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close this bookCrucibles of Hazard: Mega-Cities and Disasters in Transition (United Nations University, 1999, 544 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the document1. Introduction - James K. Mitchell
View the document2. Natural disasters in the context of mega-cities - James K. Mitchell
View the document3. Urbanization and disaster mitigation in Tokyo - Yoshio Kumagai and Yoshiteru Nojima
View the document4. Flood hazard in Seoul: A preliminary assessment - Kwi-Gon Kim
View the document5. Environmental hazards in Dhaka - Saleemul Huq
View the document6. Natural and anthropogenic hazards in the Sydney sprawl: Is the city sustainable? - John Handmer
View the document7. Disaster response in London: A case of learning constrained by history and experience - Dennis J. Parker
View the document8. Lima, Peru: Underdevelopment and vulnerability to hazards in the city of the kings - Anthony Oliver-Smith
View the document9. Social vulnerability to disasters in Mexico City: An assessment method - Sergio Puente
View the document10. Natural hazards of the San Francisco Bay mega-city: Trial by earthquake, wind, and fire - Rutherford H. Platt
View the document11. There are worse things than earthquakes: Hazard vulnerability and mitigation capacity in Greater Los Angeles - Ben Wisner
View the document12. Environmental hazards and interest group coalitions: Metropolitan Miami after hurricane Andrew - William D. Solecki
View the document13. Findings and conclusions - James K. Mitchell
View the documentPostscript: The role of hazards in urban policy at the millennium - James K. Mitchell
View the documentAppendices
View the documentContributors
View the documentOther titles of interest

5. Environmental hazards in Dhaka - Saleemul Huq

Editor's introduction

Since its founding as an independent state in 1971, Bangladesh has been affected by numerous public problems that seem to defy effective solutions.1 Prominent among these are natural hazards and disasters. Tropical cyclones, riverine floods, riverbank erosion, and tornadoes have inflicted a continuing sequence of heavy losses (Brammer, 1987, 1990a, 1990b; Choudhury, 1984; Chowdhury, 1993; Hossain, 1993; Islam, 1974; Jabbar, 1990; Khalil, 1992, 1993; McDonald, 1991; Matsuda, 1993; Montgomery, 1985; Paul, 1993; Rahman and Bennish, 1993; Zaman, 1993). Scientists are divided about the mix of natural and societal factors that is involved in these disasters, and sharp disputes about appropriate hazard-management policy have sometimes soured relations between the government of Bangladesh and the international aid community (Anon., 1988, 1993; Bingham, 1992; Custers, 1992; Haque, 1993; Ives and Messerli, 1989; Pearce, 1993, 1994; Rasid and Paul, 1987; Sklar, 1993; Tickell, 1993).

1 Two contrasting images of Bangladesh have been fashioned over the past two decades. One is the view, variously attributed to John Kenneth Galbraith, Henry Kissinger, and Alexis Johnson, that Bangladesh is "an international basket case''; in other words, a state that is unable to care for itself and must rely on the charity of others. The second is an image of "Golden Bengal'' - a land of future plenty whose potential has not yet been realized (New York Times, 23 June 1985).

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, faces many profound challenges. Not the least of these are a very rapidly growing population and a position amid some of the world's most flood-prone lands.2 Dhaka is already bursting at the seams trying to house, feed, employ, and care for a vast pool of extremely poor inhabitants. Within two decades it is likely to be counted among the world's largest cities (Miah and Webber, 1990; Meier and Quium, 1991).

2 Dhaka is sited on the southern fringes of an area that is seldom flooded but immediately across the river from lands that are normally below 6 feet of water during the wet season (National Geographic Magazine 183(6), 1993).

Flooding is perhaps Dhaka's best-known hazard, though by no means the only one. In recent years most of Dhaka has been inundated by prolonged record-setting floods, some of which were clearly visible on space satellite photographs (Rasid, 1993a). During 1988 approximately 900,000 of the city's residents found shelter in refugee camps during the height of one such flood episode (Christian Science Monitor, 13 September 1988). A strategy for flood control has been developed but its prospects for success are uncertain. Not only are there formidable technical, economic, and political obstacles to be overcome, but the approach is narrowly conceived and not well coordinated with the city's other (limited) efforts to improve environmental quality and raise levels of living. Very few of the public agencies that are responsible for guiding the future development of Dhaka have taken account of environmental hazards and their effects. Non-governmental organizations are attempting to fill some of the gaps in the umbrella of public agency responses, and some noteworthy successes have been achieved. However, it will require a major shift in the commitments of urban and national leaders and a vast increase in resources before the environmental hazards of Dhaka are brought within a range that would be regarded as acceptable in mega-cities of the developed world.


