Poverty and Adaptation of the Slum-Dwellers to Urban Life

Poverty and Adaptation of the Slum-Dwellers to Urban Life

This project paper explores poverty and the adaptations of the slum dwellers to urban life in selected areas of megacity Dhaka, Bangladesh. It seeks to make a contribution to understanding and analysis of the phenomenon of rapid mass urbanization in the Third World and its social consequences, the formation of huge urban slums and new forms of urban poverty. Its focus is the analysis of poverty which has been overwhelmingly dominated by economic approaches to the neglect of the social questions arising from poverty. This project paper approaches these social questions through an ‘urban livelihood framework’, arguing that this provides a more comprehensive framework to conceptualize poverty through its inclusion of both material and non-material dimensions. The study is based on primary data collected from slums of Mirpur and Muhammadpur in Dhaka City. Fifty poor households were surveyed using a structured questionnaire to investigate the economic activities, expenditure and consumption, access to housing and land, family and social networking and cultural and political integration. The survey data was supplemented by qualitative data collected through fifteen in-depth interviews with poor households.

This project paper found that poverty in the slums of Dhaka City was most strongly influenced by recent migration from rural areas, household organization, participation in the ‘informal’ sector of the economy and access to housing and land. Almost half of the poor households in the study locations were identified as ‘hardcore poor’ that is having insufficient income for their physical needs. The remainders were found to be ‘absolute poor’, those who experienced poverty and vulnerability but varied in their levels of income and consumption. This level of poverty was also characterized by their social, cultural and political marginalization. In summary, the urban poor remain very much dependent on their household and social networking, the main social capital they use to adapt to life in Dhaka City. Overall, the urban poor in this study experience the highest level of poverty and vulnerability in their everyday life. This paper argues that the experience of poverty in the megacity of Dhaka for these households follows the pattern of urbanization without development, the very opposite to their expectations and aspirations.

More than half the world’s population live in cities. The Challenges of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 has acknowledged that significant portions of the urban population will be almost completely excluded from industrial growth and the ‘formal’ sectors of the economy (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Hundreds of millions of new urbanites will be involved in the peripheral economic activities of personal service, casual labor, street vending, rag picking, begging and crime. This outcast proletariat represents perhaps 1.5 billion people today and will increase to 2.5 billion by 2030.

Dhaka City has emerged as a fast growing megacity in recent times. It began with a manageable population of 2.2 million in 1975 which reached 12.3 million in 2000. The growth rate of the population during 1974-2000 was 6.9% (UN, 1998). There is no city in the world, which has experienced such a high growth rate in population during this period. The United Nations (1999) describes the rapid population growth of this city as exceptional’. While Dhaka was not on the list of the world’s most populous cities in1975, by 2000 it occupied 11th position on the list of the world’s megacities (UN, 1999). The growth rate of Dhaka City’s population will also continue to remain high. During 2000-2015 it is expected to grow at a 3.6% annual growth rate and reach a total population of 21.1 million in 2015. This will put it in 4th position on the list of the world’s megacities (UN, 1999). As this rapid growth of Dhaka City is not commensurate with its industrial development, a significant portion of its population is not incorporated in its formal economy.

About one-third of the city’s population is living in slums where they experience the highest level of poverty and vulnerability. The slum communities are, in terms of their social, cultural and political participation, marginalized in this city. As they are not integrated with the various urban systems they are very much dependent on their human, social and cultural capital. This chapter explains the background of the present study on urban poverty and poor people’s adaptations to Dhaka City. It explains how both the material and non-material dimensions of urban poverty are focused on in this research. It further explains the usefulness of the study in terms of its future contributions to academic research and policy making. It also defines the inherent limitations of the method and sample selection of the study. Finally, it provides an overview of the different chapters of the project paper.


  1. Clarifies both the material and non material dimension of poverty.
  2. The growth and poverty of slums and squatter settlements in Mirpur and Mohammadpur of Dhaka City.
  3. The urban poverty and urban adaptation in Dhaka City.
  4. Theoretical framework of urban poverty and urban livelihood.
  5. Findings of demographic poverty and vulnerability of slum dwellers.
  6. Informal employment and livelihood strategies in the urban.
  7. Direction for future research in the field of urban poverty from a sociological perspective.

