National dissemination workshops in Dhaka

Power of Partnership for impactful research

There are diverse pathways to improve migrants’ experience in large urban centres in relation to sustainability, security, integration and wellbeing. At a recent event, researchers from ESRC-DFID funded projects: Safe and Sustainable Cities: human security, migration and wellbeing (led by University of Exeter); and Supporting the Social Mobility of Trapped Populations – see also Migrants on the Margin(led by University of Sussex)co-hosted policy dialogues with key stakeholders in Dhaka to maximise the impact and disseminate their research findings to policy makers, practitioners, researchers, NGOs and international donors including DFID and UNICEF.

The workshop on safe and sustainable cities, jointly organised by country partners Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), attracted over 120 participants and received significant media coverage from both national and specialised media. Community leaders and migrants from Chattogram provided direct testimony of their concerns related to security and wellbeing.

The Minister for Planning, Mr MA Mannan, and the Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, Dr Enamur Rahman, emphasised the need for evidence on new migrant populations and praised the international collaboration efforts of ICCCAD and RMMRU. Other key speakers included the Chief Assistant of the General Economic Division of the Planning Commission, Mr Shimul Sen, and Chief Town Planner of Chittagong Development Authority, Mr Shaheenul Islam Khan, as well as representatives from DFID, UNICEF and others.

The second impact and dissemination activity, a Learning Hub Event with the General Economics Division of the Planning Commission, was organised by ICCCAD and brought together researchers and policy and planning officials to discuss migration in the context of planning in Bangladesh.

Food for thought: bringing lived experiences to the policy arena

Presentations by Safe and Sustainable Cities PI Neil Adger and Supporting the Social Mobility of Trapped Populations researcher Meraz Mostafa summarised the findings of the two projects. Narratives of two Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) migrants, who shared their lived experiences of Chattogram with the help of powerful visual images, provided food for thought and stimulated reflections from policy stakeholders present at the National Dissemination event.

Migrants’ photographs made the challenges affecting migrants in Chattogram more tangible and relatable. They spoke about everyday struggles of balancing long working hours and pursuing education to gain skills for enhanced employment and income prospects, while enduring poor housing, limited access to basic facilities, and multiple health and safety hazards characteristic of low-income neighbourhoods: “I go to a computer class after I come from work. After I come back from there, I have to cook food, but the gas supply is really poor as there is a scarcity for it. I also have to study. All this is very tough for me”.

In response, a representative of UNICEF proposed sharing these findings with the private sector, especially the garment industry, which employs many migrants in Chattogram. Mr Sen from the GED agreed that there is a need to engage the private sector in order to create sustainable cities.


Hazardous and overcrowded foot bridge during commuting hours.
Photo credit: Mr Dheeman Chakma (Chattogram migrant)

A community leader and migrant drew policy makers’ attention to the unsafe road conditions and the frequent occurrence of water logging in the neighbourhood: “you can see that the roads go under water when high tide comes, without any rain. This road is near the school and this is an everyday scenario.” Some of the low-lying low-income neighbourhoods in the vicinity of Chattogram’s Karnafuly River especially suffer from the consequences of water logging.

Dr Enamur Rahman, Minister for Disaster Management, agreed that “we are facing many challenges while providing urban facilities, including housing, water supply, sanitation and transport, to the dwellers of mega cities like Dhaka and Chattogram.” Mr Shaheenul Islam Khan from CDA stressed that “while planning for cities, it is important to keep accommodation arrangement for people in accordance to their place of work.” Housing should be integral to industries; they should provide accommodation to their employees. Additionally, discussants voiced that at the moment, the resilience of residential homesteads is not considered in current planning and design. This is only of concern for public dwellings.

Challenges and opportunities in urban planning

Participants at the events were unanimous about the urgent need for sustainable solutions as urban population continues to increase, mainly driven by climate change and economic factors. Ministers were keen to emphasise existing initiatives that should hopefully, with time, address some of the issues raised by the two projects. Dr Rahman highlighted that “the current government is doing its best to provide education and health services to all industrial workers including those engaged in garments sector.” Mr Mannan agreed, and added that “in the last 10 years, we could manage to bring changes to many things in our country. The country’s people want better cities, better water supply and we are trying to fulfil their basic rights.” However, Mr Sen pointed out that while indeed there are already several policies in place, many lack implementation due to a lack of coordination between different ministries. He went on to argue that improving coordination will be a key first step towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing existing urban challenges.

