Toward Great Dhaka

A very good morning! I am delighted to have the privilege to open this exciting conference, to exchange knowledge on how to help Dhaka become a more prosperous and livable city. Dhaka is a dynamic city with a rich cultural heritage to be proud of. It is also rapidly growing, and every day, more people come to Dhaka with the hope of a better life. But will Dhaka be able to deliver on its promise? I am delighted to welcome you all to this exciting conference, to explore development options for Dhaka toward 2035. The city’s astonishing population growth from 3 million in 1980 to over 18 million today, represents the promise and dreams of a better life; and the hard work and sacrifices by residents to improve their lives. However, as Dhaka has grown to become the most densely populated city in the world, its expansion has been messy and uneven. Too many residents today, including some 3.5 million people living in slums and informal settlements, often lack access to basic services, infrastructure, and amenities. This makes tapping into quality education, health, and jobs much more difficult, and are major obstacles to realizing opportunities. Unplanned and uncontrolled growth has also created extraordinary congestion. Let’s do a quick hand count – raise your hands if you spend more than 2 hours daily commuting? In the last 10 years, the average driving speed has dropped from 21 kilometers per hour to 6 kilometers an hour. If business as usual continues, it risks to drop to 4 kilometers per hour by 2035, slower than the average walking speed! Congestion in Dhaka takes up 3.2 million working hours per day. This costs the economy billions of dollars every year. Imagine how much more we can achieve if we have millions of more hours to work, invest, and spend time with our families each day! Dhaka’s population is likely to double to more than 35 million people by 2035. Without a fundamental re-think requiring substantial planning, coordination, investments, and action; Dhaka may not reach its full potential. It is at a crossroad in shaping its future. Growing up in China, I have witnessed my country’s own urbanization challenges. The Shanghai of my youth is very different from what it is today. In 1980, Shanghai had a population of 6 million. To cross between West and East Shanghai, you had to put your bicycle on a ferry to cross the river, which divided the city in half. Like East Dhaka today, Pudong, or East Shanghai was underdeveloped, of mostly farmland. People would joke, “I would rather have a bed in West Shanghai than a house in East Shanghai.” Little did people know that it was on the cusp of a transformation, like Dhaka has the potential to do today. As Shanghai grew, it also experienced many growing pains. An article from the New York Times in 1993 read: “On Shanghai’s antiquated roads, enough to choke the city with near-constant gridlock, an excursion across town can be a three-hour affair.” Does that sound familiar? Today, with a population 24 million, Shanghai has the longest subway system in the world. The East and West have become one city; connected with over 20 bridges and tunnels between them. Pudong has become an international financial center and a hub of economic activity. It now has a major international airport, stock exchange, and is home to the headquarters of many major companies. It also boasts many of Shanghai’s most livable communities with ample green spaces and high quality, eco-friendly facilities and services. Pudong has helped ease congestion and boost the Shanghai GDP per capita to over $25,000. Shanghai’s urban development experience shows that is possible to increase living standards and quality of life, even during periods of rapid population growth. There is no reason why Dhaka cannot achieve with the right set of policies and timely actions what Shanghai and other major cities achieved. Dhaka’s urban growth has mainly taken place in the northern part and expanded westward after the flood of 1988, when the government built the western embankment for flood protection. This greatly increased investment in those areas but the lack of planning has also affected congestion and livability. East Dhaka still remains largely rural. If properly managed, the development potential of East Dhaka is massive. It is just across the Progoti Soroni and close to Gulshan. East Dhaka’s development could help relieve congestion and stimulate opportunities. However, if not managed properly, the rapid and unplanned urbanization of East Dhaka can make congestion and livability worse, while increasing risks to floods and earthquakes. For Bangladesh to become an upper-middle income country within its 50th birthday, much depends on the success of Dhaka’s urban expansion.  For this dream to become reality, East Dhaka needs to be designed and built sustainably. This will require careful planning, proper implementation, and close coordination. It will require the government ministries and agencies, private sectors, and the most brilliant and creative minds from Bangladesh and abroad to work together. Today, we look forward to learn from our Delhi and Shanghai counterparts about their urbanization journey.  Honorable Minister, your presence shows the government’s commitment to turn Dhaka into a more prosperous global city. As Bangladesh’s long-term development partner, the World Bank looks forward to supporting the city’s transformation. This is our city. Let us all work together to make Dhaka a more livable, productive, and prosperous city. Thank you! 

from World Bank Search – NEWS


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