Often, I tell my partner that we may think of moving out of Dhaka city and look for settlement opportunities in Khulna. Every time I tell her this, she gives me a funny look as if to say: “You must be crazy!”
Like almost all of us, she has her reasons for thinking that way. For the people born and brought up in Dhaka city, and for the people who migrated to this city and settled here, moving to another city or town outside Dhaka is next to impossible.
The reason I tell her about moving to Khulna is because I feel Khulna, and for that matter, a few other cities in the country, is still functional and liveable for its denizens. In Khulna, you would be able to commute from one corner of the city to another in 15 minutes. The commuting experience in the city isn’t as dangerous as it is in Dhaka. The visitors who haven’t been to Khulna would be amazed to breathe in the freshness of its air.
Recently, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has published its latest index on safe cities and Dhaka stood as the fifth least safe city in 2019. The index said that “the city fared poorly on digital security, health security, infrastructure security, and personal security indicators.”
Last year, we were third from the bottom. This year, Karachi, Yangon, Caracas, and Lagos are after us. The top five cities on the index are Tokyo, Singapore, Osaka, Amsterdam, and Sydney. Sometimes I wonder how it would feel like living in Tokyo, Singapore, Osaka, Amsterdam, or Sydney. I cannot imagine living in these cities; I can only dream of my city becoming them.
Then again, a few days later, the EIU published the Global Liveability Index 2019. In that index, Dhaka ranked as the third least liveable city; we are just after Damascus and Lagos.
When we think of the phrase “least liveable,” it strikes a note in our perception that everything about a city is bad. Well, if Vienna or Amsterdam had the same population as Dhaka, would they still be the best liveable cities in the world? What would be our state of affairs if we had the same number of people as those cities have? Would we be a “better liveable” city?
In our city, yes, we pass our days in the company of various kinds of insecurities. Personal, water, health and hygiene, infrastructure, and transport insecurities are just a few of them. Among these, I feel personal insecurity would top the list.
Personal security is a state or a feeling among us about whether there are sufficient measures against crimes or disasters in our city. Are there enough deterrents against possible crimes? Are there sufficient warnings against possible crimes or disasters? Can we call for help?
Personal security is also about protecting the risks of physical or material harm that may endanger the citizens. There was a time when our children used to go to schools on their own. Look at them now! Almost every student now goes to his or her school accompanied by their parents. Those who can afford vehicles, they use those vehicles. I myself don’t feel safe when my children go out of the house without a vehicle.
Many say that Dhaka city is currently going through the labour pain of development. When the baby of development is born, the pain will be over. Many tell me that New York City in the 1970s was like Dhaka of 2019. How did NYC develop over the past decades and become a liveable city? We also had enough time to plan for a liveable city. We also saw that the population of the city would reach such a level that the city would not be able to handle it.
We talk a lot about decentralizing Dhaka, but have done next to nothing. We allowed people to rush in to this city, burdening it with a population it cannot accommodate. Even if we don’t agree with the EIU survey, the situation has certainly, if we just look around us, reached a point of no-return. Is it possible for us to unburden this city in order to make it a sustainable one? Otherwise, it is likely to become an abandoned city very soon.
Many countries, almost in similar situations, have relocated their capital cities to a better and safer area. No matter how many flyovers, how many Hatirjheels, and how many metro-rail tracks we build in this city, none of them can withstand the pressure of the ever-increasing population that we have and are likely to continue to have.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.
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