Climate issues in urban planning

— Wikimedia Commons

PEOPLE are increasingly migrating to cities for a living, an education or because of the fallout from climate change. Sometimes they simply migrate by choice after multiple failed attempts to try to continue living in their home country.

More than 31% of the country’s population now lives in urban areas, according to the 2022 national census. According to the World Bank, this number is estimated at around 39% based on a set of various development indicators. The first (2018) and second (2021) editions of the World Bank’s Groundswell report provide a comprehensive overview of internal migration and adaptation strategies in various countries. In these reports, Bangladesh is projected to account for one-third of internal climate migrants in South Asia by 2050 due to its growing population and high vulnerability to climate change. The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, adopted in September 2018, also defines a comprehensive strategy for managing risks in the delta regions, including those related to climate change. If properly implemented, the plan could help reduce internal migration and therefore relieve pressure on cities while making cities more livable.

According to the 2022 national census, Bangladesh has a population of 165 million, of which 52 million live in 570 urban centers. This population distribution is highly disproportionate as it reflects the fact that around one-third of the country’s population lives in urban neighborhoods, of which a significant number, around 1.8 million, live in slums. Thus, to combat the influx of climate-induced and other migrants into major cities, Bangladesh has adopted a strategy to provide secondary cities with economic, educational and employment opportunities to serve as centers of migration, by balancing the percentage of migrant people across the country.

The government’s 8th five-year plan states that the safe and healthy living conditions of people living in cities, especially those living in low-income informal urban settlements, can only improve if the administration of cities is planned and appropriately managed. . Unplanned urbanization, enhanced by the impacts of climate change, poses great risks to human health and well-being, and city authorities should therefore focus more on equipping cities with essential resilient infrastructure, housing, public services, educational and health institutions, etc. the necessary institutional and human capacities must be put in place within the government. Economic planning decisions need to be made keeping in mind the urban services demanded by the population, especially those displaced by the impacts of climate change. Planned investment patterns should be agreed for the five-year and forward-looking plans.

As for the government’s current initiatives, it has already started creating master plans to equip all upazilas in the country with better civic and social facilities. This is a very timely initiative of the local government’s engineering department under the “Technical Assistance Project for My Village – My City”. If properly implemented, the goals of the 8th Five-Year Plan will be achieved and will have positive impacts on major cities, ultimately contributing to reducing internal migration, poverty and climate-induced inequalities, including the inclusion. Also, the inclusion of issues of urban poverty and the consideration of climate change and its consequences in the master plans are essential to achieve the objectives of sustainable development and the proper implementation of the 8th five-year plan.

The recently approved Detailed Area Plan for the Dhaka Metropolitan Area also includes special provisions to meet the housing needs of the low-income population. All plans, from upazilas to municipalities to municipal corporations, need to be well synchronized for optimal use of scarce resources and to take comprehensive measures to adapt to climate change. The creation of low-income informal communities can only be prevented if inclusive plans are prepared and implemented.

Nevertheless, it should also be noted that Bangladesh has in the past experienced poor implementation of the master plans prepared by both the Urban Development Authority and the Local Government Engineering Department due to various political, economic, and social. While it should have been a mandatory document for any land use, it is generally not acclimated by either city authorities or private actors. This must change and more attention must be paid to decentralized urbanization so that a handful of cities do not dictate the affairs of the whole country.

If it had been predicted just 30 years ago that urbanization would put great pressure on the country’s limited infrastructure, cities and towns could have been better planned to accommodate appropriate traffic systems, from environmentally friendly industrial rules, to better drainage and waste disposal systems, to better health and educational institutions, etc. Since an increasingly large percentage of the country’s population will reside in urban areas, the government should focus on building greener and smarter cities.

World Cities Day on October 31 and World Habitat Day on October 3 remind us that inequalities and discrimination persist around the world, especially in low-income countries. This is why governments must act quickly to close the gap. They can do this by critically examining the positives and challenges of past initiatives. In addition, various public, private, academic institutions and civil society organizations should share their experiences and approaches to local action. The spirit of World Cities Day should be embraced by all, to create a greener, fairer and more sustainable city.

Dr Md Liakath Ali is Director of Climate Change and Urban Development Programs at BRAC.

Teresa H. Sadler