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Dhaka

When urbanization is messy, students fall through the cracks

Mabruk Kabir's picture
Student in Urban Slum Learning Center
A student at an Urban Slum Learning Center
in Dhaka. Photo: Mabruk Kabir/World Bank

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 the 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. 

The Rocky Road to Urbanization

Urbanization can be catalyst for growth. Density – the clustering of firms and workers – can drive productivity, innovation and job creation. It is the benefits ofagglomeration 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 have 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.

In Bangladesh, the Alternative to Urbanization is Urbanization

Zahid Hussain's picture

There is little empirical regularity that is as universal as the following: no matter what the path of economic development a country has followed, urbanization has been an inevitable consequence across the world. Already half the world’s population is urban. Currently, Asia and Africa are the least urbanized regions, but they are expected to reach their respective tipping points–that is when their urban populations will exceed the rural population–in 2023 and 2030. While the urban transition occurs with diverse growth patterns at different times, the real challenge for governments is to take actions that allow residents to make the most of living in cities.

The relationship between urbanization and economic development has long been a popular issue of debate. Should a developing country encourage urbanization? While this is a real dilemma in Bangladesh, because of a highly unfavorable land-population balance, the only alternative Bangladesh has to urbanization is urbanization. The question is not whether Bangladesh should urbanize; the question is how Bangladesh will handle the challenges of urbanization.