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The making of a megacity: how Dhaka transformed in 50 years of Bangladesh | Global development

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On the banks of the Buriganga, Old Dhaka’s boatmen only ever rest a moment before making their return journey, endlessly ferrying passengers back and forth across the river.

They pick them up at the Sadarghat docks, the historical trading hub that helped build the city, and row them towards the sprawling suburbs that have crept across what used to be open farmland two decades ago.

Old Dhaka is no longer the economic and political heart of the city, but Sadarghat is still the defining image of its perpetual movement and growth, of commuters living and working across the Buriganga, and new migrants forever stepping off crowded ferries, arriving from the countryside.

Dhaka reflects the trajectory of Bangladesh in the 50 years since independence, on 26 March 1971. At that time it was a small city of a million souls in a poor and underdeveloped nation, after decades of Pakistani neglect.

Now Dhaka is a megacity, an economic hub that has grown chaotically – outwards and upwards – to absorb the 20 million people who live there, with 400,000 arriving each year. Many have migrated with dreams of economic opportunities they cannot find elsewhere.

Aerial view of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
Aerial view of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Photograph: M Rahman/Alamy

Asaduzzaman Asad preceded most in his migration to the capital, arriving from the western district of Jhenaidah in 1966, when Dhaka was still the capital of East Pakistan, with the idea of starting a business.

“This town was very small. The number of three-storey buildings were few and you mostly just saw tin-roofed homes. There were ponds and canals and very few people. It was peaceful,” says Asad.

After independence in March 1971, Asad settled in Mohammadpur, an area still taking shape in the newly-settled north of the city. Dhaka was expanding quickly. In some areas the government allocated land for new arrivals to settle on, encouraging more migrants to head to the city. In other places, swathes of wetland and farmland were swallowed up by new neighbourhoods.

Passenger ferries docked on the Buriganga during a Covid lockdown imposed by the government.
Passenger ferries docked on the Buriganga during a Covid lockdown imposed by the government. Photograph: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy

New roads made travel and trade easier and Asad reaped personal rewards, with more customers for his grocery shop.

Bangladesh was infamously described as a “basket case” economy in 1971 by Henry Kissinger, who had opposed its creation. Half a century later, the country’s leaders often take pride in pointing out that they have proved him wrong.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted in October the country’s economic growth would still hit 4.4% in 2021 despite the coronavirus pandemic halving the previous year’s growth.

Most of that has been driven by Dhaka-based industries that have spawned a rapidly-growing class of super-rich, who live in leafy neighbourhoods, dine out on international cuisine and shop in gleaming malls or abroad. These industries feed on a constant flow of migrants fleeing deprivation or climate disasters, who move to places like the Kallyanpur and Korail slums, or the suburbs between Dhaka and satellite towns built for garment factories.

A view of Korail slum beside the Banani Lake in Dhaka.
A view of Korail slum beside the Banani Lake in Dhaka. Photograph: SK Hasan Ali/Alamy
Korail slum in Gulshan, Dhaka
Korail is one of the largest slums in Dhaka, accommodating a constant flow of new migrants to the city. Photograph: Stinger/Alamy

“There are problems here. There is also work here. As the crisis in our village increased, I came to Dhaka to find a living,” says Parveen Begum, 45, whose home in the coastal Bhola district was engulfed when the river flooded.

She settled in Kallyanpur, on a patch of government land known as a bosti, and found work in a garment factory. In the decade since, she has seen the area’s bamboo huts replaced first by tin homes and then more solid but haphazard structures along a network of paved alleyways.

Parveen and her husband pay 2,000 taka (£16) a month to rent a single room, in which they must keep the light on permanently because there is no natural light. Outside, the drains regularly clog with sewage.

“It’s not that I’m good here but there are more job opportunities than in the village,” she says. “We don’t want to live in this dirty slum, we’re always wishing we could go back.”

The 300 taka monthly salary Parveen earned when she arrived in Dhaka has increased to 3,600 taka. She believes that unless there is investment in rural Bangladesh the higher wages will compel many more people to leave their villages for the city.

Dhaka could become the world’s fourth most populous megacity by 2030, according to the UN, and few believe the city is well prepared for this growth.

Residential buildings keep getting higher with no regard for planning laws. There is little space between buildings, electricity cables are slung low in a tangled mess and the sewage system, which is still cleaned manually, is routinely overloaded by heavy rains.

Dhaka’s air quality routinely ranks among the worst in the world and the roads are so congested that traffic has slowed to almost walking speeds of 4 mph, down from 13 mph a decade ago.

