Access to housing and security of tenure is a key issue for the urban poor of Bangladesh. Often they are forced to settle in informal settlements on marginal lands where they fall prey to mastaans, or middle men, who charge extortionate rents for land and services and often use coercive methods. These settlements often have little or no access to basic services such as water and electricity, and what access is provided tends to be stretched far beyond capacity. They are particularly vulnerable during monsoon rains. The inhabitants also live under the constant threat of eviction.
The urban poor also tend to work informally, with low wages and lack of job security, contributing to the prevalence of child labour. Rates of unemployment are often quite low in urban areas, but this tends to mask high levels of underemployment.
Whilst government seems to recognise that urban poverty is a major challenge which needs to be addressed, the rural bias of Bangladesh’s PRSP and the lack of a centralised body covering urban poverty, has meant that government policies on urban issues are not as well-developed as those which address rural poverty in terms of scale or efficacy. Importantly, Bangladesh lacks a comprehensive policy on these issues, and there are between 16 and 40 different bodies involved in urban matters in Dhaka alone. There also seems to be a belief among government officials that the issue of urban poverty is almost too large to even begin to address.
Adding to this problem is the inability of the poor to make demands of their representatives in government (ward commissioners) for improvements in the urban situation. Not only are the resources available to these ward commissioners insufficient, but they are often not subject to the checks and balances that motivate them to answer the needs of those they represent in rural areas.