A pioneering ADB project has transformed lives in Bangladesh by building infrastructure, improving health and education services, and empowering local businesses and residents - especially women.
Shyamoli Sutradhar remembers how things used to be as she sits on the banks of the Manu River in front of what was once a rubbish-strewn slum. The place of misery she used to call home is today a glistening new housing complex where she lives happily and safely with 450 other families.
“Now we have concrete drains, paved roads, electricity, and running water in every house, and individual and public toilets, thanks to the pourashava.”
The slum had no water, electricity, or latrines, says the 32-year-old Bangladeshi. “But now we have concrete drains, paved roads, electricity, and running water in every house, and individual and public toilets, thanks to the pourashava.”
Improving urban management
The pourashava - or municipal township - of Moulvibazar where Shyamoli lives is one of 30 that have been transformed with the support of ADB’s Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project.
Began in 2002 and completed in 2010, the project undertook pioneering work in tackling one of Bangladesh’s most intractable problems: the rapid, uncontrolled, unplanned growth of cities. It cost $87 million, with $60 million provided by ADB and the rest by the government and pourashavas themselves.
ADB designed the project with three goals - improve the financial accountability and management of cities, increase community participation, and overhaul basic infrastructure.
By working together, representatives of the participating pourashavas and ADB solved several of the core problems by improving governance, tax collection, gender equity, and the quality of services. In many areas, the pourashavas played a large role in carrying out reforms needed to improve services and living conditions.
Better facilities and services, more jobs
The project financed 581 kilometers of improved roads, 264 meters of new bridges, 260 kilometers of improved drainage systems, 14 bus terminals, 10 markets, and upgraded sanitation and solid waste management facilities.
It generated much-needed jobs, including about 800,000 person-days of employment created by the building of the roads, bridges, and culverts. With better infrastructure, motorized traffic increased, which in turn improved the performance and prospects of many businesses.
Pourashava authorities also used project funds to give poor areas better health and education services. The pourashava in Bhairab, for example, now runs 25 elementary schools that provide free education to about 15,000 children. Working with nongovernment organizations, the project helped train 500 workers to deliver better primary health care in the community.
In addition, the project’s gender action plan integrated gender considerations into the development work. Two hundred and sixty-eight women have been given jobs in the pourashavas under the project, and women serve as either chairpersons or vice-chairpersons of 231 newly created slum improvement committees.
Some of the project’s microfinance initiatives made credit available specifically for women, who have set up businesses in the project areas. Mala Rani Das joined a 15-member, women-only credit group in Bhairab that allowed her to borrow $240, which she used to expand the broom-making enterprise she runs with her husband. She now earns $72 a month, more than the average pay of industrial workers in Bangladesh. In total, the project provided $1,824,000 in loans to 15,200 families. The recovery rate at completion was about 93%.
The project’s success is partly because of ADB’s insistence that candidate pourashavas meet clearly defined performance criteria, which include empowering women.
The project’s success is partly because of ADB’s insistence that candidate pourashavas meet clearly defined performance criteria, which include empowering women. Some of the 30 initially selected for the project were replaced when they failed to do so.
The pourashavas are now viewed as models that show municipalities across the country how to provide urban residents with better infrastructure. In addition, the project’s concept of establishing coordination committees was adopted and formalized in the government’s Local Government (Pourashava) Act of 2009.
Moreover its success has led to two follow-up initiatives. The first was approved by ADB in 2009 and cofinanced by Germany’s GTZ and KfW. The second, approved in 2014, is cofinanced by the OPEC Fund for International Development.
The transformative effect on disadvantaged people is illustrated by the story of Surjo Moni. “I remember the day I arrived as a bride,” says Surjo, who first came to the Narayanganj pourashava as a 15-year-old newlywed. “It was raining. The streets were overflowing and it was difficult to find a dry place where I could stand for the wedding rituals.”
Thereafter she and her family lived in often wretched conditions. But the project brought real change to her pourashava - and fresh hope for the now 90-year-old. “Now I know life can only get better for my family.”
This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.Stay up to date Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest issues, news, events, jobs and data in your e-mail inbox.