Housing the urban poor in Bangladesh : a study of housing conditions, policies and organisations
Rahman, M. Ashiq-Ur
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The rapid urbanisation process in developing countries has heightened the crisis of employment, shelter provision and urban services. The increased number of urban population and lack of institutional capacity is causing urban poverty, which has two-way cause-effect relationship with inadequate housing and service provision. In Bangladesh almost 30% of the urban population is living in slums and squatters. To address the housing issues of the urban poor, different programmes and policies have been designed and implemented internationally based on different macro-economic development approaches. The main development approaches are Modernisation, Keynesian, Basic Needs, Neo-liberal and Collaborative, which have been translated in different housing approaches like Conventional Housing, Public and Self-help Housing, Aided Self-help Housing, Enabling Mechanism and Community-led Housing. Thus the development approaches reframes the housing policies of a country and restructures the housing provision through different organisational arrangements to change the housing conditions of the urban poor. This study therefore examine the impact of development approaches for housing the urban poor in Bangladesh by analysing the housing conditions, policies and organisations drawing on the international theories, policies and practices. In analysing the recent context, the emphasis has been given on the impact of neo-liberalism as it is the current pre-dominant development approach in Bangladesh. By reviewing theories, policies and practices, this research first addresses the question whether there is any interrelation between housing and urban poverty, which can be capitalised for poverty alleviation. This research also explores – how ideas on pro-poor housing have evolved over time and whether these have produced varied results under different development approaches. It also investigates the roles of different actors under different organisational arrangements of housing provision influenced by the recent development approaches. The research then applies the concepts drawn from the international perspective to build an understanding of the Bangladesh context. Thus the research is mostly qualitative in nature and the international perspective is based on a review of the literature. To understand the Bangladesh context, in the macro level policy analysis, grey materials (unpublished policy documents) and key informant interview were the main methods of data collection. To understand the housing conditions of the urban poor, at the macro level secondary information has been used, and in the micro level - information has been collected from two case study settlements. For the descriptive statistics - census data of case study settlements has been collected in partnership with the Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction Programme team. Sixty household interviews and four focus group discussions were performed to acquire qualitative information on the housing process of the urban poor including the role of different actors for service provision in those settlements. The research found that theoretically there is an interrelation between housing and urban poverty, as housing acts as an asset for ensuring livelihood opportunities for the urban poor. The empirical evidence of Bangladesh also shows that there is a symbiotic relationship between housing and livelihood opportunity of the urban poor. The threat of eviction and lack of service provision affect this livelihood opportunity. Internationally to address the housing issues of the urban poor several attempts have been made based on different development approaches. In Bangladesh these practices were introduced under the pressure of external agencies rather than any endogenous attempt and failed to cater for the urban poor. Though different approaches exist internationally, in Bangladesh, neo-liberalism is the pre-dominant approach for articulating public policies. Most of the public policies thus refer to the market enabling approach for housing the urban poor. Internationally, the organisational arrangement of decentralisation has been seen as a pro-poor arrangement under the market enabling approach. In Bangladesh this arrangement failed to deliver housing and services for the urban poor. The co-existence of the 'participatory enabling approach‘ and 'market enabling approach‘ in Bangladesh is another major finding of this research. The 'participatory enabling approach‘ has been exercised through a few externally aided programmes and projects and the existing organisational arrangement is not conducive to this approach, which this research refers to as a policy failure. Moreover, this research identifies that 'market enabling approach‘ under the neo-liberal development approach failed to improve the housing conditions of the urban poor, failed to articulate pro-poor policy frameworks which affected the organisational arrangements and modes of housing provision for the urban poor. However, understanding the capability of informal networked actions of the urban poor, this research also advocates a 'participatory enabling approach‘ and a pro-poor housing policy in Bangladesh.