Rapid Mass Urbanisation and Its Social Consequences in Bangladesh: the Case of the Megacity of Dhaka

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Rapid Mass Urbanisation and Its Social Consequences in Bangladesh: The Case of the Megacity of Dhaka 1

Shahadat Hossain PhD Candidate, School of Sociology and Anthropology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia & Assistant Professor (leave), Department of Sociology, The University of Dhaka, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

Abstract: The paper attempts to explain the phenomenon of rapid mass urbanisation and its social consequences, the formation of huge urban slums and new forms of urban poverty. It explores the poverty and vulnerability focusing on the pattern of employment, income, consumption and asset vulnerability. The study is mainly based on primary data collected from slums in Dhaka City. Five hundred poor households were surveyed using a structured questionnaire to investigate poverty and vulnerability. It reveals that slum communities of Dhaka City experience the highest level of poverty and vulnerability in their every day life. This paper argues that the experience of poverty in the megacity of Dhaka for these households follows the pattern of urbanisation without development, the very opposite to their expectations and aspirations. Introduction Dhaka City has emerged as a fast growing megacity in recent times. It began with a manageable population of 2.2 million in 1975 which reached 12.3 million in 2000. The growth rate of the population during 1974-2000 was 6.9% (UN, 1998). There is no city in the world, which has experienced such a high growth rate in population during this period. The United Nations (1999) describes the rapid population growth of this city as ‘exceptional’. The growth rate of Dhaka City’s population will also continue to remain high. During 2000-2015 it is expected to grow at a 1

This paper was presented to the 16th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Wollongong 26 June – 29 June 2006. It has been peer-reviewed and appears on the Conference Proceedings website by permission of the author who retains copyright. The paper may be downloaded for fair use under the Copyright Act (1954), its later amendments and other relevant legislation.


3.6% annual growth rate and reach a total population of 21.1 million in 2015. This will put it in 4th position on the list of the world’s megacities (UN, 1999). As this rapid growth of Dhaka City is not commensurate with its industrial development, about one-third of the city’s population is living in slums. Although the phenomenon of slums in Dhaka is as old as the city itself, about 90% of slums have developed in the last three decades (CUS, 1996). The slum population in Dhaka City faces extreme poverty due to its low level of earnings and the majority are living below the poverty line in terms of both calorie intake and cost of basic needs. What is more, the slum dwellers are mostly involved in low paid jobs in informal sectors of the urban economy. To be precise there is a predominance of day labouring and rickshaw pulling among this poor group of city dwellers (Amin, 1991; CUS, 1996; BBS, 1999; Hossain, 2001). The rates of income, wage and productivity of the urban poor are generally low due to their low paid employment. Consequently, their level of consumption is also very low despite some differences among poor households (Hossain, 2004). However, this paper has explored the poverty and vulnerability of the poor urban communities in terms of their employment and income, expenditure and consumption and household resources. Data and Method The study was conducted in three slums in Dhaka City, Bangladesh which represent different forms of adaptation by poor households in the city. Five hundred poor households were selected from these poor urban neighbourhoods proportionately. They were selected randomly from different strata based on income, consumption and household assets. Data were collected through a structured questionnaire constructed on various forms of household adaptations such as,...
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