrying vehicles in daytime on busy roads should be stopped as it becoming a major source of public nuisance, scattered garbage often lead to drain clogging, water pollution and mosquito breeding.

Necessary measures should be taken by the authorities concerned immediately to check all types of pollutions, including air and water pollutions.

The authorities of Dhaka city corporations should also ensure safe and easy access to public transport facilities as the commuting cost for lower- and middle-income people are only rising day by day.

As work hours of the Dhaka people is being wasted on roads when faced with daily traffic cognations, mayors should focus on reducing traffic cognations by ensuring efficient traffic management.

The cities across Bangladesh should take measures to introduce special transport services for college and university students and ensure half-fare for students.

Mayors of Dhaka north and south cities need also to work towards making Dhaka a safe city for women and children.

They should also take effective measures to save Dhaka’s four key rivers — Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Turag and Balu — alongside the water bodies as well as wetlands in the city.

 

Sheikh Ashiqur Rashid 

While better medical service, employment opportunity and the promise of additional means of economic solvency attract people from many regions to the capital city, it only creates problems for both citizens permanently living in the city and also for people coming to obtain the services. Sufficient public transport can help this situation from getting worse.

Inhabitants of Dhaka have faced enormous problems while residing here.

Urban scourges include air, water, and sound pollution. Lack of space for dumping trashes forces people to throw their wastes into open spaces like drain or rivers, resulting in waterlogging.

Trashes help misquotes to breed which often lead to the outbreak of diseases like dengue, malaria etc. Also, drains should be well maintained so that heavy rains could not result in waterlogging.

Dusts from construction sites making air unbreathable, also smoke from industries and vehicles making it much worsen.

Sound pollution created by excessive horns of vehicles is making city life unbearable. Mayors should focus on these problems.

Due to overpopulation the number of vehicles is increasing causing traffic cognations, walkways are being blocked by construction materials or by hawkers. Both roads and footpaths need to be pedestrian friendly. Trouble-free footpaths will allow the citizen to use it instead of roads.

Parking areas should be left open for parking vehicles, also spaces should be freed up for parking so that people can park their vehicles on parking areas instead of busy streets.

Citizens of Dhaka are deprived of pure water for drinking, our mayor should give extra importance on supply of pure water alongside ensuring a uninterrupted supply of gas.

Narrow roads should be widened for allowing fire fighters or ambulances to reach all buildings.

The citizens should also follow the laws and develop patterns of behaviour that will contribute to the city’s wellbeing, turning it into suitable place for living.

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