“Sometimes I think the whole of Dhaka is a bosti, you cannot simply have a decent city life, even if you have a nice apartment,” says Dr Shahadat Hossain, an urban planning expert at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany.

“You cannot see any park developments, children go to school and come home and stay inside … social infrastructure is absolutely missing,” he says. “Your relation with the city is with your apartment, your workplace and the school your child goes to, but you have no relationship with anything in between because the roads, the community you live in, is foreign to you.”

Aerial view of a newly urbanised area and brickfield, in Dhaka.
Aerial view of a newly urbanised area and brickfield, in Dhaka. Photograph: SOPA Images Limited/Alamy

Hossain says that while industry has thrived, there is been a lack of comprehensive strategy to support the city’s residents. Corruption has made things worse, leaving the powerful able to exploit laws or, in the case of the Keraniganj suburbs, buy up land for affordable housing projects then sell them at prices beyond the reach of ordinary workers.

Asaduzzaman Asad sees benefits in the changes to the small city he came to in 1966. Today his business is thriving and there are opportunities that exist nowhere else in the country. But he is worried the city is becoming an intolerable place to live.

“We need decentralisation, we need good medical treatment in villages, good education and alternative livelihoods,” he says. “We can easily predict the future of Dhaka. If this unplanned development continues, this city will become uninhabitable.”

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

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Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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Jury calls for sweeping reforms to Canada’s approach to femicide | Canada

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A community in rural Canada has made a series of transformative recommendations at a coroner’s inquest that – if adopted – could position the country’s most populous province as a leader in preventing femicides, particularly those carried out by an intimate partner.

The jury in Renfrew County, Ontario, just west of Canada’s capital, delivered 86 recommendations this week in a unanimous verdict on the deaths of three local women, who were killed by the same man on a single morning nearly seven years ago.

The boldest was to have the Ontario government “formally declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic” that requires “significant financial investment” and deep systemic change to remedy.

Since the triple homicide on 22 September 2015, 111 women in Ontario have been murdered by their current or former partner, the inquest heard. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada.

The jury also recommended official prominence be given to the word “femicide” – to have it be listed as a manner of death by coroners in the province and added to the criminal code of Canada to underscore the misogyny beneath the killings of women and girls because of their gender.

“A lot of the recommendations are groundbreaking,” said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on intimate partner violence in Ontario who testified at the inquest.

The inquest, which heard from nearly 30 witnesses over three weeks, was meant to examine the systems that broke down in the weeks, months and years leading up to the day Basil Borutski got in a borrowed car, drove to Carol Culleton’s cottage and strangled her with a coaxial cable, then moved on to Anastasia Kuzyk’s house where he shot her to death and then to Nathalie Warmerdam’s farm where he shot her too.

All three women had previously been in an intimate relationship with Borutski. He had been in and out of jail for assaulting Kuzyk and Warmerdam and was on probation at the time of the murders and subject to a weapons ban.

Borutski had been flagged as “high risk” two years before the triple homicide, the inquest heard, and exhibited 30 out of 41 risk factors identified by Ontario’s domestic violence death review committee – including a deep sense of victimhood and the ability to convince new partners he was innocent and unfairly targeted by police in his prior convictions.

Police witnesses told the jury Borutski was very good at “manipulation” and constantly flouted court orders, including never showing up to a mandated partner assault response program.

The jury heard from family members, including Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie’s daughter, who painted a nuanced and empathetic picture of Borutski as a troubled stepfather. It heard from a frontline worker who described Warmerdam and Kuzyk’s constant terror that Borutski would kill them or harm their family.

The inquest jury demanded decision-makers make “significant financial investments” in ending violence, have police all use the same records management system and create clear guidelines for flagging high-risk abusers. It urged the study of disclosure protocols like Clare’s Law, which is used in the United Kingdom and in parts of Canada to allow a concerned person to check if their partner has a police record of intimate partner violence.

Valerie Warmerdam welcomed the verdict, but underscored the need for action on the part of governments who will receive these recommendations in the wake of the inquest. “I want change,” she said. “These recommendations are a good start, if they are actioned. That’s a big if.”

Kirsten Mercer, counsel to End Violence Against Women Renfrew County (EVA), noted that it was the jury themselves who added the epidemic recommendation among 13 others, including creating a registry of high-risk offenders akin to the sex offenders registry, and exploring electronic monitoring of those charged or found guilty of an IPV-related offence.

“The jury has asked that we tell the truth about intimate partner violence,” Mercer told the media after the verdict. “The jury has asked that we put our money where our mouth is.”