Background of the study

The study of the urban poor is intellectually linked with the early sociological works on the conditions of the emerging working class. The nineteenth-century analysis society was increasingly polarized into contending classes – on the one hand the capitalists and the other the productive workers. The industrial-based capitalists, the bourgeoisie, became the new ruling class. Since the bourgeoisie owned the means of production, the working class (the proletariat) was completely dependent upon them for jobs. Thus the proletariat could be exploited through low wages and poor working conditions. The issue of urban poverty was also an important area of sociological empirical research in the early twentieth century.

According to Lewis (1961) poverty is a subculture, which reflects both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position. He regards poverty as a defense mechanism without which the poor could hardly carry on. The ‘culture of poverty’ thesis was widely criticized for its inherent limitations of logic and method. The ‘livelihood framework’ is a tool that helps to define the scope and provide the analytical basis for a livelihoods analysis. This suggests that poverty is a product not just of material poverty, but of a set of interlocking factors, including physical weakness, social isolation, vulnerability and powerlessness.

It is in these contexts that the present study has attempted to explore poverty and the poor’s adaptations to Dhaka City from an integrative framework. Socio-cultural and political issues of urban poverty are explored along with its conventional economic and housing issues. The ‘urban livelihood framework’ is primarily used for exploring poverty and the vulnerability of the poor, their household and employment strategies, access and well-being, families and social networking, and cultural and political integration. The study also uses other relevant theoretical frameworks to explore these issues more extensively.

Focus of the study

The study focuses on both the material and non-material dimensions of urban poverty in Dhaka City. Demographic features, the pattern of rural-urban migration and structure of household organizations are explored to understand the features of urban poverty.

Employment and livelihood strategies of poor communities are focused on in this study.

The present study focuses on household strategies adopted by the urban poor to support their livelihoods. Multiple earning is a common strategy of poor households in developing cities (Roberts, 1995). The level of poverty and vulnerability in terms of income, consumption and household resources are explored. Consumption is also used to measure urban poverty alongside income.

Analyzing household assets is also essential as the overall ability of households to avoid or reduce vulnerability and to increase economic productivity depends on the assets of the poor and on their ability to transform those assets into income, food or other basic needs (Moser, 1996; 1998). ‘Access’ to basic services and well-being issues are addressed in analyzing urban poverty. Access to land, housing, environmental and social services in the city are explored here. The poor quality of their ‘informal’ housing is a result of low levels of environmental and utility services such as water supply, sanitation, garbage disposal services and so on. Their access to social services like health, education and socializing is also addressed in this study.  Access to education is absolutely essential for well-being but the majority of poor children are excluded from schools. Poor communities have limited access to entertainment and socializing – despite having resided in the city for a long period of time. Family and social networking is the focus for explaining the social dimension of urban poverty. Families and marital relationships are found to be relatively unstable among poor urban communities. This research highlights how the structure of the family is important in shaping the family members’ adaptations to Dhaka City.

The attributes of individuals has been focused on in the analysis of the cultural dimension of urban poverty. Behavioral patterns, beliefs, attitudes and cultural practices of the urban poor are explored.

Finally, this study explores the political dimension of urban poverty focusing on community conflict, ‘informal’ power structure and participation in urban politics. The community life of the urban poor is characterized by grouping, factionalism and conflicts. Informal power structures, which depend very much on outside influence as well as inside strength, play a significant role in the community life of the urban poor.

Usefulness of the study

This present study combines socio-cultural and political aspects of urban poverty with economic and housing aspects. Both quantitative and qualitative data are presented to explain poverty and the adaptations of the urban poor to Dhaka City. This research on urban poverty is also significant at the policy level. They are treated as a ‘burden on the city’ and are often forced to return to their villages.

There is a lack of understanding of the resourcefulness of poor communities and therefore they are often excluded from consideration in policies and programs undertaken by both government and non-government organizations. In light of this, the study will provide a better understanding of their circumstances and resourcefulness which will be very useful in the formulation of future urban policies. This study seeks to contribute to sociological knowledge and policy perspectives about urban poverty in Bangladesh.

