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Population Development and Settlements and Disaster Management in Bangladesh

(R. Ahmed)


Bangladesh is basically an agrarian society, of which the entire social, cultural, political and economic system is to a greater extent originated and evolved on rural system setup. This is reflected also in country’s economic policies and government’s Five Year Plans. But however, there exists bi-polar changes in the system, particularly referring accelerating growth in urban population. Contrary to western concept (urbanization results from industrialization), this urban growth reflects a serious push force due to rural poverty, disturbed rural power structure and socio-economic insecurity in rural areas. The rural-to-urban migration is further forced due to flood, cyclone, river bank erosion and repeated crop failures. Of course relatively better employment availability in urban areas works as a pull factor too.

The rate of urbanization in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the world. Roughly 20 percent of its 110,000,000 people lived in urban areas which is estimated to be about 28 percent at present. Recent survey of urban slums in Bangladesh indicates (CUS, 2006) that Dhaka city alone contains about 45 percent of its population living in slums (Dhaka city is of about 10 million size), which is difficult to recod properly in census. However, if absolute size of urban population is considered, Bangladesh’s 22 million urban population is above the total national population of some 92 countries of the world. Although the proportionate urban population is relatively low, its growth was very high, 7-11 percent in the last decade. It is estimated that half of the country’s total population will be living in urban centers at the end of the year 2025 (Raquib, 2002). The disproportionate balance between urban population in one hand and the areal spread of cities, its physical and ambient infrastructure facilitiers on the other is the rout cause of different types of urban environmental problems, particularly in bigger cities, such as in Dhaka and in Chittagong. Increasing pressure on city’s drainage system causes severe water stagnation in Dhaka city during evry flood is a vivid example (flood of 2007). Increasing demand of land in Dhaka occupied surrounding water bodies and rivers have seriously damaged natural draibage system. Incressing need for space in Chittagong city encouraged people to go for hill-cut caused widesapread land-slides in Chittagong this year resulted in the death of more that 250 people.


But the dimension of problems in rural areas is rather multidirectional. Targeting economic development, there has been a widespread construction of good road system to be used as a substitute to the traditional river communication. There has also been improvement in rural electrification. The last significant development is the modern telecommunication system that Bangladesh’s rural people enjoys. These have given rural people access to urban facilities as well as has given urban politacl power holders a better access to rural areas to exploit them resulted in a new scene of rural political unstability. World’s three largest non-governmental organizations (NGO) are located in Bangladesh to render their services to improve social and economic conditions through proper gender participation, proper sharing in power structure and allowing people to economic system using their micro-credit system. As a result, people’s purchasing capacity has improved. But it is widely believed NGO’s play a complimentary role to the developed capitalist countries through globalized economic system by controling economic growth of Bangladesh’s rural population using high interest rate of the micro-credits. Otherwise, it is believed, that there would have been much faster growth in country’s economy. Globalization needs Bangladesh’s people (also true in case of other developing countrys) to be used as a component of value added low level service provider to the economically advanced countries than high level technical hands. This is clearly reflected in country’s international trade pattern. Bangladesh’s major exports are ready made gurments, frozen partiallly processed fish resources and mostly unskilled laborers, where major investors in these sectors are multi-national.


However, in terms of natural dissasters (such as flood in country’s central northern part and cyclones and water surges in the coastal and off-shore islands) the country is still lagging behind in four sectors, (i) hazard prevention, (ii) evacuation during hazard, (iii) after hazard health management, and (iv) damage restoration. Non-cooperative attitude of India in river water sharing/management and high siltation in rivers are responsible for repeated floods which is difficult for Bangladesh alone to manage flood. Limited administrative skills and technical shortage makes evacuation process difficult. Of course use of modern remote sensing and geographical information system, powered by automated modeling system are increasingly helping in early warning that reduces disaster vulnerability. After hazard health management and damage restoration is still depends much on international help. This year’s overwhelming loss of life is mainly due to scarcity of dependable flood-time resting platform when water level rose up to several meters quicky (in many places one meter in two days). In damage mitigation, both traditional method and modern methods work combindly. But the disaster management systems are different for inland floods and for coastal cyclones.


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