Bangladesh remains a predominantly rural country, although the level of urbanization is increasing. The urban population is around 20 per cent and growing at a rate of 7 per cent per year. Forty-five per cent of urban Bangladeshis are concentrated in five cities, with the largest number (25 per cent) in Dhaka. It is estimated that in 1991 over 6 million people lived within the 400 km2 of the Dhaka Statistical Metropolitan Area. If present trends continue, by the year 2000 this region's population will be around 8 million, rising to over 12 million by 2025 (table 5.1). The city's population growth is fuelled primarily by migration from rural areas and many of the migrants are located in 1,125 slums and squatter settlements. It is estimated that about 1 million people now live in such places, often at densities of more than 650 people per acre. These are the people most vulnerable to floods, epidemics, crime, and other environmental hazards.

Dhaka is sited on the north bank of the Buriganga River, approximately 160 km upstream from where the Ganges river system empties into the Bay of Bengal (fig. 5.1). Historically the city's fortunes have waxed and waned in response to geopolitical events that often originated far outside its boundaries (Ahmed, 1986). It was established as the capital of Bengal in A.D. 1610 by Governor Islam Khan during the period when Mughal kings ruled the Indian subcontinent. Later, when Britain took control in the eighteenth century, the state capital was shifted to Calcutta and Dhaka's pre-eminence faded. Thereafter Dhaka enjoyed a brief resurgence when Bengal was partitioned in 1905 and it again became a capital - this time of East Bengal. For a few years the city expanded and there were new investments in infrastructure. However, when the two parts of Bengal were recombined (1911), this promising development was cut short. Following the partition of India in 1947, Dhaka again became a capital city (of East Pakistan) and there was a further major spurt in urban growth. An even larger increase took place in 1971, when the independent country of Bangladesh was created with Dhaka as national capital (table 5.1). At that time there were between 1 and 2 million people living in the city.

Table 5.1 Population, area, and density in Dhaka City, 1951-2025



Area (km2)

Density (inh./km2)





































Sources: Based on various Bangladesh statistical sources.

The locations of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses have changed in step with the city's expansion. In pre-Mughal times, Dhaka was a small market town that possessed 52 bazaars, each of which provided a focus for its own residential neighbourhood. When the Mughals came to power, Chawkbazar emerged as the central business district and high-class residential areas began to expand along the bank of the Buriganga. Later, during the British period, Chawkbazar gradually surrendered its retail functions and by 1930 it had become a wholesale trade centre. At the same time, the riverfront also lost its desirable residential character and became both a low-class residential area and the city's main commercial centre. In the early part of the twentieth century, large and small industrial areas emerged at Hatkhola (glass), Shadhana Aushadhalaya (pharmaceuticals), and elsewhere (shell cutting, brass, precious metals, and weaving).


After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Dhaka's land-use pattern underwent rapid change. New high-class residential areas were created to the north of the city at Dhanmondi, Lalmatia, Gulshan, and Banani. Former high-class areas (e.g. Gandaria, Purana Paltan, Wari, and Shengunbagicha) were taken over by middle-class residents. The central business district expanded and new industrial areas were added at Postagola and Demra. By the time Bangladesh became independent, the old part of Dhaka was increasingly congested and unable to expand. New planned and unplanned developments spread north to the vicinity of the inter national airport and in other directions where high ground (above flood level) was available. New residential and commercial areas were also built on earth-filled lower-lying sites. Lower-class areas (bustees) are now found along the railroad line between Gandaria and Mahakhali and in a variety of other places. Although much of the industrial development is concentrated in formal industrial zones, the garment industry occupies widely scattered premises throughout the city.

Future growth of Dhaka

The dominant direction of expansion for Dhaka has long been towards the north over a series of old (Pleistocene) river terraces. It is widely believed that future growth will continue this trend, but there is little agreement about the details. The Dhaka Metropolitan Area Integrated Development Project has identified three possible growth scenarios. The first of these assumes the existence of a comprehensive flood protection plan for areas that are at risk of inundation from five nearby rivers. If constructed, this might permit expansion of settlement into areas that lie immediately east and north of the present city. The second scenario emphasizes the development of a number of locations that are now on the periphery of the present built-up zone. The third scenario is an extension of the second and assumes that additional land will be developed north of the city. One estimate of the city's layout in the year 2025 is portrayed in figure 5.2.