Limitations of the study

The study is designed to explore poverty and the adaptations of poor communities to Dhaka City.  Through studying the poverty of this megacity the study seeks to make generalizations about urban poverty. Moreover, it may be asked why Dhaka City has been selected for this case study. The characteristics of Dhaka City especially its rapid mass urbanization and formation of a huge number of slums in recent times is the main reason for the selection of this city for a case study.

The study is based on communities from slums and squatter settlements located in two thanas’ (administrative units based on police station) of Dhaka City, namely Mirpur, and Mohammadpur (where the poor are mostly concentrated). Interviews were conducted in fifty poor households from these two poverty stricken neighborhoods (this is clarified in Chapter-5). A question that may also be raised is how representative is the sample: ‘where millions of poor people are living in slums and squatter settlements’. The most obvious limitations were the amount of time and resources available for this research. Scientific procedures were ensured in recruiting the subjects. But it was not possible to ensure random procedures where completed as lists of slum populations were not available. Data collected was verified again at a later stage of the field work. Even then some response error may be evident in this study. Survey data have been analyzed through statistical techniques which may not be self-explanatory in all instances. However, qualitative data collected through case studies are also presented to overcome this problem.

Overview of the project

Chapter-1 provides an introduction to the study on poverty and adaptations of the poor to Dhaka city. It clarifies how both the material and non-material dimensions of poverty are focused on in this study. The chapter shows the usefulness of the study in terms of both academic research and policy making. Several limitations in relation to its scope, method and sample selection have been outlined.

Chapter-2 presents an overview of Dhaka City, where the field research was conducted.

It starts with a general profile of the city focusing on its geography, population, infrastructure and management issues. The chapter also explores the trends of urban poverty in reference to Dhaka City. Finally, it describes the growth and poverty of slums and squatter settlements in this city.

Chapter-3 reviews the literature on urban poverty and urban adaptations. This review primarily focuses on the literature of urban poverty that has emerged from a sociological perspective. It focuses on the nature of the urban economy where poor households cope through their household strategies.

Chapter-4 provides theoretical frameworks of urban poverty and urban livelihood. It critically reviews the theory of ‘subsistence’, the theory of ‘relative deprivation’ and the theory of ‘entitlement and capability deprivation’. The chapter deals with the ‘urban livelihood framework’, which is considered as an integrated framework for analysing urban poverty in developing countries.

Chapter-5 deals with the methodology of the study. It addresses the research questions and the research hypotheses derived from the literature review and theoretical premises. It also provides a brief description of the research sites in Dhaka City from where the subjects were recruited. It explains the survey instrument, especially the questionnaire, the ways the survey was conducted and the problems encountered in the survey. The issues of reliability and validity ensured in data collection are addressed.

Chapter-6 deals with the findings of the study. The results outlined by three broad sections. (1) socio-demographic characteristics (2) poverty and vulnerability of poor households (3) forms of adaptations of the urban poor.

 Chapter-7 deals with a discussion about the main findings of the study. It discusses informal employment and livelihood strategies in the urban context, different dimensions of poverty, asset vulnerability and well-being, social networking and cultural practices and their political integration of Dhaka City.


It starts with a general profile of the city focusing on its geography, population, infrastructure and management issues. The chapter deals with the growth of the urban population in Dhaka City.  Due   to the concentration of both domestic and foreign investment Dhaka City has experienced massive migration from the rural population of Bangladesh in recent decades but a critical downside to this has been the dramatic rise in poverty. In light of this, the chapter deals with the trend of poverty in Dhaka City.

