Amidst the deadly second wave of Covid-19, it had been reported by Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) that around 10.6 million mobile phone users in Dhaka changed their location. This happened from May 4 to May 15 (May 14 was Eid day), indicating that 1.06 crore of Dhaka city dwellers departed for their home, outside Dhaka, to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr with family.
The projection made by BTRC, however, is not completely accurate as a myriad number of people use double SIMs and children were not included in the estimation. But, the number revealed by BTRC was successful enough to portray how health protocols were flouted without any consideration, despite strict lockdown. Even the closure of direct transportation from one district to another imposed by the government could not check the mad rush to villages.
Now, being able to stay at home - privileged and advantageous position of society - it is easy to raise question and judge why people thronged to bus station, ferry ghat, junctions of city and were at fever pitch for moving to their hometown at any cost, for a span of only two to three days of vacation.
At the same time, the infection rate was on the rise as well as indian variant of coronavirus was detected. The new variant possessed an exorbitant ability to infect, compared to other variants found so far, leading the situation to depreciate more.
After a while, the confusion became crystal clear when TV channels and newspapers interviewed home-going people, most of whom were engaged with the informal sector in urban areas, away from their family.
According to them, due to lockdown they could not spend both earlier Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha with family. Moreover, they did not get an opportunity to meet their kith and kin because they did not get leave from their workplace. All of the factors made it mandatory to leave Dhaka this time regardless of risk associated with moving from one place to another without following safety measures.
This crazy rush to hometown from the city area was not only visible in Dhaka, but also in major cities such as Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal, Sylhet. In essence, the overall condition signaled emotion outweighing the peril of Coronavirus pandemic.
Now, the root cause of the above mentioned incident was simply uncontrolled rural-urban migration along with mismanagement on part of the policy-makers. Empirically, in every developing country, both economic growth and rural-urban migration occur hand in hand. Human development report by UNDP extrapolated that two third of the total world population will reside in urban areas by 2050.
Moreover, in contrast to any other continents, Asia and Africa will experience a whopping surge of urban population. As per the report, 64% of the population will live in cities in Asia by 2050, and for Africa the percentage will be 56. As of 2019, 62.59% of total population live in rural areas with -1.85% growth, whereas 37.40% live in urban areas with 3.13 percent growth (World Bank).
Hence, Bangladesh is not an exception in the matter of rural-urban migration. The diaspora is likely to continue for a long time because cities offer high income opportunities, easy access to slums at lower cost, standard educational institutions for the next generation and many more in comparison to rural areas.
Though non-farm employment has been increased to 48% in 2016-17 from 37% in 2000, according to the Labour force survey 2016-17, still rural and suburban people are preferring urban areas. After coming to urban areas like Dhaka, most of the people attach themselves with informal jobs as economic growth demand for this sector has skyrocketed, making it easier to enter into the sector.
Dhaka is already the most densely populated country in the world along with the tag of fourth least liveable city. The city earned only 16.7 for healthcare, 30.8 for culture and environment and 33.3 for education, out of 100 marks (Economic Intelligence Unit).
Needless to say, these numbers are the manifestation of how miserable Dhaka's circumstance is - overburdened with ever increasing numbers of population, struggling to assure freshwater, dysfunctional transport, healthcare, and education system. The rampant rural-urban migration is clouding up the existing suffering and will be continuing to hurt badly in the long run.
A huge chunk of research and newspaper articles are dedicated to the exodus issue. But, the government's conspicuous development programme - to make a pathway to reverse migration by furnishing the rural areas with urban facilities - has hardly come to the sight.
For example, average people who left Dhaka did not even try to fathom what hurdles they might face if their families are somehow infected. Emotionally they took decisions to celebrate Eid, risking their family members' life.
Likewise, in the mentioned case above, if people could access updated knowledge beforehand, they would have given a thought about the risky journey they took during Eid vacation. Instead, they would have waited for some more days to meet their families after the situation improved.
Furthermore, equal concentration, investment, job facilities, education, health facilities should be clinched to both urban and rural areas in such a manner that rural urban diaspora rate stays at a moderate rate.
Last but not the least, the labour force should be forged in a way where migrants will not just have the option to enter in the informal sector, but also have the option to set foot in the formal job sector, at least for the next generation.
To conclude, another Eid is almost around the corner and we are about to witness another crazy rush as well as spiralling of infection rate afterwards. This time, the situation might worsen as the Delta variant has been transmitted.
Policymakers need to identify where all the problems (the exodus and mismanagement) began. Bangladesh will continue to experience rural-urban migration in the foreseeable future. But with proper planning and management, the harsh impact of the migration can be mitigated.