In a special series on overstretched cities running in ‘The Guardian’, an article looks at the rapid urbanization and growth of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Due to this growth, problems such as insufficient monsoon rain drainage in the sewer infrastructure have emerged, partially due to the administrative problems of Dhaka. Beyond the difficulties faced by the sanitation workers lies the problem of a country of 160 million with no effective political decentralization of authority to regions and urban government.
According to UN Habitat, Dhaka is the world’s most crowded city and the fastest growing in terms of population. This overpopulation means that Dhaka has grown faster than infrastructure development and that the management of the city is lagging. In Dhaka, governance of the city systems are the responsibility of, “a chaotic mix of competing bodies”, which leads to a lack of coordination and many hands passing the blame.
The city sewer cleaners, dubbed as having the ‘worst job in the world’ by international media, face stigma and dangerous work conditions. Many in the profession are Hindu dalits, significant because the majority of Bangladeshis are Muslim, and Hindus were singled out for persecution during Bangladesh’s war for independence from Pakistan. Furthermore, dalits belong to the lowest caste level, known as ‘untouchables’, and often are given low-paying, lowly jobs in society.
Despite these serious issues of urbanization, there is hope: Bangladesh has won praise for it’s progressive responses in other arenas, such as climate-change, and experts deem that social movements borne from the confines of urban spaces can have the power to change and discipline governments. According to Population Sciences Professor Nurun Nabi, “Many stories will be written by the people of this nation – forget about the political parties. Someday they will wake up and be forced to comply with their speech.”
For more information and a fascination depiction of the strain experienced by this megacity, please click here.