A general profile of Dhaka City

Dhaka City is centrally located in Bangladesh, in the southern part of the district of Dhaka. It is situated between latitudes 24º40´ N to 24º54´ N and longitudes 90º20´ E to 90º30´E and defined by the Buriganga river in the south; the Balu and the Shitalakhya rivers in the east; Tongi Khal in the north and the Turag river in the west. The city has developed on the higher elevated Pleistocene terrace land or Order Alluvium of the central part of Bangladesh, otherwise referred to as the Madhupur-Bhawal Garh Region. According to the adjusted population of the 2001 Census the size of Dhaka’s population is 10,712,206 of which 5978482 are male and 4733724 are female (BBS, 2003). This makes Dhaka a ‘megacity.’ The population growth of Dhaka stands at 56.5% in the last decade, which is very high. This means that during the last decade the city’s population has grown by 3,868,077. The sex ratio of the population is calculated as 123.4 based on the current population census (BBS, 2001a). Dhaka City is noted for a serious shortage of housing facilities. The private sector provides 90% of the housing in the city while the government provides 10% of the housing for government employees. More than 70% of the city’s population has no access to land. The distribution of land among the remaining 30% is also highly unequal.Limited access of the urban poor to social services like health, education and recreation is characteristic of Dhaka City. Existing educational institutions have also failed to meet the demands of city dwellers. Because of the topographic condition of Dhaka City, most areas are vulnerable to annual flooding during the monsoon season. And during abnormal floods nearly 75% of Dhaka City is under water. In such situations, the settlements of the poor are the worst affected although other areas are not necessarily spared (Siddiqui et al., 2000). Dhaka City has emerged as a city of crime, insecurity and political violence. Due to theinadequacy of the law enforcement agencies (especially the police) social unrest, violence, theft, robbery, looting, murder, hijacking, arson, acid throwing on innocent females, the rape of young girls, possession and use of illegal fire arms, illegal rent/toll collection and so on  have phenomenally increased over the years and have now become a way of life in Dhaka City (Siddiqui et al., 2000). According to Ahmed and Baqee (1996) nearly 61% of the country’s crime occurs in Dhaka City.

National urban growth and Dhaka City’s predominance

Definition and components of urban growth

The analysis of urbanization depends upon the definition of urban places. Like many other countries in Bangladesh urban places are defined on the basis of both political and functional criteria. According to that definition, an urban   area includes the municipality, civil lines, cantonment and any continuous collection of houses inhabited by not less than 5000 persons (BBS, 1977). Areas administered by town committees, centres of trade and commerce having concentrations of non-agricultural labour, high literacy rates and where communities maintain public utilities, such as roads, water supply and streetlights (Afsar, 2000).Subsequently, at least one-third of the newly declared urban centres had a population of less than 5000. Net migration can simply be described as a process characterised by the excess of in-migration over out-migration (Afsar, 2000).

It is often hard to differentiate between internal migration and natural increase, for example in the case of children born to migrants after their arrival in the city which contribute significantly to urban population growth and is attributable to natural population increase. There is a debate over the relative contribution of natural increase and rural-urban migration to urban growth. Designation of new areas as urban accounted for only 8% of the total growth of the urban population between 1974and 1981 (BBS, 1984; 1987). Reclassification of urban areas in 1981 was alleged to be far too liberal, overstating the real size of the urban population and giving unrealistically high estimates of the actual rate of urbanization. Migration played the dominant role, contributing between three-fifths and two- thirds to the urban growth of Bangladesh for during 1960-1990. Consequently, it is undeniable that rural-urban migration plays a critical role in the urbanization process of Bangladesh.

The trend of urbanization and urban growth

The growth of the urban population in Bangladesh since 1901 is depicted through the following periods. In 1901 only 2.43% of the country’s population lived in urban centres (BBS, 1977). During the next two decades the urban population remained almost static. Between 1911 and 1921 there was only an 8.8% increase in the urban population (BBS, 1977). In Bangladesh the first significant phase of urbanization started in 1947 (CUS, 1976).During the 1951-61 decade there was a 45.11% increase in the urban population, more than twice the previous decade’s 18.4%. The factors causing this were many, some political, others socio-economic (BBS, 1977). Large scale migration of Muslims from India in 1947 and afterwards was a major factor. The emigration of a large Hindu population from Bangladesh to India was mostly from rural areas, while the immigrants from India, mostly concentrated in the urban areas of Bangladesh, thus outnumbering the emigrants from the urban areas. The most phenomenal urban population growth in Bangladesh occurred during the 1961-74 inter-census period. Over 6 million people were living in urban areas constituting roughly 8.0% of the total population (BBS, 1987). Thus the percentage increase of the urban population during at 13-year was striking. That accelerated growth is to a great extent the result of the very recent influx from rural villages. The growth rate of the urban population was 5.4% during the 1981-1991 (BBS, 1997). The total urban population increased to 28.6 million by 2001 (BBS, 2003)