Towards sustainable cities

Participants discussed several pressing concerns which have important implications for meeting SDGs, in an effort to explore pathways to improve urban governance towards sustainability. Migration to large urban centres in Bangladesh will continue, with some projections suggesting that around 26 million people will move from their places of origin by 2050. The Planning Minister Mr Mannan, in his concluding remarks, highlighted that internal migration has been a key feature of the urbanisation process in the country. “We can’t stop it. We would like to help make better towns.”

Regarding the impact of research from both projects, the Minister for Planning stated that the Bangladesh government is ready to welcome policy-level contributions from international collaborations, with the ultimate goal of improving sustainability and urban governance. “We would like to coordinate, and change things so that at the end of the day, city dwellers, new migrants, [and] old migrants… can live in peace,” he added. Lessons that emerged from research findings and discussions will be relevant for development of policy that accounts for the urban challenges faced by new migrant populations in the country.

Research for policy and practice

Direct engagement with policy makers and practitioners was key to maximise research uptake. The Learning Hub Event at GED provided a platform to demonstrate the policy relevance of the work conducted by the Safe and Sustainable Cities team. Discussions at the LHE suggest a number of lessons for policy and practice around complex socioeconomic and environmental challenges affecting security and wellbeing of urban populations in rapidly growing cities of Bangladesh. Speaking to these challenges, Mr Minhaj Mahmud, division chief of GED and chair of the event, highlighted the importance of the findings to develop interventions and policies to address urban sustainability challenges and suggested further engagement with researchers from ICCCAD, RMMRU, Exeter and Sussex for input towards Bangladesh’s 8th Five Year Plan (from 2021 to 2026).


This article was written by: Ricardo Safra de Campos, University of Exeter; Lucy Szaboova, University of Exeter; Neil Adger, University of Exeter; Tasneem Siddiqui, University of Dhaka and RMMRU; Saleemul Huq, ICCCAD; Michael Collyer, University of Sussex.

The Human Security of Migrants is Key to Sustainability for Growing Cities


Following up on Safe and Sustainable Cities PI Neil Adger’s lecture at Uppsala University, in Sweden, The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) invited the team to write a post based on the innovative research we have been conducting in Bangladesh for their PRIO Blog on Climate & Conflict. PRIO conducts research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people seeking to understand the processes that bring societies together or split them apart.

Please check our post at:

For more information about PRIO work please check:


ESRC-DFID Research for Policy and Practice


Our project is featured in the March edition of the  Research for Policy and Practice paper organised by The Impact Initiative. The paper focuses on urban community resilience and the pathways to make cities inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient and is a collaboration between four ESRC-DFID funded research projects. These are:


Safe and Sustainable Cities: human security, migration and wellbeing

Development frontiers in crime, livelihoods and urban poverty in Nigeria

Energy on the move: Longitudinal perspectives on energy transitions among marginal populations

New development frontiers? The role of youth, sport and cultural interventions

For more information about the projects and free access to the paper please follow the link below:






Learning on the job: Chattogram migrant survey report



By Tamim Billah

The field survey of the project Safe and Sustainable cities: human securities, migration and well-being was completed successfully in different parts of Chattogram.  Four sites were selected for data collection with migrants. The sites were Amin Colony area, Free port, Barrister college area and Karnaphuly bridge slum. Firstly, we listed 570 migrant people coming from different regions of the country including coastal regions. 450 migrants were then selected for interview. Dwellings were assigned a unique id so that enumerators could locate them once the survey rolled out. Before each interview, enumerators called selected respondents over the phone to ensure their availability on the date of the interview. In the survey sites we found migrants working in many different jobs. The majority of survey respondents are garments workers who are working in different factories in the city. We also found rickshaw pullers, hawkers, vendors, domestic workers and hotel workers.