In-migration from rural areas accounts for the lion's share (74 per cent) of Dhaka's recent growth. Natural increase (18 per cent) and annexation of surrounding territory (8 per cent) have had less effect on the size of the city's population. Natural hazards are one of four factors that explain Dhaka's magnetic attraction for rural dwellers (Choguill, 1987). Floods, cyclones, and shifting river beds displace huge rural populations and frequently are stimuli for beginning the trek to the city. In addition, Dhaka is widely perceived as a place that will provide superior economic opportunities and access to cultural enrichment. A long-standing neglect of small towns by public policy makers also contributes to the pressure on Dhaka. Finally, the agrarian structure of Bangladesh - and its larger rural economy - are still adjusted to overseas colonial era markets. For example, despite the poor international demand for jute, a disproportionate amount of the country's resources go into jute production for export. Only limited effort goes into building up Bangladesh's ability to feed itself and to supply other domestic demands.

Fig. 5.2. Dhaka in 2025 (Source: Dhaka Metropolitan Government, Dhaka Metropolitan Area Integrated Development Project).

Dhaka is affected by pressures of the contemporary global economic system. The bulk of present exports consist of manufactured clothing, which is subject to quota restrictions in the United States and Europe. As a result, many industrial entrepreneurs are shifting production into other fields, including shoes, toys, pharmaceuticals, and petrochemicals. Electronic circuits and computer software are also being produced. Demand for new factories, workshops, backyard manufacturing units, and make-shift offices is blossoming, thereby pushing people out of houses in the old part of Dhaka and into new residential suburbs and peri-urban slums. Rich agricultural land in the Savar and Tongi corridors is likely to be converted to urban uses in the near future. The remaining vacant land within the Dhaka Metropolitan Area will probably become filled by industrial premises, houses, offices, hotels, and entertainment premises.

Land ownership and income are directly correlated in Dhaka. Upper- and upper-middle-income households constitute 30 per cent of the city's residents but control over 80 per cent of the land and housing assets (Islam and Khan, 1987). The highest-income population makes up around 2 per cent of the households but occupies 20 per cent of all the residential land. At the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum, 70 per cent of the city's families are classed as middle- and low-income groups; nearly 30 per cent of them fall below the hard-core poverty line. They live in slums and squatter settlements, often being repeatedly pushed to ever more distant peripheral sites (Shakur and Madden, 1991). These people are marginalized both by market forces and by public inaction (Islam and Khan, 1987).

In summary, metropolitan Dhaka will probably continue to expand by filling the remaining undeveloped areas within the municipal boundaries. More and more people who live on the city's outskirts will begin commuting to the main centrally located facilities. Since urban services are now stretched to breaking point, the prospect is that the quality of life in Dhaka will only deteriorate unless large capital investments can be attracted to the city.

Hazards and disasters

Historical data on hazards and disasters in Dhaka are almost totally lacking. This makes it difficult to project likely patterns of risks and potential losses in the expanding city of the future. None the less, it is possible to make some pertinent generalizations about future hazards. For the purpose of this analysis these can be divided into two categories of events: routine hazards and surprises.

Routine hazards


Flooding is both a routine hazard in Dhaka and an extreme one. For example, in 1995 small-scale to moderate floods occurred in and around Dhaka during the months of April, July, August, and November. These were mostly a result of strong outflows from the Brahmaputra river system, which caused water in other rivers to back up near the city. Outbreaks of diarrhoea were prevalent in Dhaka during mid-August because floods carried untreated sewage into drinking water. Much routine flooding occurs as a result of drainage backups and storms, but the residents of Dhaka are affected by a number of other routine hazards including: environmental pollution, traffic congestion, and a suite of hazards associated with inadequate housing, slums, and squatter settlements (Rahman, 1993). These are essentially everyday problems that threaten human safety, health, and well-being although, sometimes, their intensity and extent may assume surprising proportions.

