Sanitation security for urban poor | 2017-06-18 |

Sanitation security for urban poor

Shishir Reza

    18 June, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Sanitation security for urban poor

Urbanisation is a process by which towns and cities change through rendering urban facilities to people. Like positive aspects, it has some disadvantages—increasing population, increase of industries and factories, increasing environmental pollution, movement of people from rural to urban areas.

Growth in the urban population of Bangladesh is more or less centred around three metropolitan areas of Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna through rural to urban migration which is currently 55% of total migration. Everyday – due mainly to rural-push migration – thousands of people are migrating to the cities from their rural habitats and a huge number of them is heading towards the cities either being destitute by landlessness, improvisation, employment contraction among poor and marginalised or stricken by floods, cyclones, river erosion, droughts. A population of over 170 million is squeezed within a landmass of only 147,570 sq. km.  Dhaka has a population 14.4 million and density of 19,447 people per square miles. Dhaka density stands at an astounding 49,182 per sq. km and Chittagong 16,613 sq. km. Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division of UN, 2016 has mentioned the urban Population Status in Bangladesh: it was 23.8% in 2000; 30.4 % in 2010 and 2016 it is now 34.9%. Day by day it is escalating.          

It can be 38% of the total population by the year of 2020. Economically affected, socially excluded and environmentally displaced people will join urban area as beggars, hotel workers, porters, day labourers, maid servants, rickshaw pullers, petty traders etc. It has been estimated that urban population in Bangladesh will rise to between 91 and 102 million by 2050 which will be 44% of total population.

Political economy understandings of urban dynamics in particular the interplay of interest groups and jurisdictional conflicts that often underpin poor progress on many initiatives – public transportation, low-cost housing, urban health, slum improvements. Apart from that, some problems are crucial for urban poor. Such as, greater reliance on cash economy; livelihood in informal sector, overcrowded living condition, frequent shift of residence, environmental hazards, social fragments, exposure to crime, violence and accidents.

Urban poor, people who are living in slums, squatter and low income settlements. The top income class of only 5.4% of households but they enjoy 39.9% of all Dhaka’s income. In contrast, the bottom 58.4% of households enjoys an income share of only 21% (PPRC, 2017). As city life is very expensive to fulfil the basic needs, these poor people are bound to search for a dwelling place at the city slums and those who cannot even afford to live in a slum dwelling are living on streets or pavements, in parks, bus or railway stations or other public infrastructures. Normally, they are experiencing with kutcha, jhupri, non-sanitary latrine, unhygienic garbage disposal, impure water and interrupted electric supply.

Urban area is a composite of different subsystems of physical structures and human activities all having links with one another. Planned and unplanned human activities taking place within the urban area have profound impacts both within and outside it. The degradation in the quality of the urban environment is the consequence of these economic activities, which may affect the environment, sanitation security and public health either directly or indirectly.

Human faeces management and disposal is a major challenge in urban area. The concern is financing required for proper management and disposal of human wastes. The improvement of health is not possible without sanitary disposal of human excreta. There are some problems of groundwater development in Bangladesh − arsenic in groundwater, excessive dissolved iron, salinity intrusion in coastal areas, water table is lowering due to over-exploitation of groundwater for irrigation and intensive cropping.

Survey around 6,000 households (UNICEF Report, 2015) implies, in urban poor areas among the latrines, pit latrine with slab without lid and water-seal is the major one -53%. Pit latrine with slab and water-seal is 13%. Pit latrine with slab without water-seal is 5.9%. Pit latrine with slab and flap without water-seal is 8.1%. Latrine without slab or open pit latrine is 7.3%. Latrine connected with open drain with flush or pouring water is 5 %. Flush latrine connected to septic tank is 3.1%.  Use of hanging latrines is 3.1%. Pit latrine with ventilation system 1.4%.    

Nowadays, in south city corporation, 3 thousand 500 tons waste are generated where 1 thousand 900 tons are processed but 1 thousand 600 tons are out of processing. Dhaka, which has piped sewage network, 2% only of faecal load is treated. Pathogens in excreta of an infected person reach another person and initiate infection. Infections in other persons are caused by transmission of excreted pathogens via insects such as flies, mosquitoes and rodents.

In this context, some effective steps can be taken: Measures to control environmental hazards; ensuring proper methods of solid waste disposal; provision of safe water and planning for conservation; improvement of health care services and other social infrastructures; practical and functioning urban poverty alleviation programs; improvement in the public utilities services and their equitable distribution; improving the condition of urban squatter settlements. For sustainable urban health, environmental sanitation through environmental education can play key role.  

After all, local initiatives by citizen groups for improving the environmental sanitation of different neighbourhoods may prove to be successful if everybody in the area cooperates.  


Shishir Reza, an environment analyst & Associate member of Bangladesh economic association