Making Dhaka a Liveable City

A.n.m. Nurul Haque

21 March, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Making Dhaka a Liveable City

A.n.m. Nurul Haque

The city of Dhaka once again has been listed among the worst cities of the world in terms of quality of living. Dhaka has been ranked 214th among 231 global cities with Vienna topping the list and Baghdad sitting at the bottom, according to the annual ranking survey released recently by London-based consulting firm Mercer. In terms of the overall quality of living survey, Vienna tops the list for the eighth consecutive year while Zurich, Auckland, Munich and Vancouver follows Vienna at the top of the list.

Singapore topped another list in terms of offering the best infrastructure, as city infrastructure has been rated separately for the first time in the firm’s ranking. Frankfurt and Munich are both placed second in infrastructure ranking. The firm’s Quality of Living survey of cities helps companies and organisations determine compensation for the international staff. It uses dozens of criteria such as political stability, healthcare, education, crime, recreation and transport.

According to Mercer, access to a variety of transport options, being connected locally and internationally, and access to electricity and drinking water are among the essential needs of expatriates arriving in a new location on assignment, which were taken into consideration for assessing the quality of living. A well-developed infrastructure can also be a key competitive advantage for cities and municipalities trying to attract multinational companies, talents, and foreign investments, the Mercer observed.

Dhaka has also been ranked second on a global list of cities with worst air pollution, which claims 122,400 lives in Bangladesh a year. Delhi tops the list, while Karachi and Beijing stand third and fourth, according to the State of Global Air Report 2017. Extreme air pollution in Dhaka has been creating serious health hazard to its dwellers. Higher amount of harmful particles has been found in the air of Dhaka city during the winter in different tests.

According to Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) Project, the monthly average concentration level of Particulate Matter PM2.5 and PM10 measured at different places were found 102-237µg/m3 and 166-397µg/m3 respectively during the month of January, 2017 which is extremely unhealthy. According to CASE data, the air was extremely unhealthy in Dhaka (416 points in AQI), on January 18. In Dhaka city, air quality measure CAMS has been setup in Sangshad Bhaban, Farmgate and Darus-Salam area.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), environment pollution is killing some 280,000 children in Bangladesh annually. Outdoor pollution is very high in Dhaka city because of construction work and large numbers of vehicles. These are some of the findings of the WHO reports “Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment” and “Don’t pollute My Future! The impact of the Environment on Children’s Health.”

Although the role of brick kilns in environment pollution are known to all, the government has continued to allow them to operate around the city.


Children are very vulnerable to different kind of ailments because their immune system cannot cope with such pollution. The reports have outlined the damage caused to children as they are exposed to second hand smoke when outdoors and is passed onto the children in the mother’s womb as she is inhaling toxic air.

The environmental pollution has become a major concern for the dwellers of Dhaka city along with traffic congestion. The WHO report has already provided enough evidence that Dhaka is an extremely polluted city.  The water of Buriganga is mainly polluted by industrial waste. The liquid and hazardous waste of the tanneries which directly enter into the river have heavily polluted water of Buriganga which has disrupted the ecological balance of the capital city to a large extent. Now it is the demand of the dwellers of Dhaka city to save the Buriganga from pollution and thus save the ecological balance of the Dhaka city.

It is not without reason that Dhaka city has earned the dubious distinction of being the most unliveable city in the world. Dhaka city has all the characteristics of environmental pollution. The onslaught of sound in Dhaka has reached such an epidemic stage that has been posing a serious threat to the people living in this city. The range of noise pollution has been causing different types of public health hazards.

Millions of people living in Dhaka city are being affected every year due to continued exposure to the deafeningly noise leading to deafness to even heart ailment. Dhaka is now known as one of the noisiest and over-crowded cities in the world. Unplanned urbanisation, noise of construction equipment, lack of public-awareness, increasing number of vehicles and indiscriminate use of horns are the major sources of intense sound pollution in Dhaka city.

In this era of smart things, Dhaka North City Mayor said in February last year that, they are in the process of making Dhaka a ‘smart city’ overcoming ‘multifaceted challenges’ so that people feel safe and have a hassle-free life. “The whole city will come under complete communication network in five years time and we’ll be able to monitor everything from our rooms,” he said. The Mayor was addressing a seminar titled ‘Smart City by Sweden’ at a city hotel with Swedish Ambassador in Dhaka in the chair.

The cost of living in Dhaka is as high as that in the Canadian city of Montreal although the living amenities and conditions in these two cities are world apart. The Intelligence Unit of British magazine The Economist in its latest study on the global cost of living in 2015 ranked Dhaka city at number 71 along with Montreal. Cities like Mexico City, Cleveland, or Istanbul turned out to be cheaper than Dhaka in this study. Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, was ranked 88, which is cheaper than Dhaka as for cost of living and Singapore was ranked as the costliest city of the world.

According to statistics recently released by the UNFPA based on its study titled “Urbanisation and Migration in Bangladesh”, 1,700 people are being added everyday to existing one crore 70 lakh population of Dhaka city. The population of Dhaka city has become double in the last 20 years.


The study also said that the population of Dhaka city was one-tenth of the Kolkata city in 1960 and one-third in 1980. But the total population of Dhaka city surpassed Kolkata in 2005.

The UNFPA study also revealed that the population density in Dhaka city is also the highest in the world compared to all other mega-cities.


Around 43,500 people live in per square-kilometre in Dhaka city while 32,400 people live in per square-kilometre in Mumbai city and 26,400 in the city of Hong Kong. The population growth in Dhaka city is 3.82 per cent while the national population growth is 1.47 per cent.

The once serene Dhaka has now turned into an unfit city for human habitation. It is a shame not only for the city fathers, but also for all of us.


Dhaka’s continued position at the bottom of the index highlighted the worsen quality of life and poor urban governance in the city. The city has been suffering heavily from perennial traffic gridlock, destruction of water bodies and green spaces, encroachment of pedestrian space and water-logging. The city also lacks an efficient waste management system, an effective public transportation system and functional urban governance.

The total population of Dhaka city grew from 0.1 million in 1906 to 12 million in 2008. The present population of Dhaka is over 17 million and nearly two thousand people are being added to this number every day. What is now imperative to make the capital liveable is to curb further unplanned sprawl of the city and to expand road network in accordance with the master plan. Side by side, large-scale migration to Dhaka city must be controlled creating job opportunities in other cities. There is no denying that, Dhaka city has become unliveable mainly because of mismanagement, faulty planning and continued indifference over the years.


The writer is a columnist