Drainage backups are a general and worsening problem throughout the city. Dhaka was built on a series of dissected river terraces above adjacent floodplains. In earlier centuries the city was crossed by major drainage canals (khals) such as the Dholai khal and the Begunbari khal, which carried away runoff. Increased urbanization has resulted in the low-lying areas becoming filled with residential, industrial, and other urban land uses. Drainage is impeded and backups of water are endemic in a large part of the city. Many neighbourhoods are impassable or inaccessible after normal rains. When downpours occur, such as during annual monsoons, the problems are compounded. Widespread and lengthy disruptions of roads, telecommunications, electricity supplies, and water supplies are common. Many low-class and middle-class residences go under water at these times. As the city expands, the pressure on remaining open spaces becomes more intense and these problems grow worse.

Cyclones and other large storms

Cyclones and other large storms affect Dhaka frequently, disrupting the city and causing extensive losses to people and property. Owing to a lack of records it is not possible to give more than notional indications of total storm impacts. It is clear that the residences of low- and middle-income families are particularly susceptible to damage. They most often possess roofs made of metal sheeting or of bamboo matting, which are easily blown off by high winds. Hardship for the occupants is a common result. The Building and Housing Research Directorate and some non-governmental organizations are seeking to develop low-cost housing alternatives that will offer better protection against storms. This is a much-needed project. In general, upper-class residents of Dhaka do not face similar problems because the quality of housing construction is much superior (Syed, 1993).

Waste disposal

Waste disposal is a chronic problem of major proportions in Dhaka that has an impact on many other hazards, including flooding (Hoq and Lechner, 1994; Bhide, 1990). Waste problems are primarily caused by unplanned land-use changes and poor management of sewage and garbage. The rising potential for industrial effluents to affect residential populations is a good example. Originally, most industrial areas were located on the outskirts of the city, but they have now been surrounded by encroaching residential settlements that were not subject to zoning controls or other land-use regulations. The Hazaribagh and Tejgaon industrial areas are particularly vulnerable because there large numbers of tanneries and other effluent-generating industries rub shoulders with many housing developments. Similar processes are also occurring in areas like Demra, Fatullah, Narayanganj, Tongi, Jaydevpur, and Savar.

Environmental pollution

Water pollution and land pollution have already reached alarming proportions. Watercourses are often choked with debris (e.g. animal viscera, vegetable scraps, plastic bags) and they act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes (Hasan and Mulamoottil, 1994). About one-third of Dhaka's households are connected to sewer systems. Another one-third employ septic tanks or pit latrines. The rest either have no sewage disposal facilities or use surface latrines (United Nations Department of Inter national Economic and Social Affairs, 1987). It is not unusual to see overflows of sewage in the streets and drains during the rainy season. Areas of polluted stagnant water have frequently been trapped within the urban area behind the embankments that protect against river flooding. The garbage disposal system is also woefully unable to cope with existing demands. The entire city possesses 186 garbage trucks, and disposal sites are becoming difficult to find in the vicinity of the built-up area (Rahman, 1993).

Air pollution is a growing problem traceable to vehicle emissions and open burning of kerosene, firewood, and other biomass as well as to brick kilns and the incineration of rubber tyres in poor neighbourhoods. Many ornamental trees that had flanked the principal streets were cut down during the past two decades both to provide fuel and to reduce the incidence of bird droppings (Hasan and Mulamoottil, 1994). It is estimated that there are around 160,000 motor vehicles in the city, of which approximately 50,000 are driven by highly polluting two-stroke engines. Aerosol lead is a particular problem because most motor vehicle engines are poorly maintained and use leaded gasoline, which is the only kind that can be produced by the country's single oil refinery. Recently, airborne lead levels in Dhaka have exceeded those of Bombay and Mexico City (Reuters, 1997).

Table 5.2 Vehicular modes on Dhaka's roads

Type of vehicle

% of total


Motor car






Motor cycle











Traffic congestion

Traffic clogs the roads of Dhaka and the vehicular accident rate is high. The development of new streets and roads more or less kept pace with expanding population until Bangladesh became independent, but a wide gap has since opened up. Nearly 65 per cent of the traffic is composed of non-powered vehicles (i.e. rickshaws, bicycles), which are not physically separated from cars, buses, and other powered vehicles (table 5.2). Traffic jams are common at peak hours and the circulation system is often thrown into disarray by political demonstrations and natural disasters. With road traffic projected to double during the decade from 1990 to 2000, the prospects for improvement are poor. As in many cities of the developing world, noise is a pervasive urban problem that has not been addressed by public authorities. Vehicle exhausts, horns, and loud speakers commonly operate at high decibel levels and the growth of new suburbs close to the airport is raising the salience of aircraft noise as a serious problem.