Our survey also included people from different ethnic groups who migrated to Chattogram from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. However, we observed mixed responses towards the survey. Some people were very curious and happy to contribute to the survey. Other respondents did not take it lightly. Those respondents assumed that enumerators were there to record their name for eviction or any other purpose that would impact their lives. It was very challenging for the enumerators to explain them about the objectives of our study.

We faced some operational challenges during our survey.  As people are busy working in garment factories or other activities, they usually leave in the morning and come back in the dawn. Some migrants work extra hours in their workplace. At times it was very difficult to reach them, and we worked around the times they suggested for conducting interviews. We employed a range of strategies to conduct our interviews successfully and we are pleased with have been able to complete the target number of complete questionnaires. As it was my first experience supervising a team of 6-7 enumerators I have learned a lot about how to manage and motivate people. From this field survey, I have also learned many techniques to conduct such type of challenging fieldwork.

Project Updates: TransRe conference and survey data analysis progress

By Ricardo Safra de Campos

1) We are delighted to share that our paper ”Understanding security and wellbeing of new populations in Chattogram, Bangladesh revealed through perceptions, voices and images of migrants.”  was selected for oral presentation at the TransRe closing conference “Adaptation in Motion”, to be held from 5th to 7th September in Bonn.

According to the organisers it was a competitive process given the overall quality of the submissions. We look forward to sharing our initial results with the research community interested in migration, human security and wellbeing.  For more information please check TransRe’s website at


2) We completed our survey data quality checks and are currently conducting the first phase of analysis. The descriptive statistics will help summarise our data in a meaningful way such that we will be able to report the first patterns that emerge from the data. We will be able to observe central tendency and spread of our data on migrants’ perception of human security, well-being, aspirations and more.

Updates from the field: cross-sectional survey


By Ricardo Safra de Campos


We have now completed the first stage of data collection in Chattogram. Our cross-sectional survey interviewed 450 individual migrants on issues related to wellbeing, security and integration. The comprehensive questionnaire included questions on social capital, length of residence, level of integration into urban economies and political processes, subjective and material wellbeing, exposure to threat multipliers such as environmental risks and hazards and more.

The survey was stratified along a transect from informal settlements to more upgraded slums, and employed quota sampling by length of residence to capture new migrants and those already established in Chattogram . The stratification included new migrants temporarily displaced to Chittagong following Cyclone Roanu in May 2016 and Chittagong Hill Tracts ethnic minority groups, also pushed by land degradation in the hills.

The research team is at present implementing the second stage of data collection at present. The Photo elicitation approach involves both migrants and urban planners as participants exploring sources of wellbeing and sources of insecurity in Chattogram.

We are thankful for the efforts of our enumerators and supervisors. In addition to conducting interviews, the team recorded field vignettes and took many pictures of the places where migrants leave and the daily conditions of life and work they face. We are delighted to share below a few selected photos taken in several locations where the survey was implemented.



















Learning on the job: pilot testing our survey questionnaire in Dhaka

By Tamim Billah

“As soon as I save enough and repay my loan, I will go back to my village and run a small shop along with my small farm. I dream to build a new house for my family” told me a rickshaw puller during the piloting of the field survey on Safe and sustainable cities: human security, migration and well being. He came to Dhaka two year ago hoping to make enough money to pay his debt to a Mohajan (money lender). The migrant used to be a farmer in his place of origin. However he had been facing hardship including financial difficulties associated with increased production costs. The reasons for his hardship, he mentioned, were associated with the occurrence of climatic hazards and higher price of seeds and fertilizer as well as irrigation costs. Additionally, because of financial difficulties, the migrant was able to repay loan instalments in a timely manner. In Dhaka, the migrant works from dusk to dawn pedalling his rickshaw seven days a week. He earns 500-600 BDT (around US$ 7.20) a day. He remits half of his monthly income to his family back in the village to repay the loan.

I also interviewed a 27 year old migrant who works in a garment factory as sewing operator. He moved to Dhaka 4 years ago. After arriving in the city he was jobless for three months. That time was very tough for him as his family was expecting money from him. He kept looking for a job and only found one through the help of relatives living in Dhaka. He was able to send remittances to his family one month after he finally found employment. Now he earns additional income by working overtime. His family is better off because of the additional money he is able to send back every month.

