Dhaka: Climate Risk and Response

Source: CAPRA Initiative Source: CAPRA Initiative

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is located in the center of the Bengal Delta. It is surrounded by four rivers: Buriganga River to the South, Turag River to the West, Balu River to the East, and Tongi Canal to the north (Kabir and Parolin). The city also receives runoff from the Himalayan Mountains and the Ganges River in India. Dhaka has an estimated population between 10 and 14 million people and a high density of 19,286 people per square kilometer. Half a million people migrate to Dhaka from the rural areas of Bangladesh each year and this number is increasing as the country faces the effects of climate change. Dhaka city has a democratic government which is divided into five different government agencies.

The city is impacted by increased sea-levels (Nishat 2013), increased precipitation during the monsoon season with an estimated 381mm gain (Roy 2014), and higher temperatures that lead to a more intense drought season for the agricultural sector (Zimmermann 2012). The city is frequently flooded and occasionally completely inundated. Slums are in the low-lying flood prone sections of the city, subjecting millions of already vulnerable people to climate hazards.

Increased temperature, precipitation, and sea level rise combined with high population density, rapid urban migration, susceptibility to flooding, and geo-environmental threats create both high vulnerability and high risk for Dhaka. For these reasons as well as increased incidence of tropical cyclones and hurricanes, adaptation is prioritized. The climate change risks are having an effect on drinking water, waste water management, drainage, and agriculture. Residents are displaced or killed by extreme weather events. Crop loss due to salinity and a changing growing season due to temperature fluctuations is leading to food insecurity and increased urban migration. Adaptation to climate change offers a development opportunity to address challenges in many attributes of the city.

The first adaptation policy strategy is to secure land right and tenure. Granting slum dwellers land tenure, ceasing evictions, and partnering with residents to begin the process of slum upgrading are key adaptation steps. Focus on infrastructure development comprised of waste water treatment, piped water supply, and electricity are recommended. Finally, there is a need to deed land rights to slum dwellers in non-flood prone areas, focusing on rehousing those in areas of highest flood vulnerability.

The second adaptation recommendation is a targeted housing policy for most vulnerable slum residents. Supplementing the first policy, it is recommended to build housing stock in less vulnerable areas and relocate slum dwellers to this new area, prioritizing those in the most flood-prone zones. Developmental benefits may include better health, a more labor force economy, reduced poverty, and enhanced infrastructure development.

Redevelopment and housing for the poor is the first policy mechanism. The Ministry of Housing and Public Works may consider developing large scale adaptation of infrastructure projects and resilient public housing structures. This will serve as the organizing entity to plan and implement housing for all slums dwellers. Using GIS, Remote Sensing, and urban land use and land cover instruments to create a detailed land-use and vulnerability map (Dewan 2009). This ministry of Housing and Public Works may work with slum residents to begin the upgrading process in protected areas, determine unsafe zones, and explore relocation and housing in safe areas of the city for possible redevelopment with transportation access.

The second policy mechanism is an Adaptation Corps which is comprised of two branches: development and job training. The development branch may serve as the construction arm of the Ministry of Housing and Public Works and help build public housing, upgrade slums, construct infrastructure, and protect and rehabilitate surrounding farmland and wetlands. The job training branch will hire and train residents for construction and engineering, pay a living wage, and work with marginal groups like rickshaw drivers to offer better livelihoods.


This article is a product of Professor Shagun Mehrotra’s Climate Change and Cities class. Analysis is based on the Framework for City Climate Risk Assessment and Climate Change and Cities:First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. Views expressed are entirely those of the authors. 



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Staff Sergeant Val Gempis (USAF) – Image from the Defense Visual Information Center, ID
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