Fire is another everyday hazard in Dhaka. In most years the city experiences several major fires that consume hundreds of houses and small businesses at a time. For example, in 1992, three large fires destroyed 640 houses. The following year two fires burned down over 200 houses. A recent study found that there is a direct correlation between population density and fire frequency. Slum communities and the densely developed sections of old Dhaka are most at risk. The big fires of 1992 and 1993 affected slum districts and most of them began in the premises of small plastics and rubber companies. A combination of hazardous materials, congested living and working spaces, and narrow streets is involved in most fires (fig. 5.3).

Fig. 5.3. Fire hazard zones in Dhaka: 1987-1988 (Source: Center for Urban Studies, University of Dhaka)



In some years the monsoon rains are abnormally intense and prolonged, thereby giving rise to surprise floods. This last occurred in 1987 and 1988. In 1987 an estimated once-in-50-year flood inundated the southern two-thirds of Dhaka for several months (fig. 5.4). Almost two-thirds (66 per cent) of all slum dwellings in the city were affected. The following year, a 100-year flood took place and covered 77 per cent of the city (fig. 5.5). Both events disrupted road, rail, and air transportation and severed electricity, telecommunications, and water supplies. As Dhaka expands into low-lying areas that now act as emergency retention basins, it is likely that there will be more of these surprises.

After the big floods of the late 1980s the government of Bangladesh formulated a number of Flood Action Plan studies, one of which focuses specifically on Dhaka. A Dhaka City Flood Control and Drainage Project has begun in haste as part of an overall Flood Action Plan (FAP) that was funded by 15 donor countries and coordinated by the World Bank. The national FAP has occasioned much controversy both inside Bangladesh and in the international development assistance community. It relies on large-scale, sophisticated, and expensive engineering technology - reminiscent of the Dutch system of structural measures for flood control. There is only limited attention to protecting coastal areas that are at even greater risk of cyclone-driven floods than inland areas are of riverine flooding, and the equally serious hazard of drought is largely ignored. Some critics contend that the FAP is intended to divert water away from relatively well-off cities such as Dhaka and into poverty-stricken rural areas that already bear a disproportionate share of flood losses (Robinson, 1993, pp. 170 - 171; Blaikie et al., 1994, pp. 138 - 144). It has also been argued that the floods of 1987 and 1988 should be regarded as highly unusual events that do not warrant the launching of a massive "tech-fix'' project whose side-effects may be as upsetting as the problems it is intended to resolve.

The Dhaka City Flood Control and Drainage Project is one element of the larger national strategy. It is a huge engineering and drainage scheme that covers a 265 km2 tract around Dhaka bounded by several rivers. Plans call for the construction of a continuous embankment along the edges of the tract and pumping stations within it to remove any water that accumulates there. The western side of this giant ring-dyke (30 km long) was completed in 1990 and sluice gates were added in 1993/94. A second phase (29 km), on the eastern side of Dhaka, is still incomplete. Part of the project, the Dhaka - Narayanganj - Demra Polder south of Dhaka, surrounds a largely agricultural area on the periphery of the city and is intended to improve flood control, increase agricultural yields, and enhance fishing. However, one of the main effects of this project has been to encourage urban invasion of the floodplain in an area that is not served by municipal services, including water supply and sewers (Rasid, 1993b; Rasid and Mallik, 1993, 1996). In addition, the construction and maintenance costs and the operational requirements of the entire scheme are very heavy for such a poor country.

Fig. 5.4. Dhaka maximum flooded area, 1978 (Source: Dhaka Metropolitan Government)

Fig. 5.4. Dhaka maximum flooded area, 1988 (Source: Dhaka Metropolitan Government)

Cyclones and tornadoes

From time to time, cyclones and tornadoes have affected Dhaka. When this occurs, cyclone damage is usually widespread, whereas tornado damage is confined to small areas. However, the city is acquiring more high-rise structures that may be at risk in the future.


Although there have been no major earthquakes in recent decades, Dhaka is also known to be susceptible to serious earthquake hazards (Reuters, 1995).


Finally, it should be noted that the incidence of urban crime has been increasing very rapidly in Dhaka. In an attempt to curb the trend towards violent crime, in 1992 the government of Bangladesh introduced stringent laws directed against illegal ownership of firearms.

