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.
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.