The residents of Chattogram city are living with unbearable traffic jam, crisis of public transport, occupied footpaths, water-logging, unplanned and closely-packed buildings, lack of safe drinking water, inadequate gas supply and scattered garbage.
Still, hundreds of people are moving to the port city every day to live there even though infrastructures and civic amenities have not improved. So, the crises have turned acute.
The list of problems is getting longer. The unplanned developmental activities are making the city unlivable.
First of all, the giant flyovers of the city come to our mind as the symbol of unplanned development. A flyover is required in an intersection, where one lakh vehicles move per hour. The number of vehicles moving through the intersections in Chattogram city is no more than five thousand.
Despite this, the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) has built four flyovers in the city. The CDA has built three flyovers within 26 kilometres of one another. The authority has constructed the flyovers defying its own master plan formulated in 2015.
The flyovers were not in the master plan.
If we look at the flyovers, it becomes clear that there was no need to construct those as only a small number of vehicles use them. Actually, these flyovers are symbols of showing off.
There is no discipline on the roads. Drivers do not follow any rules. It is happening due to mismanagement. Is it possible to bring discipline on the streets by giving threats of filing cases?
People use rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and private cars due to the public transport crisis. If the public transport system was a developed one, people would willingly travel by public transports. Nobody would spend extra money to hire private transports.
There is only one train for travelling to Sitakunda, Hathazari and Dohazari upazilas from Chattogram city. The number of trains could have been increased as an alternative to the means of transport used to travel by road. It would develop the communication system.
Many people from these upazilas live in the port city to earn their livelihood. If the communication system and other facilities were available there, these people could do jobs in the city and then travel back home in the adjacent areas.
Water-logging is a man-made crisis. Drains and canals are filled with garbage. People are throwing garbage there. Crores of taka is being spent to implement projects to get rid of the crisis. But, is it sufficient to solve the problem?
The city dwellers have to be conscious about it. They have to keep garbage in proper places. Otherwise, they will not be able to get rid of the water-logging crisis.
There is no separate planning department in Chattogram. The CDA is responsible for the development of the city. Its planning department approves building designs. Though the 1995 master plan recommended formulation of the Chattogram Development and Planning Authority, that has not been implemented yet.
There is manpower crisis in the CDA's planning department. Its only function is to approve designs of buildings. It does not monitor whether the buildings are constructed as per the approved designs. That is why most of the buildings are being constructed defying the approved designs.
An elevated expressway was supposed to be built over the port. But, it was a threat to the port's security. So, the port authority objected to the proposal and later the design of the elevated expressway was changed. It indicates that the developmental projects are not being taken in a planned way.
A huge number of people come to the city in search of jobs. But, the city has not expanded after 1990. The communication system with the adjacent areas has not developed.
Metro rail is a sustainable communication system. It can bring about a significant change in any city. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has directed to conduct a feasibility study on constructing metro rail in Chattogram city.
As per international standards, it requires 60,000 passengers per hour for running the metro rail service. But, the number of passengers in Chattogram is fewer than the required number. Still, the necessity of metro rail in Chattogram may be shown in the feasibility study.
As metro rail is being built in Dhaka, so it has to be built in Chattogram. A tunnel is being constructed under the Karnaphuli River so that Cox's Bazar-bound vehicles can ply the tunnel avoiding the port city. But, to enter the tunnel, the vehicles have to use the road connected to the port through which goods-laden vehicles move.
Besides, though an outer ring road has been constructed, a bay terminal is being built there. So, how the tunnel will benefit the commuters? Will the port-centred traffic jam not increase due to the tunnel?
Development is an ongoing process. But, it should be done in a planned way. The developmental projects in Chattogram are not scientific. These have not been taken in a planned way. But, three decades ago, it was a planned city.
What should be done?
Bangladesh is working to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. But, the goals cannot be achieved by unplanned developments. So, the decision should be taken right now.
First, a study on what we need to make a city livable has to be conducted. A separate planning authority is required. Besides, we have to focus on the management system. We should not forget that Chattogram is very important for its port.
So, before taking any development project, priority should be given to the port. The rate of population growth has to be contained. Sustainable housing is required for the slum dwellers. Otherwise, their next generation will remain stuck in the same social condition.
More emphasis has to be given on the transportation and communication system. A strategy paper on transportation has to be formulated. Determining the priority through conducting a study and then acting accordingly is required.
Investment in the transport sector has to be increased. The quality of the roads, which are under construction, has to be maintained. There should be more open and public spaces. Sitting arrangements should be made in the existing open spaces but no park should be built there. There is a difference between an open space and a park.
The capacity of the port city should be enhanced to keep pace with the increasing number of its residents. Now is the time to expand the city. Besides, civic amenities have to be increased.
Urban environment management has to be there. Also, we have to maintain our tradition and culture. Everything will disappear, but the culture and tradition will sustain. Generations after generations will learn from it.
Every year people are losing their lives in the city due to landslides in hills. Such accidents would not have happened if the disaster management system was good. So, the disaster management system should be developed to ensure safety from natural disasters.
No development activities will work if good governance is not ensured. So, strict actions have to be taken against corruption. An atmosphere of accountability has to be created.
The first and foremost thing that is needed to do all these things is willingness. If it is there, Chattogram will definitely be a good city.
Subhash Chandra Barua is an urban planner