National populationUrban population

rate (%




Share (%

of total



increase of


population (%)



(% of




Table-:Urban population growth in Bangladesh (1901-2001)

Some urban centers have recorded a very rapid population growth (above 50%). In the 1951-61period 12 urban centers recorded a growth of more than 50% in their population with Khulna,

Chuadanga and Dhaka showing a very high (above 200%) increase (Eusuf, 1996). Khulna recorded high growth due to industrialization, Dhaka due to its importance as the provincial capital, and Chuadanga due to the influx of refugees from India. In the 1961-74 periods, 36 urban centers recorded a growth of more than 50% in population size with Dhaka showing a 936% increase; due to its importance as the new capital city and due to the expansion of commercial activities. During this period 8 urban centers recorded the highest growth of 180.2% (Eusuf, 1996). The 1991 census recorded 11 urban centers with a 50-112% increase from 1981 to 91 (BBS, 1997). During those period 4 urban centers recorded growth of more than 100%. Sherpur, Dhaka, Moulvi Bazar, Cox’s Bazar, Rangamati and Jessore have shown more than a 50% increase in three consecutive inter-censual periods while Feni and Naogaon experienced over 50% increase throughout the period (Eusuf, 1996).

                       Table-:  Ranking of major urban centers in Bangladesh (1901-2001)




Source: BBS 1977; 1984; 1997; 2001a; 2003

There has been considerable movement, up and down, of the relative and political importance of the major urban centers over the years. Dhaka and Chittagong have remained in first and second position respectively since attaining city status at the beginning of the century (BBS, 1977; 1984). Khulna, the third largest city has gained its ranking since just before independence in 1971 through industrialization (BBS, 1997). The fourth largest city, Rajshahi held the same ranking in the early decades of the last century but lost it position for socio-political reasons and then again regained its position (BBS, 1997). Other cities like Serajganj and Barisal have had a history of ups and downs during the last century. The city of Sylhet has emerged as one of  the important cities and occupied 5th position in recent times. It started to grow very rapidly immediately after its establishment as a divisional headquarters (BBS, 2001a; 2003).The historical process of urban development in Bangladesh presents different trends based on the political development of the country (Khan, 1996). Although the history of Bangladesh in the early periods is obscure due to a lack of sufficient information, it is evident that Bangladesh acted as a passive periphery of Bengal and India. Though the rulers of Bengal often revolted against the central authority, these were sporadic efforts and did not have any marked impression on the spatial development of the region (Khan, 1996). Historically, the political-spatial development process of Bangladesh has passed through passive and active stages followed by cooperation and accommodations as well as hostile situations. However, the legacy of spatial development in Bangladesh has led to the development of a few cities – particularly the capital city of Dhaka.

Urban poverty and Dhaka City’s predominance

The trend of urban poverty

Two methods- the Direct Calorie Intake (DCI) and the Cost of Basic Need (CBN) methods are currently used for measuring urban poverty by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS, 2002).

 Poverty line-1 Absolute poverty

(2122 k. cal per day per person)

Poverty line-2 Hardcore poverty

(1805 k. cal per day per person)



Number% of




% of




% of




% of






































     Source: BBS, 1998; 2002

Table-: Urban population in Bangladesh below the poverty line (DCI method)

 Upper poverty line



(upper line)

Lower poverty line



(lower line)

1995-199620001995-96 to


1995-9620001995-96 to
















   Source: BBS, 2001b

Table- Recent trends in urban poverty in Bangladesh (CBN method)

The Direct Calorie Intake (DCI) method is traditionally used by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics for determining the poverty line. According to this method the urban poor are categorized as ‘absolute poor’ and ‘hardcore poor’ based on their daily calorie intake. The poor who take per day per person fall below Poverty Line-1(and are known as the absolute poor) whereas the poor who take per day per person fall below Poverty Line-2 (these are termed the hardcore poor). At the national level the percentage of population in Poverty Line-1 decreased from the 47.8% to 44.3% in the survey year of 1988-89 to 2000. But in urban areas the percentage of population below Poverty Line-1 increased from 47.6% to 52.5% from the survey period of 1988-89 to 2000 due to the migration of the rural poor to urban areas. In the case of Poverty Line-2 the situation is to some extent different. The percentage of hardcore poor has decreased over the years at both the national and urban contexts. But the rate of decrease is comparatively lower in urban areas (BBS, 1998; 2002).

