In Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, you cannot miss the slum neighborhoods. More than 5,000 slum communities, accounting for 40 percent of the population, are spread across the city, often located right next to luxury penthouses, hotels, and high-rise office buildings. Most slum dwellers are limited to low-quality housing in precarious areas, often prone to flooding. The limited access to adequate shelter is an important factor that – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 livability rankings – makes Dhaka one of the least livable cities in the world. These communities are among the most neglected in the city in terms of urban policy, planning, and development, although the people who live in the slums make up the lion’s share of the work force, which drives the city’s economy, contributing significantly to the garment and leather industries, construction, waste management, and many other informal sectors.
Living in slums puts enormous social, economic, and financial burdens on households, and it can lead to intergenerational poverty. Many argue that slum dwellers are caught in a poverty trap—that living in slums makes it harder for households to escape poverty. Several slum-related factors contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, including poor health outcomes; an inability to access finance or leverage property assets; and lack of access to basic services. The existence of slums is a symptom of a shortage of affordable housing, the provision of which can be viewed as a valuable goal in its own right and as a critical ingredient in addressing the broader challenges of poverty.
On a foggy winter morning in Dhaka, 41-year-old Jahid was sipping tea by a roadside stall.
“Life was very peaceful back in my village,” he reminisced, “but there was no work, so I moved to Dhaka. Even if I live in a slum, my children are better off here.”
Jahid is one of the 500,000 people that move to Dhaka city each year. Driven by the promise of economic opportunity as well as poverty in rural and coastal areas, it is estimated that half the population of Bangladesh will migrate to urban areas by 2030.
Urbanization can be catalyst for growth. Density – the clustering of firms and workers – can drive productivity, innovation and job creation. It is the benefits of agglomeration that once drew the country’s most important industry – the ready-made garments sector to Dhaka city.
However, it is the costs from congestion that are now pushing factories away, mainly to peri-urban areas. Why are factory owners leaving?
For starters, the tide of new migrants has overwhelmed urban infrastructure, basic services, as well as the stock of affordable housing – eroding the both the livability and competitiveness of Dhaka city. A recent World Bank report described South Asia’s urbanization trajectory as “messy and hidden” – reflected in the large-scale proliferation of slums and urban sprawl.
Recently, an undergraduate engineering student from Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET) in Bangladesh showed me his mobile app that helps a blind person navigate while enabling family and friends to track their whereabouts. I was impressed with his capacity to apply electronics, geographic information system, and programming knowledge to develop a real-life solution.
Like this student, the ability to innovate harnessing existing talent and infrastructure already exist in Bangladesh. Leading universities, like Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), KUET, Bangladesh Agricultural University, and University of Dhaka already have analog fabrication labs for molding, casting, wood and metal workshops and robotics. The BUET even has a 3D printer, although it is an early version. What is missing is a transformation from analog to digital to improve precision, design, and speed of fabrication and prototyping, a market-oriented product development, and multi-disciplinary teaching, learning, research, and entrepreneurship to advance innovation.
A local innovation ecosystem has also been emerging. Last year, the first hardware startup competition called “Make-a-thon” (website and video) connected young entrepreneurs, industries, and professors to jointly make solutions. BRAC has also organized a 36-hour hackathon event called “Bracathon” to provide a platform for the youth to make mobile applications for social innovation.
To foster innovation and university-industry partnership, the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Program (HEQEP), have been supporting Universities with an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF). To accelerate this effort, the project team organized a workshop on the digital fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) potential to introduce Fab Lab concept.
Bangladesh has a major opportunity to address one of its most pressing development challenges: creating 20 million new jobs over the next decade. And the trade agenda will be a centerpiece of any strategy that seeks to address this challenge.
Join me for a Facebook Q/A chat on January 28 to discuss this and other findings from the recently released report Toward New Sources of Competitiveness in Bangladesh co-authored with Mariem Mezghenni Malouche.
Below are some 4 highlights from the report, which we will be discussing. I look forward to your questions and a vibrant discussion!
