Gone were those days when there was sky beyond the window, when the sunlight wandered with its full glory on my bed, when Dhaka’s air was less polluted, when we had playgrounds almost in every corner of the capital where children used to play cricket, fight and quarrel to enjoy to the essence of life. It was only a decade ago when the high-rises in Dhaka used to maintain a safer proximity with one another; people were much more attached with neighbours, in real not in virtual.
These days blooming high-rises have restrained the freedom of sunlight from entering my room as my neighbourhood is now crammed with high-rise buildings kissing one each other hugging tightly. Buildings are bloomed one upon another in such a way one can go to the next building by a little jump. The gap between the buildings is getting so narrow that in most of the areas of Dhaka one has to remain very careful about the curtains while changing clothes as even a little opening could expose one to the curious eyes at the adjacent windows.
This is very discomforting that one cannot burst out one’s anger because of the curious tenants living in the adjacent buildings. The construction of high-rises has overthrown Dhaka’s lands and playgrounds while the screams of the drill machines, brick crushers have occupied the silence of most the residential in Dhaka. Against this backdrop, it is horrifying to imagine how would this town survive if an earthquake takes place?
Over the last few years a new wave of unplanned urbanisation has changed the landscape of Dhaka and left the dwellers in danger. The consequences of unplanned urbanisation are already evident in the poor living condition. Urbanisation as a phenomenon has become a reality of the modern world. This phenomenon is now being accelerated by the rapid globalisation and expansion of local economies. Bangladesh, a predominantly rural country, is undergoing a transformation towards urbanisation at a rapid pace. Statistics says about 35 million people, or approximately 25 per cent of Bangladesh’s population, currently living in urban areas compared to only 8 per cent at the time of independence. It is apprehended that the number will cross 80 million by 2030.
Because of rapid and poorly planned urbanisation,
Dhaka is becoming more and more vulnerable to
both natural and man-made hazards
Thus, vulnerabilities posed by poorly-planned urbanisation are also increasing, as reflected through different disasters such as Chawkbazar chemical tragedy, Bhasantek slum fire incident and so on. On the other hand, Bangladesh was previously known for rural hazards especially flood, but these days urban hazards have become more frequent and harsher.
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters in the world. Among so many disasters, devastating fires and building collapse have become common in Dhaka. Thus Dhaka is becoming more and more vulnerable to both natural and man-made hazards due to rapid urbanisation. Dhaka is characterised by the poor living standards, building construction without consideration of safety measures, lack of public awareness to hazards, and poorly enforced building code.
Many buildings are rising without proper zoning concept and guidelines as the city authorities allow poorly constructed buildings and old buildings to live. These buildings are very much vulnerable to earthquake, fire hazards and other types of building collapse causing unnecessary deaths. Besides the mentioned vulnerabilities the urban habitants are living with increased risk of industrial hazards and health related risks. Increasing number of industrial complexes is taking place with rapid urbanisation and when a natural or man-made disaster occurs in an urban area, these industrial complexes and hazardous materials cause considerable disasters such as fire, explosions, radioactive radiation and so on.
Considering all above, strengthening urban governance has become very much necessary on the part of the government and city planners. Disaster needs to be ingrained in urban and national strategies.
There are numerous characteristics of current urban planning and development that pose serious threats to the life and wealth of city dwellers. For example, the lack of enforcement of building code, planning permission and regulatory investment, often linked to corruption, allow the transfer of risk from construction companies to those who live and work in the buildings.
In order to reduce disaster risks, it is of great concern to have good control over the entire practice of design and construction of structures. Loss of human life and properties can considerably be reduced if the entire system can be brought under a well-planned strategy. Experts from related arena and different stakeholders who are properly trained should work together under one umbrella to ensure a risk resilient infrastructure system.
Proper implementation of land use plan and enforcement of building code are also important to make an urban area more resilient to disasters. Multi-hazard approaches need to be ensured in policies, regulations and plans to reduce urban risk that will make Dhaka safer in the long-run.
Sayeed Hossain Shuvro is Editorial Assistant, Bangladesh Post