Table: Incidence of poverty in selected urban areas in Bangladesh (CBN method)

Urban areas

Urban areasUpper poverty line


Lower poverty line



























   Source: BBS 2001b

Due to the problems of the calorie intake method, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has used the Cost of Basic Needs (CBN) method. Unlike the traditionally used DCI method, the CBN method considers other basic needs (along with food) for measuring poverty. The poor are categorized by an ‘upper poverty line’ and a ‘lower poverty line’. This estimation reveals the alarming situation of urban poverty in Bangladesh despite the overall improvement of the poverty situation at the national level. According to this method, from 1995-96 to 2000 the percentages of the urban population below both the upper poverty line and lower poverty line have increased by 7.2% and 5.4% respectively (BBS, 2001b). Poverty is mainly concentrated in urban Dhaka due to the predominance of poor migrants in Dhaka City.¹ In urban Dhaka the percentages of the population below both the upper poverty line and the lower poverty line have increased by 4.6% and 4.2% respectively during 1995-96 to 2000 (BBS, 2001b).

Poverty and slums in Dhaka City

The phenomenon of slums and squatters in Dhaka is as old as the city itself. But the city has experienced a prolific growth of slums and squatters since the independence of the country in 1971 (Qadir, 1975). Slums and squatter settlements are not distributed uniformly throughout the Dhaka Metropolitan area but rather they are concentrated mostly on the fringes of the city. According to CUS (1996) among the 3007 slums and squatter settlements an overwhelming majority of these poor communities are located on land owned by private individuals (1270 clusters, or 42.2%), or under multiple private ownership (1047 clusters or 34.8%). Only 644 clusters (21.4%) are located on government and semi-government land, while a few settlements (only 35 in number, 1.2%) are found on land belonging to non-government organizations. BBS (1999) also showed that slum and squatter settlements did not develop in the central part of the city like Mothgijheel, Kotoali, Sutrapur or Lalbagh Thanas in the last decade. They mostly developed in the peripheral thanas of Mirpur and Mohammadpur.

The slum population in Dhaka City faces extreme poverty due to its low level of earnings and the majority is living below the poverty line in terms of both calorie intake and cost of basic needs. What is more, the slum dwellers are mostly involved in low paid jobs in informal sectors of the urban economy. To be precise there is a predominance of day labouring and rickshaw pulling among this poor group of city dwellers (Amin, 1991; CUS, 1996; BBS, 1999; Hossain, 2001; 2004b). Moreover, there are occupational variations between males and females in slum and squatter settlements in Dhaka City. Among these there are eighty different types of occupations held by males in slum and squatter settlements. Females are found to belong only to occupations such as maidservants and housewives (CUS, 1983). The urban poor involved in the formal urban sectors of the economy have better economic conditions than the poor in the informal sectors.

According to Siddiqui et al. (1993) there is a significant difference in the wage rate between the formal sector poor and informal sector poor in Dhaka City. The formal sector poor receive various benefits, which means that they are better off compared with their informal sector counterparts. There is also a variation in poverty among the poor employed in informal occupations based on their level of skills. Skill differentials were found to be an important factor in determining differences within the informal manufacturing activities in Dhaka City (Khundker et al., 1994).Slum populations in Dhaka City are ‘vulnerable’ in terms of their access to urban land. Slum dwellers have mostly settled temporarily on public or private land and they are often evicted from their settlements. In the overwhelming majority of house construction the roof is of tin and the wall beams are of bamboo. Mahbub (1996) found that only a small proportion of poor settlements (9%) were made of brick, cement and tin. About 68% of slum families in Dhaka City have a single room unit, 20% have two small rooms and at least 5% have to share a room with other families (CUS, 1979). The average floor spaces of poor urban households are only 125sq. ft, with only 100 sq. ft in Dhaka City (Islam et al., 1997).Very often slum and squatter settlements in these areas are prone to annual flooding, and they are environmentally unsuitable for housing as they are located in low-lying areas and along risky canals and railway tracts (Islam, 1996b; Hossain, 2003a).