The pilot test of the survey in localities around Dhaka city was very successful. I interviewed four migrants based on a range of different occupations. I interviewed two rickshaw and van pullers, one garment worker, and one construction worker. Before beginning the interview I explained the purpose of the study to the selected respondents.  It was nice time to hear the stories migrants shared with me about their reason to move to Dhaka.  All interviewees answered spontaneously all questions in the questionnaire. Moreover, respondents shared many stories about their time in their place of origin. How their life was, what they did for a living and much more. All four migrants agreed on the positive outcomes of migration, with respondents highlighting they were able to reduce poverty at the family level.

Each interview lasted 70-80 minutes. Interviews generally attracted the attention of various passer-by When I was interviewing the rickshaw puller many people gathered around me willing to share their own experience as a migrant in Dhaka city. Pilot test of a research method in the field is very important for a study because it evaluates the feasibility, time, cost, and prepare the field team for any adversities. Furthermore, it allows field researchers to familiarise themselves with elements of the research design. During the pilot survey, for example, I found that some complex words and questions used in the questionnaire made it difficult for the respondents to answer in few simple and clear words. As a result, some respondents provided very similar responses to certain questions. I suggested several revisions which would improve the general understanding of certain questions and the general flow of the questionnaire.

A migrant’s story in Dhaka City


By Mohammad Rashed Bhuiyan

A growing number of migrants are now living in Dhaka and Chittagong in precarious conditions. Many of the migrants’ dwellings are located in areas prone to various types of hazards including fire and environmental hazards. Their homes lacking ventilation, access to electricity, piped water and basic sanitation. These vulnerable conditions were witnessed  by the RRMRU team responsible for pilot testing the migrant survey questionnaire. For example, one of the respondents, who moved to Dhaka from Bhola, a southwestern coastal delta district of Bangladesh affected by severe erosion, lives with three other migrants in a shared room accessible only via a long and narrow corridor that is never sees day light. Every dwelling in the same structure is 30 sq. feet. Like him, many other migrants live in similar rooms that were built to serve as shops in two-storey markets. Because these rooms were built to accommodate shops it is natural that there would be no attached toilets and other spaces traditionally found in purpose-built houses. Because of affordable rents and close proximity to markets and other employment opportunities, migrants move in to these spaces for accommodation. Each month they pay BDT 3000 or US$35 as a rent for this room. Additionally, they must pay a fee for every use of common toilets. There are hundreds of thousands of migrants sharing similar stories in Dhaka and Chittagong.

The respondent also shed light on employment conditions for migrants in large urban centres like Dhaka. For example, as a day labourer, every morning he attends a labour market hoping to be met by a prospective client that is looking to hiring workers. Competition is fierce among migrants and locals. If appointed, he will work between 10 to 12 hours and earn BDT 500 or the equivalent of US$ 6.00 per day. Often, in the workplace workers do not have access to basic amenities such as drinking water, resting place or access to toilets. However, if they work when in private residences or offices then they have access to facilities. On average, the respondent indicated that he can work between 15 – 20 days per month. The migrant reported a daily expenditure of BDT 200 (or US$ 2.40) between food and use of toilet and bath facilities. Whatever amount he can make over BDT 200 is set aside. When he is able to save around 6000 to 7000 BDT (US$ 70 or 80) he then travels to his home in Bhola to see his wife and his three children who are eagerly waiting for him and the money he brings home. Their survival depends on the money he earns in Dhaka.  After a week spent at home in the village, the respondent must repeat the same monthly journey – an unending cycle from his village to the city and back. Now in his early 50s the respondent revealed that he has been doing this for the last 40 years. He explains, ‘back home we don’t have many livelihood options, thousand acres of agricultural land have been eroded by the river. Now I can’t survive as a farmer and therefore I had to move’.

