President Zillur Rahman of Bangladesh opened the country's first urban forum this week at a ceremony addressed by a range of top officials.
"We need to manage the urbanisation process to ensure sustainable development," President Rahman said in an opening address. His country, one of the fastest urbanising nations in the the region, is expected to see its urban population reach 80 million by the year 2030.
"We deem that our cities become environmentally-friendly, healthy, safe and balanced," he said. The opening ceremony attended by more than 1,000 urban partners, was also addressed by a range of senior officials including the State Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, Mr. Syed Ashraful Islam, the State Minster of Housing and Public Works, Mr. Abdul Mannan Khan, and the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr. Neal Walker.
The Forum is spearheaded by the Government of Bangladesh supported by United Nations Development Programme and key partners including UN-HABITAT. The Bangladesh Urban Forum was launched in October 2011. This week's first session 5-7 December is meeting to discuss the theme, Bangladesh's Urban Future: Making Cities and Towns Work for All.
During a session chaired by UN-HABITAT on international best practices, innovative initiatives from the region were showcased. These included the Community Driven Process for achieving inclusive cities by the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights (ACHR), Grassroots women taking the lead in urban resilience and development from Swayam Shikshan Prayong, Asia GROOTS International, as well as the Lunawa Lake Environment Improvement and Community Development Project from Sri Lanka.
"In dealing with slum upgrading and urban poor resettlements, we need to handle with care and diligence," said Ms. Anura Dassanayake, the Project Director of Lunawa project in response to questions from the audience. "Do not wait for the policy to come to you. We should start demonstrating how to address issues. The successful practices on the ground will inform the policy."
At the Urban Poor Assembly, a pavement dweller from Baonia Basti, Ms. Hasina Begum, appealed to the audience: "All what we are asking is that we are treated as human beings. We want a secure home with no threat to eviction, free from daily harassment, and basic amenities such as safe water and sanitation facilities." She said the forum was useful because slum dwellers could express their views directly to other partners and the governments, hoping for the improvement by asserting their rights.
Many slum dwellers from around the country, especially women and youth groups, have been able to participate in the week's 20 sessions discussing a wide range of topics dealing with urban governance, urban poverty, urbanisation and growth.
"The energy I am feeling among the diverse partners is very encouraging," said Ms. Mariko Sato, Chief of the UN-HABITAT Bangkok Office. "It gives us hope things can change for the better for the urban poor."
Officials said they hoped that the Bangladesh Urban Forum – inspired by the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro in 2010 – would carry fresh ideas and thinking to the next session of the world's premier conference on cities scheduled in Naples, Italy in September 2012.