Slum dwellers in the city are disadvantaged in terms of their access to urban services like safe water, electricity, gas supply, toilet facilities and garbage disposal. The quality of these services has been found to be poor and the supply remains highly irregular and inadequate (Islam, 1991; CUS, 1993; BBS, 1999; Hossain, 2002). Most slum dwellers have access to safe water for drinking purpose only. And most use unsafe water for washing, bathing and other purposes. CUS

(1996) shows that a small proportion of the urban poor (20%) use sanitary latrines and the majority still use a variety of non-hygienic latrines. The study shows that 67% use electricity and another 33% still have no access to electricity. The study also found that 72% of the urban poor use traditional fuel for cooking and only 22% have access to gas facilities. More than 60% of the poor just dump their garbage on the road or on the ground. And a very small proportion (12.4%) of these poor households has access to the underground drainage system .Slum populations also have limited access to health and education. Though theoretically the urban poor have equal access to the public health facilities in the city, in reality very little are available to them (Fariduddin and Khan, 1996; Arnold, 1997). They are the most deprived groups in the city as they have very limited access to the existing educational opportunities. This is true for both primary education and general and technical education for adults. It has been evident from official statistics that although enrolment in primary school in urban areas is higher than that for rural areas, the enrolment of the slum population is very low (GOB, 1991).Poverty and the proliferation of slums in Dhaka City have been a major problem in recent decades. As urban poverty is an extension of rural poverty, it is essential to understand the process of rural poverty for explaining the contexts of slums and squatter settlements in Dhaka City. Siddiqui (1982) argues that the process seems to be influenced by the existing superstructure which is dominated by the rural rich and which plays a strong role in maintaining and legitimizing poverty.Poverty is caused by the stagnation of productive forces and production over time and government policies and development measures which only help the rural rich to get richer and increase inequality (CUS, 1990).

CUS (1990) has identified some specific causes of urban poverty and slums in Dhaka City. These include the socio-political and economic structure, that have developed in a long colonial and feudal history and exploitation and social injustice; oppression by the vested interest groups and ruling power elite; corruption of the ruling elite and the neo- rich, foreign aid and debt; natural hazards and consequent landlessness; lack of government assistance for the poor; and population explosion (and lack of its control).

Chapter summary

Urban centers are defined on the basis of both political and functional criteria. Natural increases in population and net migration from rural areas together with reclassification of urban areas constitute the three basic components of urban growth. Dhaka City has experienced its highest rate of physical and population growth in recent decades. The percentage of the urban population living below the poverty line is comparatively higher in Dhaka City. This city has had a massive growth in slums and squatter settlements in recent decades. The slum population of the city faces extreme poverty as its level of income in the informal sectors of the urban economy is very low. And it is vulnerable in terms of its access to land, urban infrastructures and social services. To sum up, the socio-political and economic structures of the country are generally responsible for urban poverty and the emergence of slums in Dhaka City.

A REVIEW OF LITERATURE                                                                            

This chapter presents a review of literature on urban poverty and urban adaptations of the slum dwellers. This review primarily focuses on urban poverty literature based on a sociological perspective. It also covers literature related to economic, spatial and policy perspectives. The literature review covers the critical issues of urban poverty associated to the questions of present research on urban poverty in Dhaka City. This literature review explores current thinking on these issues of urban poverty.

However, the literature review reveals that without analyzing the social, cultural and political dimensions of poverty, urban poverty research remains incomplete. Therefore, this research has focused on social, cultural and political features of urban poverty along with its economic issues.

Urban poverty and urban adaptations:

City life is characterized as a relatively large, dense and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals (Writh, 1938). Urban born children have limited opportunities for social mobility and they are unable to achieve their goals through socially approved means. And they often experience anomie and a career in crime appears as the only way out (Merton, 1938).