Similar stories can be found across Dhaka and Chittagong, the two most populated cities of Bangladesh.The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in a recent study on Urbanisation and Migration, revealed that Bangladeshi cities rank really low with regard to liveability compared to other global cities. This low rank was associated with the limited access to sufficient infrastructure, degradation of environment, high level of pollution and congestion faced by Bangladeshis living in large urban centres. Moreover, several of the most important Bangladeshi cities are highly vulnerable to floods, water logging, landslides, coastal surges, and other climate induced problems. Migrants living in cities like Dhaka and Chittagong usually end up in overcrowded slums and shanty towns in areas exposed to flooding and other hazards. Migrants like our respondent contribute immensely towards Bangladesh’s economic growth.  However, they face several daily challenges around housing and working conditions. Data derived from our migrant survey will enable an analysis on how migrants can be integrated in urban planning and other policies towards sustainable cities so that human security, wellbeing and other basic needs of these new populations are integrated in the overall city development.

Learning on the job: Developing skills as a young researcher

Field visit in Chittagong

By Tamim­­ Billah

There are several factors that attracted me to the Safe and Sustainable Cities project.  I am primarily moved by the goal and objectives of the research which are closely linked to my area of interest Climate Change and Migration.  I think that the content of this research is very interesting as it aims to fill in knowledge gap in the areas of human security, migration and environmental interactions. The international collaborative partnership is a key factor underpinning the research that I think is valuable in generating new knowledge based on shared experiences. Another interesting thing is its planned efforts to identify factors driving migration and how the concept of network plays an important role in the whole process of migration. It would be interesting to see how this research would inform policy makers in shaping policies that would ensure migrants’ well being and human security in destination localities such as Chittagong. I have also found the data collection methods of this research particularly interesting, especially the photo voice approach. The inception workshop of the project also substantially attracted me. During the event, stakeholders from different sectors engaged in discussion on migration in the Chittagong city.

My involvement with the research project has been very enlightening so far.  The inception workshop in particular was very interesting in terms of earning first hand contextual knowledge on migrants’ lives and livelihoods in Chittagong city including the challenges they face due to the lack or limited urban services available to them. It was interesting to learn about the factors that drive migrants to move to Chittagong, their overall poor living conditions in the slums and other hazardous places such as hill slopes.  I also learned about stakeholders associated with the city government and other civil actors who can play critical role in ensuring human security and well being of migrants in Chittagong.

As a young researcher I do believe that this project will remarkably help develop my career in the areas of research based policy advocacy in many ways. Through my involvement with the project I will be able to acquire knowledge of conducting field based primary research that would include data collection, data analysis, and overall management of the research project.  It will enhance my communications and networking skills. I anticipate that I will have opportunities to communicate with high government officials in Chittagong, experts from different sectors and other stakeholders associated with various organisations at city level.  These activities will help me develop my communication skills and therefore learn from their knowledge and experiences.



Project launch in Chittagong

Inception workshop participants

The launch of a new project in Chittagong has brought together environmental and migration researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Dhaka to undertake research on implementing safe, resilient and inclusive cities for sustainability.


The project is testing the idea that integrating new migrant populations into planning is key to sustainable urban development, particularly for rapidly growing cities in Asia and Africa. The research focuses on Chittagong, a city that has grown from 1.5 million people at independence in 1971 to 5.1 million people today.


The research will involve surveying migrant populations about their human security, wellbeing and priorities. It also uses images through a photo-elicitation approach, allowing migrants and city planners to explore their own meanings of safe and sustainable cities. The research seeks to build empathy between planners and new migrant populations towards shared visions of the future.


Professor Neil Adger, the project’s principal investigator, said: “This is a first test of the idea that new migrants are critical in planning and building new cities. If new populations are invisible, the cities will not work for them, nor they for the shared vision of the city. We will explore whether visualising sustainability through photographs helps professionals and lay citizens to take each other’s perspectives in their joint visions of sustainability. This has potentially wide use in city planning for implementing urban sustainability everywhere.”


Professor Tasneem Siddiqui, founding Director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMRRU), and one of the project’s Co-Investigators said: “Chittagong is a special place; it is a thriving commercial city of Bangladesh but faces critical development challenges. “Migrants come here as their land is being inundated on the coast. Ethnic minorities from the Chittagong Hill Tracts are being squeezed from their land. Integrating them into Chittagong’s future gives them rights and enhances the security of all.”


 The project will partner with the city’s Export Processing Zone, Chittagong District and Divisional office, Port Authority, Chittagong Development Authority, and most importantly the City Corporation of Chittagong: the Mayor and his professional planners will participate in the qualitative photo-elicitation research.