The National Geographic in one of its issues speculated about two-third of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030.
And in Bangladesh, while more than 30% of the population currently lives in urban areas, this is expected to increase to 50% by 2050.
Unfortunately, as Dr Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre of Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh, explains:
“This population growth and rapid urbanisation, which tend to follow an unplanned pattern, will make Bangladesh an even more disaster prone country.”
Alarming, since according to the 2016 Global Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh is already one of the six most affected countries in the world. This leads us to the question of how to help our cities “bounce back” after disasters strike; how to restore the availability of clean water, food, electricity, transportation and communication, granted these necessities are not always a given at present.
To answer this question, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development and the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network hosted the first ever annual conference on Urban Resilience from December 17 to 19.
The objective: To take forward and implement Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG), which is to say foster sustainable cities and communities in Bangladesh.
Over 500 representatives from the national government, NGOs, INGOs, academicia, and other types of institutions convened under one roof at the Spectra Convention Centre to discuss urban resilience in Bangladesh.
Here I will present some important ideas that came out of the conference:
Engaging Local Residents
According to Dr Saleemul Huq, “Mainstreaming both urbanisation and climate change into the next set of national plans should be a priority for the future development of Bangladesh.
“But even more important than the technical mainstreaming into planning is the need to be much better at involving people and citizens from different walks of life in the planning process and the implementation of those plans.”
Professor Dr Kazi Maruful Islam, department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, agrees and recommends the creation of democratic decision making structure within City Corporations and Union councils (also called, Pourashavas) to better engage local citizens.
Learning to look at slums differently
More and more poor migrants are moving from rural Bangladesh to urban Bangladesh. Dhaka, in particular, is receiving more people than it can accommodate, leading to an increase of slum dwellers.
As Professor Md Shahidul Ameen, Architecture Department, BUET, Dhaka points out, after all these years, the boundary lines of Dhaka city still vary on maps from RAJUK to City Corporation, making it is hard to determine the exact number of people living in slums.
Yet he estimates there used to be 2.75 lakh slum dwellers in Dhaka in 1974 and around 11 lakh in 2014.
But as the professor stresses, simply eradicating the slums will not solve the issue because rural-urban migration will continue. Instead, he explains, there needs to be change in society’s outlook towards the poor.
Only this will ensure that the poor live in a sustainable environment, capable of meeting their basic needs.
Need for universal healthcare coverage
Access to adequate healthcare and proper medical treatment has always been an issue for the poorest in Dhaka: Either they have to forgo treatment, or decide to spend a fortune. This is why Dr Muhammod Abdus Sabur, Public Health professional and consultant at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, emphasised universal health coverage as one way to help the poor access the healthcare they need.
Since everyone, from the poorest to the richest, needs affordable healthcare, a plan for universal coverage will be key to supporting the poorest in a way that does not leave them financially burdened.
If we want to build resilience in cities, we have to combine disaster risk reduction, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and adapting to climate change through adaptation technologies under one umbrella.
Additionally, Terry Cannon, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Sussex, recommends that, “assessments of both physical and socio-economic vulnerabilities of the urban poor are early activities needed to develop the city resilience plan.”
Gender-balanced city resilience planning
While Bangladesh is known as one of the few countries with a female leader, it often fails to include women in policymaking and key decisions.
Women make up about half the urban population in Bangladesh. As such, it is important to consider their safety and concerns when creating a resilient city.
Mainstreaming and financing sustainable urbanisation
Bangladesh urgently needs an inclusive development plan, which establishes links between the local and national in order to ensure proper implementation of the seventh Five Year Plan of the Government of Bangladesh.
The country, due to lack of financial incentives and opportunities for sustainable urbanization, is failing to build resilience in its urban areas through its economy.
Hence, the “institutionalisation of resilience into existing development planning and financing mechanisms along with risk inclusive budgeting practices will all play a significant role in achieving sustainability,” explained Mamunur Rashid, Climate Change Specialist, United Nations Development Program.
The first urban resilience wrapped up for this year with high hopes.
The over 500 participants were ready to address the existing challenges preventing the creation of sustainable and resilient cities in Bangladesh.
Shaila Mahmud is a research officer at the International Centre on Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.