Dhaka recently reclaimed the inglorious title of officially being the worst city to live in on earth, as ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The study, which annually ranks the world’s best and worst cities based on a set of criterion, placed Dhaka within the honorable ranks of Tripoli, Tehran, Lagos, Damascus and Harare.
Many Bangladeshis, who tend to be a patriotic bunch, are upset with this ranking. I’ve heard claims that the report is full of “lies,” “statistics that stretch the truth” and “false information.” After examining the criteria the EIU uses to evaluate the best and worse cities, I figured I'd use my limited experience here in Dhaka to address my opinion of whether or not Dhaka is truly the worst city on earth.
As you read, please remember that I’m not a political analyst, development sage, city planner or medical guru. I’m a humble high school teacher who’s simply experienced life in Dhaka for the past few years. Here are my thoughts on the categories used in the EIU ranking:
I feel like Dhaka is probably one of the safest mega-cities in the world with regards to violent crime. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say that I felt less secure at the Dartmouth bus terminal back home in Canada than I ever have here in Dhaka. I do hear numerous stories of violent muggings and our apartment was robbed last year but I personally have never felt physically endangered. I’m not female though. For women, the risk of sexual violence is frighteningly real as Bangladesh has a firmly entrenched culture of sexual harassment and rape. There is a reason why women are conspicuously absent from Dhaka’s streets. EIU agreement percentage: 50%.
Threat of Conflict:
I’ve mentioned the violence of hartals and oborods in prior posts and they continue to periodically paralyze Bangladesh with fear of conflict. For a brief period in December, we heard bombs on a fairly regular basis and some embassies raised their travel advisories to high levels. However, I personally don't foresee Bangladesh erupting into a civil war despite thinly veiled threats of radical Islamist parties such as Jamaat e Islami or Hefezat. Violent protests and pitched street battles between police and protestors are one thing, but full-scale conflict requires not only motivation, but also competence. I see a conspicuous lack of competence amongst the political parties of Bangladesh. Even if two sides wanted to fight a war I’m not convinced they could orchestrate it.
Quality of Medical Care:
I have heard multitudes of horror stories about the incompetence, unprofessionalism and ineptitude of Bangladeshi doctors. The inevitable prescription for every possible ailment seems to be a “cocktail” of various antibiotics. Wealthy Bangladeshis leave the country and fly to Singapore or KL for even the most basic of medical checkups. Poorer citizens (aka most of the population of 160 million) are completely without access to medical care. As an expatriate, I can simply fly away for a checkup or surgery. Ninety nine percent of locals aren’t nearly as fortunate.
Levels of Censorship:
Although there is no official censorship of the press like you’d find in Turkmenistan or North Korea, it’s common knowledge that it is dangerous to publish anything too blatantly critical of the political elite or religious leaders. When I go on one of my frequent political rants against the local government at school, my students joke that I shouldn't speak so loudly because I might suddenly disappear! Although spoken in jest, there is an unfortunate grain of truth to their suggestions. Bloggers and outspoken political activists regularly go missing and are rarely found alive, if their graves are uncovered at all. The government periodically blocks YouTube and Facebook in an active (unsuccessful) attempt to censor certain materials deemed offensive to Islam, such as the Innocence of Muslims video that caused such an uproar across the Muslim world in 2012. Although not as radical or pervasive as in other countries, there is definitely a degree of censorship in Bangladesh.
While Dhaka does get hot, it doesn’t really compare to other places I’ve been. Weather here is similar to the southern U.S. in August, hot and sticky but manageable. The issue is that with power outages and blown transformers, there is often no air conditioning and the water pipes heat up so refreshing, cold showers are difficult to come by. Still, I don’t believe Dhaka’s climate should be a major contributing factor to its livability.
Quality of Education:
Education is not accessible for the vast majority of Bangladeshis. Although the government ostensibly provides public schools, in practice, very few receive more than a rudimentary education. I’ve had numerous heart-rending conversations with rickshaw pullers and CNG drivers who lament the fact that they can’t read or write. Even elite Bangladeshi schools leave students tragically unprepared for the international world. I would rank the quality and accessibility of education in Bangladesh (outside of the handful of international schools in Dhaka and Chittagong) as woefully inadequate.
Where do I even begin? I believe Dhaka has the worst traffic on earth. Period. I have read articles on the world’s worst traffic jams that suggest Brussels, Los Angeles and Toronto have the worst traffic jams on the planet. I laughed hysterically. The thought that orderly, quiet, traffic in the developed world is worse than Dhaka’s is ludicrous.
Statistically, Dhaka traffic sits at a standstill for approximately seven hours per day. The cacophonic symphony of tinkling rickshaw bells, ambulance sirens, and skull-shattering bus horns is disorienting and overwhelming. The constant decibel levels of Dhaka traffic rattle my Canadian brains and my ears are often left ringing when I enter the relative silence of our apartment. When I ventured to Old Dhaka (about nine kilometers away) for an Epiphany service in January, it took two hours in the car each way. That’s the same amount of time it takes to travel from Halifax to Moncton and back…and in total we traveled about eighteen kilometers! The traffic here is, in my opinion, the most dangerous, tedious and annoying part of living in Dhaka. I think that, due to this factor alone, Dhaka deserves to at least be near the bottom of EIU’s city rankings.
In conclusion, while I feel that Dhaka probably deserves a spot in the bottom ten, I believe that it shouldn’t be in last place. Dhaka has improved a lot (for wealthy Bangladeshis and expatriates at least) since we arrived in September 2012. New grocery stores, a movie theatre and numerous new restaurants and ice-cream parlors have opened and made life easier and more exciting. We feel safe and relatively secure. The temperature is manageable. Risk of civil war is low and violent crime rates are reasonable for a massive third world mega-city.
Living in Dhaka, apparently the worst city to live in the world, isn’t all that bad and there are actually a lot of advantages to working here. I’ll highlight some of the positives in the near future!
For a different author's opinion and much better-written point of view on results published in 2013, check out the link below: