Rural-Urban Dichotomy: Dhaka

Commentary / 1st Quarter 2019

Rural-Urban Dichotomy: Dhaka

by Arfar Razi and Dhrubo Alam

April 22, 2019


Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, has been infamous for its place among the five most ‘unliveable’ cities in the world since 2011. One of the major factors for the ‘uninhabitable’ status of the city is the ever-increasing phenomenon of rural to urban migration within the country. Sixty-three per cent of the total population growth in Dhaka is a direct result of this rural-urban migration and just 37 per cent of growth originated from natural increase. An estimated 500,000 people migrate to the city every year from all over the country in pursuit of a better life. As a result, it became the most densely populated city in the world for the third consecutive year, having about 47,400 people per square kilometre. One thousand four hundred and eighteen people are being added to the population of Dhaka city every day, having crammed about 20 million people within less than 300 square kilometres.

Even though Bangladesh has achieved an amazing feat in reducing the annual growth rate of the population, the size of population is still large when compared with the size of the country. If the current trend continues, the population of Bangladesh is expected to reach an estimated 194 million in 2050 (UN 2012). Understandably, this population exerts tremendous pressure on a limited resource base. The total proportion of land holdings being farmed has been reduced from 72.7 per cent in 1983 to about 58.6 per cent in 2008. Furthermore, because of the rapid growth of urbanisation and associated infrastructure, Bangladesh loses 0.3 per cent of its cultivated land every year. The country’s economy is still mostly agrarian with 48 per cent of the labour force engaged in agriculture and related activities (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2010).

Along with national population growth, the percentage of people living in urban areas has also been rising. The 1.8 million people who were living in urban areas in 1951 have since increased to 13.5 million, 22.5 million, 31 million and 33.5 million in 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011 respectively—an 18-fold increase in the last 60 years. Dhaka has changed into the capital of a nation from a mere provincial city since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. It is one of the only seven cities in the world that has experienced urban population growth higher than 2.4 per cent between 1975 and 2005 (UN, 2006). It was one of the top 10 megacities in the world in 2011. Unfortunately, the development took place in an unplanned way, especially since the 1990s.

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