Bangladesh: Dhaka Becomes Pleasant as City Empties For Eid

By Jesmin Papri
150717-BD-train-620 Bangladeshis cram onto a train in Dhaka as they travel to be with their families for the Eid holiday, July 16, 2015.

As Bangladeshis celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr this weekend, millions have undertaken a ritualistic homeward journey, especially from the big cities to their villages.

Nowhere is the end-of-Ramadan exodus so pronounced as in the capital Dhaka, where about half the population of an estimated 12 million residents leaves the city. In droves, they undertake an arduous, and often dangerous, trip by bus, train or motor launches.

For those who stay behind, Dhaka, which last year was rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) as the world’s second least livable city, suddenly becomes a much more pleasant metropolis.

And for those who venture out of Dhaka during the festival season, the trip can be unpleasant and risky. Scores die each die each year in road and ferry accidents as they head home to be with their families.

Yet the prospect of losing their lives does not deter the masses, proving that the pull factor of rural Bangladesh remains very strong.

For the past three days in the Dhaka area, hundreds of thousands of homebound passengers could be seen crowding at rail and bus stations, ferry terminals and whatever way they could find to reach their destinations.

Most of those heading home to the hinterland were slum dwellers and lower-income people, many of whom could not afford to live in Dhaka with their near and dear ones.

Dubious distinction

But in about 10 days, when the holidaymakers begin returning to Dhaka, the capital will assume its familiar character.

Excruciating traffic jams, pollution, lack of adequate housing and minimum urban facilities have combined to make it the worst city in the world to live behind Damascus, Syria, according to the EIU’s Global Livability Index.

Experts say there is no immediate escape from what Dhaka has become in the past 20 years, largely because of unplanned urbanization and too much focus on city-centric development activities, ostensibly for the benefit of the capital’s high and mighty.

“These selfish, misguided policies have forced millions from rural areas to come to the big cities, especially Dhaka and Chittagong where most of the economic activities are concentrated,” Iqbal Habib, a renowned architect and activist, told BenarNews.

“If we could create reasonable opportunities for them, a vast majority of those who are forced to live in Dhaka in deplorable conditions, would have preferred to stay back,” he added.

‘I can have a much better life’

Ruhul Kuddus, who works for a software firm in Dhaka, agreed.

“I live in Dhaka with my wife and two children. Whenever I get the opportunity to go to my village, especially during the Eid holidays, I head home to celebrate the festival with my parents and other relatives there,” Kuddus said as he waited along with his children and wife for a bus heading to his home in southern Satkhira district.

“I can have a much better life in my area if I had the option. My children can breathe fresh air, eat vegetables and fish that we grow in our farm and pond. I would definitely go back if I could get a job there with half the money I make from my current job,” he added.

Al Amin, who hails from Gazipur, about 30 miles from Dhaka, echoed this sentiment. His family lives in the village.

“If the public transportation were good I would have preferred to commute from my village home rather than living in a slum in hellish conditions,” he told BenarNews.


Analysts, however, see no quick solution to end the misery of millions who are forced to live in Dhaka.

“Frankly, I don’t see any sincere efforts on the part of the powers that be to address the problem in a meaningful way,” said Habib, the urban expert who is also joint secretary of the Bangladesh Environment Movement (BAPA).

“All you need to resolve the issue is the political will to empower local government, decentralize administration, equitable distribution of wealth, and most importantly to focus on job creation in places outside the big cities,” he said.

“Unfortunately I don’t see any of this happening anytime soon, which could ease the burden on Dhaka and make the villages, the heart of Bangladesh, more productive,” he added.

Allowing the situation to fester further will spell disaster for the nation, social scientists warn.

“When people live in crammed, unhealthy conditions they are bound to lose their mental balance, which will have serious repercussions,” Nehal Karim, a professor of sociology at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.

“This is why we are witnessing a horrific rise in serious crimes in big cities, especially in Dhaka,” he added.

“Dhaka simply cannot sustain this growing burden any longer. Unless immediate action is taken, we could be heading for an inexorable slide into descent.”


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