Monday, September 3, 2012

Close to the Madding Crowd in Dhaka

There are few feelings more invigorating than waking up in a strange new city. More than 20 years later I can still recall that first morning in Paris. The smell of the bakery and the delicate morning sun on the high ornate windows and the long shadows cast by the trees in the Jardin du Luxembourg with its flower beds and pretty little palace set in a lake.

There's a quiet energy about a city in the morning that fills me with excitement for the day ahead.

But what happens when cities grow out of control? When those carefully planned boulevards are cut up by shoddy constructions, when people and cars belching cheap exhaust and haphazard buses choke the streets?

Not many people in America have heard of Dhaka, but the capital of Bangladesh is the fastest growing city in the world. By 2025 it will house more than 20 million people, according to the UN. Dhaka is a vision of the future and not a very pleasant one.



"The future is here, and it smells like burning trash," CBS news reported. In the slums and shantytowns that disgorge filth into the foul rivers, residents will get hold of whatever garbage they can to fuel cooking fires. Dhaka is testimony to the fact that the world has turned a corner and more than 50 percent of its residents have flocked to cities.

And maybe if you have tried to make progress down a teeming sidewalk in Dhaka, you'll think fondly of those days being shoved up some one's arm pits on the Metro of New York or London.



The future is one of mega cities. " By 2025 the U.N. predicts that Delhi, Dhaka, Kolkata, Mumbai, Mexico City, New York, Sao Paulo and Shanghai will all have populations of more than 20 million. Tokyo is projected to become home to some 37 million," CBS reported.

Yet how many of us even know where all these cities are?

And ironically they may be the only hope of a salvation of sorts. In 1798 Thomas Malthus predicted overpopulation would lead to collapse. He wrote: "The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race."

But once in the slums, the birth rate tails off, giving the earth a chance to recover. At least that's how the argument goes, although it's little salvation for those who live in festering heat and filth. On a fairly regular basis I meet people in America who have no interest in third world poverty or its alleviation. And perhaps these stark statistics reveal they are correct not to care. There's a form of Darwinian natural selection going on that's beyond our control. Children rise out of the slums and go on to great things, but many others are mired in poverty for their whole lives.

But there's a difference between being correct and morally right. I'm not sure how you can spend an hour or two every Sunday listening to the New Testament mantra about compassion for your fellow man and woman, only to renounce all interest in the Third World. I'm not sure what Host of the Seraphim means exactly but I can never watch this video by Dead Can Dance without being deeply moved. It's not easy to watch. It's actually less painful to watch Benny Hill. Which is saying something.








17 comments:

  1. But those people think that since they are 'good' and believe in the 'right' religion, then they're right and can do no wrong. That's the simple explanation, I guess. Anyway, maybe all those calculations are wrong, I hope.

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  2. I'm going to be brutally honest here and say that I don't give a rat's ass about the 3rd world either. We have enough problems in the USA, not to mention our own poor people and slums and population issues. We need to focus on America right now. I'm all for isolationism. People need to stop breeding.

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    1. Indeed but a bit hard when American is trillions in debt to China I guess JoJo

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  3. I watched a documentary awhile back about an artist who went into a 3rd world place where people were collecting garbage. He went in with the intention of making art out of the garbage and also trying to help the people living there, but after spending some time there, he found out the people actually liked living there-they were proud of what they were doing and most of them were content. The art he made was amazing.

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    1. well I've heard it say many of the shanty towns in places like India are safer than East St Louis Alyson - maybe I should watch Slumdog Millionaire

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  4. Dude, that's pretty intense. Reading this reminded me of what a (fellow Catholic) friend of mine recently posted on Facebook. To paraphrase, she wrote, "If you can look at people suffering for want of food and shelter and not be moved to help them, you are not pro-life." Truth. A hard one, but a truth nonetheless.
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. Tis a great point Mina - that video is kind of stark and heavy and the music makes it even darker.

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  5. Excellent post David, I've always been interested in demography and social history so this was right up my street. Plus you raised some very interesting points that have got me thinking. 'But there's a difference between being correct and morally right.' This is so true.

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    1. Thanks Abi, all opinion I guess - I tend to forget about many parts of the world for long periods, but occasionally something will make me sit up and think

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  6. I've seen that dance -- Africa, India, East St. Louis. It's not pretty.

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  7. The ignorance of people in this country is shocking. Especially when they simply can't connect how this poverty-stricken over-population of third world countries is going to directly hit the United States.

    Um, we are an IMMIGRANT COUNTRY.

    We already have boatloads of immigrants coming here from third-world countries, and truckloads coming from south of the border. This country is quickly headed in the same direction. Perhaps not for our generation, but certainly for our grandchildren. I can't even imagine what it's going to be like for them. I'm not saying immigration is wrong, obviously, but with the over-population of the world in general, of course millions of these people are going to trickle into the US as a result.

    And as for those who simply say people need to stop breeding...sigh. I don't even know where to begin with that one. So, basically, millions of people living in the slums of Africa, India, China, etc. are supposed to just not have sex with each other, right? I do believe we need to have massive safe-sex campaigns in these parts. I wish we could educate them all on contraceptives and provide it for them. Most of these people simply don't have access to birth control, such as condoms or pills. And even if they did, they probably couldn't afford it. Something needs to be done about that. I can't imagine these poor women living in the slums really want to have 12 kids each. That's too many mouths to feed, even for an American. They're not overpopulating the place on purpose. These women are being submissive to men for protection, food, and shelter, because they have no other options. Many are being raped. They don't know anything else.

    I'll stop there. I could seriously go on forever.

    Great post, David. You did a great job of waking me up this morning. Haha. :)

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    1. Hey thanks Jen - I reread this and it is a great rant. I am bemused by the immigrant thing - there's a poster of a Red Indian doing the rounds saying illegal immigrants should go home, which puts it in perspective and yet some white Americans assume they are America..

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  8. It's complicated, David...We see poverty around us, and sometimes it's easier to just pretend we can't see it. There is so much to do and not all of us are equipped mentally or financially to do much.
    Why berate the west, we had 60 years to clean up, but we only have swiss bank accounts, terrorists from across the border, communal riots among "brothers and sister - our pledge says so", depletion of our natural treasures, a sad mess for future gens.
    It's a mindset when it comes to popn, the hunger for a male child who will share your burden. And, based on what my domestic help tells us, their men wouldn't go for sterilisation because it is unmanly or allow them to get it done...since it will help their women be promiscuous without the hassle and fear of nasty tell tale signs.
    Can you counter argue with such logic? "exasperated"...do it and win my admiration forever.

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    1. well I think I may fail badly in that regard Rek - I mean I certainly don't believe poverty is a reason not to have kids, indeed there's also the argument that they will support the family - maybe not 10 kids! But while I don't think I see the issue from a purely western view, I certainly don't have any valid insight into an Eastern view either.

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  9. Dear All,

    I do not think that the ignorant people who live in the overpopulated cities have access to immigration. Immigration rules are tough and only educated and presentable people who can not tolerate living in bad-conditioned countries can have the chance to immigrate. So, do not worry much about your grandchildren. Secondly, as a developing country resident, I am an Egyptian lady, I see that most grants and campaigns do not help much in raising awareness of poor and ignorant ladies. Those ladies do not care about anything except having many children to help her and her husband in earning money. Actually, I am frustrated and do not know what should be done to make them stop breeding. I even doubt that they will obey the government if it imposes a one-child policy because according to their religous belief it is not right to adopt that policy. It seems that third-world countries need a miracle to develop.

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