The idea to add femicide to the coroner’s list of manners of death and to the Criminal Code of Canada came from the joint submission. Countries in Latin America have already added this as a criminal offence, she said, and should be looked to as a model for how to do it here.

Accountability was a priority for this jury, Mercer said. The verdict called for the creation of an accountability body akin to the United Kingdom’s domestic abuse commissioner and a specific committee to make sure this verdict does not just languish in decision-makers’ inboxes.

“We are not going to wait forever any more.”

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Apollo Go: The Beijing neighborhood with robotaxis and driverless delivery service | International

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Book a robotaxi on a mobile app and it will pick you up in less than 10 minutes. It’s 2:00pm on a Thursday in Beijing and our ride is going smoothly with no human intervention so far. “Sometimes we have to speed up manually to avoid causing traffic jams. Bicycles and motorcycles often cause traffic congestion because they ignore traffic signals,” says the driver supervising our trip, as the steering wheel magically moves by itself.

The 37-square-mile (60 square kilometers) Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD) is where the country’s first pilot project to use autonomous vehicles on public roads is happening. Located in a secluded district in the southeastern part of the city, BJHAD is the test site for a futuristic plan that envisions turning Beijing into the standard-bearer for artificial intelligence (AI). The Apollo robotaxis manufactured by Baidu and the autonomous delivery vehicles manufactured by JD.com (aka Jingdong) zip around a tranquil utopia that stands in stark contrast to the hectic jungle of downtown traffic.

“[A robotaxi] can handle an average of 15 daily bookings, most of which are trips between a subway stop and an office,” said the cab driver. In November 2021, Baidu and Pony.ai became the first companies authorized to operate a fleet of 100 robotaxis in BJHAD. As of April 2022, humans are no longer required to sit in the driver’s seat of the robotaxi, which is allowed to travel at a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour (60 kph). The service is free for now, although the two companies are commercially licensed.

Baidu, China’s leading search engine, is diversifying its business by commercializing its AI and intelligent transportation technology. Its Apollo Go program is currently operating in seven cities, and the company plans to expand to 65 cities by 2025, and 100 cities by 2030. Unlike the Waymo robotaxis that Google began operating in 2020 in the US, Baidu’s vehicles circulate during the day, enabling them to collect more data.

Although Baidu has topped the list of Chinese companies with the most patents for AI applications over the last four years, e-commerce giant JD.com is the leader in the autonomous delivery vehicle space. In 2016, Jingdong established its headquarters in BJHAD, and its delivery robots now dominate the streets. These vehicles mainly transport orders from the 7FRESH smart supermarket chain operated by JD that combines e-commerce and traditional commerce. “Instead of people going out to buy products, we deliver them,” said Yang Han. Who works in Jingdong’s communications department.

JD’s applies big data analytical methods to the information collected from more than 400 million annual users, and utilizes it to tailor inventories to the specific needs of each 7FRESH physical stores location. The entire 7FRESH inventory is available in the app. The delivery robots, which travel at nine miles per hour (15 kph) and can carry 220-440 pounds (100-200 kilos), deliver orders in less than an hour within a three-mile (five kilometer) range.

JD employees rely on smaller robots to send documents and other items between offices in 10 minutes or less. “They speed up the work and saves us from having to run around from one place to another,” said Yang Han. The robots are able to operate elevators and open doors by themselves as they follow their delivery routes.

The robots can recognize their surroundings and avoid obstacles with a 98% accuracy rate for small objects. Information streams in through cameras and other sensors, while the navigation algorithm pinpoints their location and plans routes. JD’s cloud-based simulation platform accumulates data from every trip to continuously improve the robots’ capabilities.

The Covid pandemic spurred JD to accelerate its autonomous delivery program, enabling it to deploy small and large delivery vehicles to the Chinese cities most affected by the pandemic over the last two and a half years. In early 2020, during the peak of the pandemic in Wuhan, these delivery vehicles traveled a total of 4,225 miles (6,800 kilometers) and delivered more than 13,000 packages.

In a country where low unemployment is one of the main pillars of its social stability goals, the move to autonomous vehicles may prove to be risky in the long run. However, Yang Han insists that the objective is to “achieve a synergy between humans and machines… The goal is to take the pressure off delivery drivers and allow them to focus on customer service and vehicle maintenance. The couriers don’t need to transport the goods. Instead, they wait by the curb for the robots to arrive, and then walk the goods to the customer’s door. “

BJHAD is part of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area, the first place in China specifically geared to AI research. The country aspires to become the world leader in AI by 2030 and to leave the “factory for the world” image behind for good.

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