Toward a livable Dhaka

This page in:
Toward a Liveable Dhaka

The Dhaka Metropolitan Area is the economic and political center of Bangladesh and has been the country’s engine of economic growth and job creation. Dhaka’s role as a commercial hub has led to rapid population growth, with the population increasing 10 times in 40 years to about 18 million in 2015.  This has contributed to Bangladesh having one of the fastest rates of urbanization in South Asia.

Today, more than one-third of Bangladesh’s urban population lives in Dhaka, one of the world’s most densely populated cities with 440 persons per hectare – denser than Mumbai (310), Hong Kong, and Karachi (both 270).

Dhaka is also one of the least livable cities in the world. It is ranked 137 on livability out of 140 cities, the lowest for any South Asian city surveyed. The low livability in Dhaka disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as the poor, women, and the elderly.

Consider these challenges:

  • Living conditions in slums of Dhaka are worse than those in rural areas, despite the proximity to jobs;
  • Only two-thirds of the city is covered with piped water, just 3%-4% of all wastewater generated is treated, and only 60% of municipal solid waste is collected;
  • Severe traffic congestion is endemic, a consequence of inadequate infrastructure and public transport relative to the high population and economic density;
  • Dhaka is among the world’s most polluted cities, with air pollution levels eight times higher than WHO guidelines;
  • Finally, public and open spaces – already limited due to the city’s density – are declining as a share of land use.
In tackling these issues, the Metro Dhaka Platform, an urban development program led by the World Bank, reflects a new approach to the World Bank’s engagement in Dhaka.  Under the platform, we took a systematic review of the World Bank’s previous, ongoing, and future analytical and investment activity in Dhaka. Looking at recent surveys as well as firm-level and satellite data, we were able to document trends in the movements of people and jobs across the metro region. These included:
  1. Continued expansion of manufacturing and ready-made garment (RMG) sectors in the northern metro area,
  2. A shift toward knowledge and service economies in the historic center of the city,  and the
  3. Potential of East Dhaka to become a new commercial business hub.
This assessment has paved the way for longer-term strategic investment plans that can meet the needs of these distinct growth patterns.

At the same time, our work on the forthcoming Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project focuses on improving urban livability through public spaces in the historic center of the city near the Buriganga River – touching on the second of themes mentioned above.

Using data from the platform, we were able to assess and prioritize public space improvement needs by different neighborhoods of the city as part of the Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project. We narrowed down the list, recruited architects to do urban design schemes, and undertook a series of consultations with community groups and stakeholders. Their input speaks to a vision of the kinds of public space improvements that will help make central Dhaka more vibrant, inclusive, and livable.

Watch the video to learn more.


Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Former Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group

David Mason

Urban Development Specialist

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000