Speeches & Transcripts July 19, 2017

Toward Great Dhaka

Honorable Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, Mr. Khandker Mosharraf Hossain,

Friends from the Media,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

A very good morning to you all and welcome to the conference on development options for Dhaka towards 2035!

Dhaka is a dynamic and vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage to be proud of.  It is also rapidly growing.  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 that the city holds for millions of residents.  The question is: will Dhaka be able to deliver on its promise?

As Dhaka has grown to become one of the most densely populated cities 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 the city’s potential.

Unplanned and uncontrolled growth has created extraordinary congestion.  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 wastes 3.2 million working hours per day.  This costs the economy billions of dollars every year.  Imagine how much more we can all achieve if we have millions of more hours to work, invest, and spend time with our families each day!

The bad news is that this problem of congestion is not likely to go away by itself.  In fact, Dhaka’s population is likely to double to more than 35 million people by 2035.  Without a fundamental re-think that will require substantial planning, coordination, investments, and actions, Dhaka will not reach its full potential.  Dhaka 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 was very different from what it is today.

In 1980, Shanghai had a population of about 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 farm and dock land.  People used to say, “I would rather have a bed in West Shanghai than a house in East Shanghai.” Little did people know that Pudong was on the cusp of a transformation, something 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 of about 24 million, Shanghai has one of the longest subway systems in the world.  The East and West parts 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 space and high quality, eco-friendly facilities and services.  Pudong has helped ease congestion and boost Shanghai’s GDP per capita to about US$25,000 today.

Shanghai’s urban development experience shows that it is possible to increase living standards and quality of life in mega-cities even during periods of rapid population growth.  With the right set of policies and timely actions, there is no reason why Dhaka cannot achieve what Shanghai and other major cities around the world have achieved.

As you all know well, 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.  The embankment has greatly increased investment in those areas but the lack of planning has also created congestion and livability problems.

On the other side of the city, 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 by its 50th birthday, much depends on the success of Dhaka’s urban expansion.  For Dhaka to play this critical role, East Dhaka needs to be designed and built sustainably.

This will require careful planning, proper implementation, and close coordination.  It will require government ministries and agencies, private sector, citizens and the most brilliant and creative minds from Bangladesh and abroad to work together.  We look forward to learning from our Delhi and Shanghai counterparts about their urbanization journey.

Honorable Minister, your presence at today’s conference is a strong signal of the government’s commitment to transform the city. As Bangladesh’s long-term development partner, the World Bank is fully committed to supporting the country to make Dhaka a more livable, competitive and prosperous city.

I look forward to a productive discussion and wish you all a very successful conference.

Thank you!