New Urban Agenda: Bangladesh Perspective

The New Urban Agenda will be the outcome document agreed upon at the Habitat III cities conference in October 2016 in Quito of Ecuador. In turn, it will guide the efforts around urbanisation of a wide range of actors – nation states, city and regional leaders, international development financiers, United Nations programmes and civil society – for the next 20 years.
Inevitably, this agenda will also lay the groundwork for policies and approaches that will extend, and impact, far into the future. Though an intensive preparatory process, the draft version of the New Urban Agenda was unveiled on 28 July in Surabaya and kicked off political negotiations on the new strategy. The preparatory process for drafting New Urban Agenda included an extensive series of official and semi-official events, including regional meetings, thematic meetings and “Urban Thinkers Campuses” for stakeholder input across the globe.

What was the Old Urban Agenda?

The United Nations’ current thinking on global urbanisation is summed up in the ‘Habitat Agenda: Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements’, the outcome document agreed upon in 1996, twenty areas back at the Habitat II conference. It called for adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements in an urbanising world. Since then, over 100 countries have adopted constitutional rights to adequate housing, a major success of the Habitat Agenda. Following this, Bangladesh Government also enacted housing policy back at the end of last month.

What priorities will guide the New Urban Agenda?

The New Urban Agenda, coming on the heels of the crystallisation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, will seek to create a mutually reinforcing relationship between urbanisation and development. The idea is that these two concepts will become parallel vehicles for sustainable development. Beyond the specific technocratic solutions of economics and governance, several core ideas will form the ideological underpinnings of the New Urban Agenda. Initial documents suggest that, for instance, democratic development and respect for human rights will feature prominently, as will the relationship between the environment and urbanisation.

Similarly, the New Urban Agenda will almost certainly include significant focus on equity in the face of globalisation, as well as how to ensure the safety and security of everyone who lives in urban areas, of any gender and age. Risk reduction and urban resilience will likewise play prominent roles. And the new agenda will place key importance on figuring out how to set up a global monitoring mechanism to track all of these issues and concerns. Along with, the core issues of the Habitat Agenda –adequate housing and sustainable human settlements will remain on table.

Urbanising Bangladesh: A Paradigm Shift

Urbanisation is not a myth anymore, rather a reality in Bangladesh. In 2014, 28 per cent of the population was living in urban Bangladesh while half of population of the country will live in urban areas by 2030. 38 per cent of city populations are living in slums alone. Since the independence, Dhaka city population have grown 6 per cent yearly while national population growth was 2.2 per cent only. Therefore; the New Urban Agenda is crucially important for Bangladesh.

In order to identify the urban problems and explore the best possible solutions, Urban INGO Forum, Bangladesh organised a two day long urban dialogue with different level of stakeholders in Dhaka recently. Through consultation, it has been recognised that rapid urbanisation increased through unplanned population growth, migration, unplanned settlement and expansion of administrative boundaries. It has also been recognised that unskilled labour, limited employment opportunities, degraded environment, poor housing, road safety and hazards for the urban communities, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, causes poverty in urban areas.

Climate induced disasters and associated risks also increased the rate of migration and the trend of rapid urbanisation. Disaster Management Committee (DMC) at all levels and urban volunteers are not institutionalised and capacitated. Hazardous and labour intensive job affects poor community’s health condition; therefore, the urban poor are in a trap to escape poverty. Housing crisis for immigrants is also recognised as one of the major concerns.
As vulnerable groups – children, women, youth and the aged face severe problems in their daily lives in terms of having basic services, safety and security, protection and livelihood. Need-based skill training for youth, lack of protection of the children, safety and security for the women, lack of birth registration and violence against children are considered as major threats for the mentioned groups. Furthermore, the pro-poor supports have generally been made worse by inadequate urban governance. This is caused by over-centralisation and inadequate popular participation. So far, the private-public partnership is not widely addressed for urban development in Bangladesh while City Wide Approach through inter-agency coordination and collaboration both in government and non-government agencies in order to effectively utilise shared resources are far.

Way Forward:

At the top of the line, the Government of Bangladesh needs to recognise the Low Income Communities (LICs) including pavement, squatter and under-developed slum-dwellers as urban citizens by ensuring all the basic amenities. There will not be any eviction without resettlement for the Low Income Communities. The service providing agencies will ensure adequate safe water and sanitation facilities to the LICs. Separate units for LICs have already been established by Dhaka and Chittagong WASA. Similar type of unit should be initiated in other major and secondary cities. One decade ago, the Urban Sector Policy was sent to the cabinet. The Government should take immediate action to enact Urban Sector Policy.

Urban Disaster Management should get special attention from all the corners. Interventions for urban disaster preparedness, especially earthquake, water logging and fire breaks, implementation of Contingency Plan and establishment of dedicated authority for Bangladesh National Building Code are necessary. The need has been identified for including the framework for Disaster Management Committee at ward level in urban areas. At the end of September, the Government of Bangladesh has approved the draft Housing Policy. A detail implementation strategy should be developed for the execution of the said policy. As per the commitment on International Convention on the Rights of the Children, the Government is responsible for establishing child friendly city ensuring all the necessities. Provision should be available for need based skill training for the urban youth. Inclusion of domestic workers and other informal workers in Labour Law and recognition as workers are the high level demand.
Finally, coordination should be developed among the implementing agencies at all levels. Therefore citywide programming is essential from all levels while establishing city government is a prerequisite for that coordination. It is expected that Bangladesh government will ensure their representation in Habitat III strongly and place all these demands for inclusive, sustainable and future city for all.
A S M Sazzad Hossain, Banker