Published:  12:52 AM, 14 November 2017

Dhaka, once famous for Muslin, now a sea of tears

Dhaka, once famous for Muslin, now a sea of tears

The world's ninth largest populated city Dhaka -- standing on the bank of Buriganga with its head held high -- is centrally located as the hub of administrative, judicial and financial backbone of the country. The history of Dhaka city, as a capital, dates back to 1610 and beyond when it was the Mughal capital of Bengal province (including Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) attracting the traders from around the world, notably the English, the French, the Portuguese and the Dutch.

Rest houses, such as 'Boro Katra' and 'Chhoto Katra,' were built up and beautified mainly for their use of those who stayed for months to accomplish their business transactions. But sadly, the fate of the city began to fall since 1717 when the capital was shifted to Murshidabad (West Bengal).

Subsequently, after the Battle of Plassey (1757) Dhaka city underwent a further deterioration. However, the deteriorating trend was dramatically reversed in the wake of some action plans adopted by the ruling British government one after another,  such as establishment of Dhaka Municipality in 1885, the partition of Bengal in 1905 (which, however, lasted only for six years till 1911), establishment of Dhaka University in 1921 and  the emergence of Dhaka as the provincial capital of the then East Pakistan after partition in 1947 and finally the elevation of Dhaka as the capital of the newly independent sovereign state of Bangladesh in 1971.

The expansion and development of Dhaka over the last 400 years will be evident from the fact that, in 1610, population of Dhaka city was only 30,000 that reached  1.8 crore in 2016 and is estimated to be around 1.9 crore in 2017 covering an area of about 1,000 square miles. During the Mughal period, it reached the peak of glory as a cosmopolitan commercial center and became the hub of the worldwide muslin and silk trade. But the then Dhaka, proud of worldwide muslin reputation, has now degenerated into a sinking city and has been grievously ranked the 7th worst megacity in the world for women (source: The Asian Age 18-10-2017).

The grief has been further intensified when, according to the ranking among 140 cities of the world conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit as per criteria based on terrorism, stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure, Dhaka has been ranked the 4th worst livable city of the world (securing 38.7 points out of 100) only lying ahead of Tripoli, Damascus and Lagos, the worst among the lot.

The cities, including the business centers, were ranked on the consideration whether people might want to stay, live and visit. Much has been said and written for decades on the communication system of the city of Dhaka, particularly with regard to its clogged drainage system inundating the roads and passages with stinking wastes in many areas of the city even during the dry season in addition to intolerable traffic congestion. In this connection, it needs to be asserted that every day on average 3.2 million working hours are lost due to traffic jam.

The long lasting traffic congestion problem has been further aggravated owing to the fact that ideally roads, lanes, highways and other passages should cover at least 25% of the total size of the city. But sadly, in case of the city of Dhaka it is only 7%. (Source: the Prothom Alo, 12-7-2015).

The media as well as the common people have been clamoring for years to make Dhaka a comfortable abode for all by countering the climatic whims and caprices manifested through depression, cyclone, flood and torrential rains causing water logging.

The recent heavy shower on 20 and 21 October is not a new, but a quite common and regular visitor as per records in our climatic history. Inundation consequent upon the heavy downpour is quite logical for a plain deltaic region of Bangladesh in general and Dhaka in particular. But water logging that recently swept most of the parts of the capital city lasting for 12 hours or more, even after the heaven had already shut its door of downpour, cannot be accepted by any stretch of imagination.

Every time it rains at least for an hour or two, most of the roads and even the footpaths are lost under water causing interruption to timely attendance in office, hospitals, clinics, educational institutions in addition to making daily purchases of essentials from the shops, stalls and the markets difficult.

The recent torrential rain, lasting for more than 48 hours (from 20 to 21 October) in the wake of depression in the Bay of Bengal, heavily lashed the normal life of the dwellers of the capital city forcing their movement to a sordid standstill. Major areas of the capital city, notably Malibagh, Rajarbagh, Mouchak, Shantibagh, Gulbagh, Arambagh, Siddeswari and even Motijheel Box Culvert Road lying at a much higher level than its neighborhood got waterlogged.

The severity of water logging was observed with trauma in and around Farmgate, Indira Road, Malibagh Chowdhurypara and Central Badda where water level reached waist high making it navigable for the country boat and even the speed boat to move freely as a better substitute for road vehicles. Most of the vehicles went out of order as water entered the engines.

The cars and the three wheelers were not visible except for a few which however, moved staggering at a speed slower than that of the walking public. This pushed up heavy demand for rickshaws most of which were reluctant to move without being paid much higher fare than usual (Tk 80-100 per mile).

Instead of chanting the age old slogan 'Buriganga Bachao' (Save the Buriganga ) due to declining  navigability in the wake of dumping of filths and rubbishes, now time seems to have come to shift the slogan more importantly to 'Dubanta Dhaka Bachao' (Save the sinking Dhaka city). Sources said clogged and inadequate drainage system, in addition to filling up of most of the city canals, are mainly responsible for the water logging in Dhaka city.

The city's drainage system has not improved, rather deteriorated with the rapid growth of urbanization, but with little expansion of roads and other passages. Out of around 47 canals in the city, as many as 10 canals have been either filled up totally or converted to box culverts to construct the roads which aggravated the problem of water logging. Experts believe that strong coordination between Dhaka WASA and two city corporations is indispensable to make drainage system improved and effective.

Besides, sufficient pump stations are needed to act as positive counterblast to the water logging in the wake of incessant rains. To conclude, like many other cities of the developed world Dhaka can also be developed into a livable city  with a sound drainage system if the two city corporations as well as the Dhaka WASA can work in tandem to mitigate the problem , if not entirely, at least to a significant extent.

With this end in view the first priority should be put on the recovery of illegally occupied canals and rivers, not by therapy, but by rapid punitive action. Any attempt by any quarter to foil the recovery drive must be restrained with iron hand. Secondly, a thorough plan with details of city's water logging problem and its solution thereof has to be devised before implementation. Otherwise, Dhaka will be a vast sea of tears and sorrows in the wake of rains in seasons and out of seasons only to compel the city dwellers to shed tears and grumble humming:

"Dao shey Aranya. Lao e nagar" (Give back that beauty of rural life. Take back this urban cloak). The relevant lines are borrowed from the poem "Shavvatar Prati" (Toward  civilization) by Rabindranath Tagore in his poetry "Chaitali."

The writer is former General Manager, Credit InformationBureau, Bangladesh Bank

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