- Bangladesh will need to expand its linkages with neighboring countries such as China and India as well as other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. Not only are these very large markets, they are also potential sources of greater foreign direct investment. What are the critical steps that will allow this to happen? How can the recently signed Motor Vehicles Agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal help? What are the barriers to Bangladesh’s venturing into new markets?
- Bangladesh will need to gradually diversify its export base into new product areas while also strengthening its position as the second-largest garment producer in the world (after China). Our report explores the critical challenges that could allow this to happen. In your view, what challenges lie ahead if Bangladesh tries to diversify its exports? Can you name some prospective industries (for diversification)? What will be the role of foreign direct investment in this diversification? What kind of reforms are needed to attract more domestic as well as foreign direct investment?
When my team and I saw this boat passing by us in July 2013 in rural Bangladesh, near the border with Mizoram, Northeast India, and Myanmar, I felt immediately empathic.
How many people are on that boat? Eighty? Does it have a motor? Can those people swim, especially the women? No lifejackets! I wondered how long their trip was, and then I thought: What if they needed a bathroom break? Memories of my family's escape from Vietnam by boat in 1981 flashed back—34 refugees jammed into a traditional fishing boat normally home to a family of seven, with no motor, no life jackets, and no toilets! We floated around the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean for 16 days. Most of us could not swim, certainly not the women and girls.
यह एक सच्चाई है: लकड़ी, चारकोल, कोयले, गोबर के उपलों और फसल के बचे हुए हिस्सों सहित ठोस जलावन (सॉलिड फ्यूल) की खुली आग और पारंपरिक चूल्हों में खाना पकाने से घर के भीतर होने वाला वायु प्रदूषण दुनिया में, हृदय और फेफड़ों की बीमारी और सांस के संक्रमण के बाद मृत्यु का चौथा सबसे बड़ा कारण है।
लगभग 290 करोड़ लोग, जिनमें से ज़्यादातर महिलाएँ हैं, अभी भी गंदगी, धुआँ और कालिख- पैदा करने वाले चूल्हों और ठोस जलावन से खाना पकाती हें। हालत यह है कि इतने ज़्यादा लोग इन खतरनाक उपकरणों का इस्तेमाल कर रहे हैं जो भारत और चीन की कुल आबादी से भी ज़्यादा हैं।
इसे बदलने की जरूरत है। और बदलाव हो रहा है जैसा कि मैंने पिछले सप्ताह में एक्रा, घाना में संपन्न क्लीन कुकिंग फोरम 2015 की कई बातचीतों को सुना। घाना के पेट्रोलियम मंत्री और महिला व विकास उपमंत्री की बात सुनकर, मुझे अहसास हुआ कि सर्वाधिक जरूरतमंद परिवारों को स्वच्छ चूल्हे व स्वच्छ ईंधन उपलब्ध कराने की गहरी इच्छा निश्चित रूप से यहाँ मौजूद है। लेकिन इच्छाओं को सच्चाई में बदलना एक चुनौती है। यह बात न केवल घाना में बल्कि दुनिया के कई हिस्सों के लिए भी सही है।
बाद में मैंने इस बारे में काफी सोचा खास तौर पर जब हमने पेरिस में होने वाली जलवायु परिवर्तन कॉन्फ्रेंस (सीओपी21) पर ध्यान दिया जहाँ दुनिया के नेता जलवायु परिवर्तन के दुष्प्रभाव कम करने के वैश्विक समझौते पर सहमति बनाने के लिए इकट्ठा होंगे। उस लक्ष्य तक पहुंचने की एक महत्वपूर्ण कुंजी ऊर्जा के स्वच्छ स्रोतों को अपनाना भी है। इस लिहाज से, संयुक्त राष्ट्र संघ का सस्टेनेबल एनर्जी गोल (एसडीजी7) का एक मकसद - किफायती, भरोसेमंद, वहनीय (सस्टेनेबिल) और आधुनिक ऊर्जा तक सभी की पहुंच सुनिश्चित करना - यह भी है कि ऐसे 290 करोड़ लोगों तक खाना पकाने के स्वच्छ समाधान पहुंचाएँ जाएँ, जो आज उनके पास नहीं हैं।