Bangladesh has a population of about 160 million, of which over a quarter (43 million) reside in urban areas. The urban population increased rapidly after independence in 1971.
Administratively, there are 532 urban centres in Bangladesh. Of these, eight are city corporations and 316 are pourashavas (municipalities) run by elected pourashava councils, which are further classified into A, B, and C categories.
About 60% of the urban population reside in the city corporations, while 40% live in the pourashavas.
Rapid urbanisation in the country has led to unplanned and uncontrolled urban growth, resulting in an acute shortage of infrastructure, poor housing and transport, inadequate drinking water, and lack of drainage and sewage. Urban residents suffer for lack of basic infrastructure and services.
Pourashavas and elected councils are struggling to provide the key services they are mandated to deliver. Pourashavas’ delivery of urban services presents a dismal picture. Traffic congestion is common in most of the municipalities in Bangladesh. It is because of lack of roads and poor traffic management. There is no systematic garbage collection plan for homes. Thus, garbage collection is slow and, in the absence of garbage bins at many places, stinking garbage is dumped on the streets, where it often lies uncollected for days. Pavements and streets are often littered with waste left by pavement vendors.
Many streets are dark at night for lack of lights, making the streets and alleys havens for miscreants. Ironically, many of these streets are sometimes lighted at daytime when artificial lighting is clearly unnecessary. Pourashavas are also known for poor sanitation.
Moreover, Bangladesh faces major issues related to climate change, as the country faces rising temperatures; more frequent and intense rainfalls, storms, and flooding; and danger to coasts from rising sea levels. The issues are critical in secondary town (municipalities).
The country’s pourashavas still need significant investment to not only improve service delivery and urban environment, but also to strengthen resilience to climate change.
The Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP) in Bangladesh supported and financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has responded to the growing need of resource constrained 30 pourashavas. Nilphamari Pourashava is one of them. Results of the project included roads and bridges, an integrated drainage network, and urban infrastructure such as bus terminals, supermarkets, and kitchen markets developed under the project.
The quality of urban life has been changed in the municipal town.
Asaduzzaman, a resident of Sabujpara locality, shared his experience in how the project has improved the condition of the pourashava and the residents’ daily lives. Citing an example, he said that before UGIIP intervention, water logging was a major problem in the pourashabha. “As a morning and evening walker, I regularly walk on ‘Baromath,’ the major ground in the town, adjacent to Nilphamari Government Boys’ High School. Earlier, the entire ground used to overflow with water even after moderate rains. Like me, other walkers and players could not use the ground due to water logging. But, after construction of deep concrete drains along the roads surrounding the ground, rainwater easily goes down the drains leaving the ground dry. Today, we are happy finding improved living conditions in the pourashava. “The gains of the project are unmistakable,” Asaduzzaman said, adding that it has delivered desired municipal services to the people.
“The ADB helped improve our municipal services,” said Dewan Kamal Ahmed, the six-time elected mayor of Nilphamari. Although a busy man, his mayoral office always remains open for ordinary men and women. He informed that massive development has been done in the municipality under Tk 69.17 crore UGIIP in three phases.
“Of the amount, Tk 32.38 crore uplift work is underway and previously Tk 36.79 crore pouro infrastructure development work was completed,” he stated.
A high-powered team led by its Urban Development Specialist recently inspected the development activities and talked to people from all walks of life to know their view.
“We’re glad observing ongoing development work as well as implemented uplift work. We would like to extend all-out cooperation to the municipal authorities to complete rest of the work,” said the specialist during talks with the journalists.
As the pourashava provides better services, the residents responded by showing more interest in asking for even better facilities. Some of them urged the ADB team leader to help build a children’s park in the municipality.
Nilphamari poura people are now enjoying greater urban facilities after the UGIIP intervention. A modern shopping mall in the heart of the town made life of the town dwellers easy. Moreover, it has also beautified the secondary town.
Construction of two shopping centres is also going on in the town. Modern network of drains and roads, setting up of steal dustbins and road lights on every pole, development of slums, all helped make the municipal town a modern one.
Work on an important footpath running from DC office to Circuit House with colourful tiles has been completed making pedestrians happy.
Mayor Dewan Kamal also informed that a process is on for further expansion of the municipal area where 15 wards would be formed replacing the existing nine wards.
“Repair work of flood-damaged 31-km roads and some culverts inside the municipality will start soon,” he informed further.
Broader Influence of the UGIIP
Soon after assuming office after a landslide election victory in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government enacted the Local Government (Pourashava) Act 2009 to further strengthen local government institutions. The new local government act was one of the recommendations made by the Committee on Urban Local Governments that was supported by ADB technical assistance provided in support of UGIIP.
A number of provisions of the 2009 law reflect the experience gained in the implementation of UGIIP. The most important of these provisions is the recognition of the concept of participation by citizens and communities. In the new law, citizens’ participation in government committees has become a statutory requirement.
“The institutional arrangements for community participation in the affairs of pourashavas, which were pioneered by the UGIIP, have now found recognition and a place in the Local Government (Pourashava) 2009 Act,” says Dewan Kamal Ahmed.
“It is encouraging to see that the project is having an impact on the policy reforms being undertaken by the government.”
The pourashavas supported by the UGIIP are showing the way for other municipalities outside the project
The Manila-based ADB has had a long history of involvement in urban sector development in Bangladesh.
From 1990 to 2015, Bangladesh halved its incidence of poverty - meeting one of its core Millennium Development Goals - and gained lower-middle-income status in 2015. The country’s economic growth has been robust over the past decade, and was almost double the global average in the fiscal year that ended on 30 June 2015.
In 2015, the Government of Bangladesh developed its Seventh Five-Year Plan. The plan covers FY2016-FY2020 and aims for Bangladesh to reach the middle-income level by 2021.
ADB assistance is strongly aligned with the Bangladesh government’s Vision 2021 and its Seventh Five-Year Plan, which lays out a roadmap for higher, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Bangladesh is one of the largest recipients of concessional Asian Development Fund resources.
The writer is a journalist.