Management of hazards and disasters

Environmental planning and management are improving in Dhaka, but the city has a long way to go before it possesses the tools and institutions necessary for effective urban management let alone the capacity to address the human dimensions of environmental hazards. For example, the city's master plan is seriously outdated. It was prepared in 1959 before Bangladesh became independent, when the metropolitan population was around 2 million, yet it remains the only legal document for land-use regulation (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, 1996, p. 256). Recently, efforts have been made to separate planning and building regulations into two comprehensive codes and to readjust complicated landholding boundaries to permit easier development of fragmented and irregular plots (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, 1996, pp. 299, 303).

There have been a number of initiatives to reduce the environmental hazards of Dhaka at various times during the past 150 years. For example, in August 1840 a Municipal Committee was established to address problems of sanitation, economic decline, and corruption. The Committee undertook to create embankments along the rivers, to reclaim low-lying flood-prone areas, and to improve navigation by modifying river channels, but its efforts were undercut by legal and financial difficulties. At the same time, many poor residents moved out of Dhaka to settle on adjacent flood-prone territories because the municipal authorities raised city taxes (Ahmed, 1986).

Today, the Dhaka Municipal Corporation has overall responsibility for government services but its authority is limited (e.g. no zoning powers). There is very little coordination among departments and agencies whose missions overlap, such as the Water Development Authority (flood control), the Urban Development Directorate (housing), and the Public Health Engineering Department (mosquito control, sanitation) (Hasan and Mulamoottil, 1994). Most of these units are hard-pressed to meet their obligations and they often are glaringly deficient. Perhaps as a result, non-governmental organizations have begun to assume leadership of some disaster-management functions during recent years.

The Dhaka City Planning Authority (Rajuk) is charged with responsibility for planning the future expansion of the metropolitan area. It has authority to regulate land use, including high-rise buildings and filled land - two of the potential hazard trouble spots of the future. Dhaka Municipal Corporation has responsibility for garbage disposal and street lighting among other matters. Dhaka Water and Sewer Authority is currently unable to meet the city's needs for potable water; projections indicate that the gap between demand and supply is likely to grow wider. This agency is also involved in efforts to improve drainage for already developed parts of Dhaka. However, undeveloped districts are filling up with new settlements at a rate that will likely outpace the effects of these efforts. The Fire Brigade and the Civil Defence Authority play roles in emergencies, but they are all too often unable to intervene effectively.

In recent years, non-governmental organizations have begun to address some of the deficiencies of the formal hazard-management agencies and to offer alternatives. Residents of the Dhaka - Narayanganj - Demra Polder were particularly adept in forming neighbourhood groups to assist with flood-fighting and recovery tasks during the floods of 1987 and 1988.


The hazard dilemmas of Dhaka are multifaceted and interrelated. At their heart is the fact that this is a large, rapidly growing city on a congested site that lacks safe areas for expansion, in a very poor country that has set a high priority on fast economic development. As a result, there are many competing priorities for resources that might be devoted to hazard reduction and a narrow range of feasible hazard-reduction alternatives. The impacts of existing risks are increasing and settlement is encroaching into flood-prone areas, while the vulnerability of poor in-migrants grows and the efficacy of public responses remains low.

Clearly there is a need for more information about the genesis and status of environmental hazards in Dhaka. The social composition of this mega-city makes it likely that there are very substantial numbers of vulnerable people already resident therein but it is also possible that the general conditions of human existence are better in Dhaka than throughout the rural districts outside it. None the less, it would be unfortunate if arguments about the need to improve safety and security for rural Bangladeshis were to obscure the reality that hazards are growing worse in Dhaka and other urban centres. This is likely to happen as the city's population grows and marginal lands are occupied by housing and industry. Whether the hazards will increase at a faster rate than those of rural areas remains to be seen but the trends are not favourable.

As a first step towards improving the prospects for a reduction in hazards in Dhaka, a quantum increase in basic research on the human ecology of hazard is necessary. Baseline information about the distributions of populations at risk, their capabilities to adjust to hazard, and the range of available means for coping with hazards is required. Case-studies of neighbourhoods that are particularly at risk and groups whose vulnerability is increasing are especially warranted. Moreover, a careful analysis of the similarities and differences in hazard-proneness and coping strategies between rural and urban centres in Bangladesh would pay rich dividends.


The editor would like to acknowledge the assistance of Sudha Maheshwari and C. Emdad Haque in updating and modifying the original manuscript to incorporate recent information.


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