Lewis (1959) first developed the concept of the ‘culture of poverty’ (elaborated in Chapter-4), which designates common cultural elements found among poor people. The approach focuses on cultural traits – patterns of behavior It has been found that slums and squatter settlements house a significant proportion (25%-50%) of city populations in developing countries (Bulsara, 1970).

According to Leeds and Leeds (1970) different categories of people may pursue distinct life-styles even within the same neighborhood. Migrants typically receive considerable assistance when they move, in adapting to the urban environment, in securing a foothold in the urban economy (Gore, 1971).

 Abu Lughod (1971) in her study of Cairo noted the formation of enclaves of ex-villagers sharing a common past in the village and a similar and often simultaneously history of adaptation to the city. Eames and Goode (1973) argue that if the traits frequently found among poor communities are examined through the social scientists’ approach to the functions of marriage and the family, it can be found why the movements away from traditional forms can be considered a rational and coping response of the poor. Many households now including a male, at other points in time would have been or will be female-based (Eames and Goode, 1973). Female-based household units can result from many events; for example, women with offspring from transitory mating unions, or consensual or formal unions which have been dissolved voluntarily, through some enforced migration or from death. Thus mothers may be separated by agreement, abandonment, death or temporary male migration for economic reasons (Eames and Goode, 1973). By Inkles and Smith (1974), their survey asked about such psychosomatic disorders as difficulty in sleeping, nervousness, headaches, or frightening dreams. More of these were reported among those with longer urban residence. When urban non-industrial workers were matched with cultivators on variables such as education and ethnic membership, the workers reported more psychosomatic symptoms of stress and the difference was statistically significant (Inkles and Smith, 1974). Neighbors in informal settlements will often install basic urban services through both cooperative and individual enterprise (Turner, 1976). Lipton (1977) claims that comparisons of urban and rural incomes are notoriously problematic. Rural-urban migration in the developing world can be fully understood only if the conditions of the masses are grasped. The trends in urban spatial organization are a necessary component of the changes in social organization in developing cities (Gilbert and Ward, 1985). It surfaces again in the borrowing and lending of household items and money, maintaining surveillance over a neighbor’s house or children while the mother runs an errand, notifying one another of job openings and (particularly for adolescents) support in the event of a gang fight with rivals from other blocks (Hollnsteiner- Racelis, 1988: 232-3).

The expansions of capitalist systems, however, under way for a half a millennium and accelerated by the Industrial Revolution, incorporated even more outlying regions into the emerging world economy (Wallerstein, 1989). The number of social relationships which an individual or family maintains with non-kin, both inside and outside their neighborhood of residence, depends on factors such as the level of income of a family, the location of their neighborhood, age and the type of work of family members (Smith, 1989).

In part, on the community networks and commitments of informal sector workers whose business depends on their central location (Eckstein, 1990), was based, in part, on the community networks and commitments of informal sector workers whose business depends on their central location (Eckstein, 1990). Electricity supersedes the kerosene lamp and the open fire (Gugler, 1992a). Some migrants eventually find subsidized housing. Although there is severe discrimination in terms of access to these urban amenities, and for some, housing and sanitary conditions are worse than where they come from; even so access of urban dwellers to modern amenities is higher (Gugler, 1992a). Increased loss and fragmentation of land among the poor and increased concentration of land among the rich, coupled with a high natural growth rate of population raise the number of landless and the hungry (Gugler, 1992a). Informal settlements are not always the refuges of the poorest or the most recent migrants. Consequently, low-income settlements are internally heterogeneous in terms of the occupations of residents, stages in their life cycles and length of residence in the city (Gilbert, 1992b). Life-styles vary to a considerable extent across the urban agglomeration, and most urbanites have a measure of choice where to locate; a considerable variety of life-styles is found within some neighborhoods; and urban dwellers, to the extent that they can take advantage of modern transport and communication, are not bounded by the neighborhood (Gugler, 1992c: 165).

In the absence of other sustenance opportunities in villages, many of the landless in rural Bangladesh are forced to migrate to cities to seek better opportunities (Alamgir, 1993). The informal economy and family strategies are essentially territorial phenomena. Both classes of activities are embedded in localized sets of understandings, practices and relationships (Roberts, 1994:7). The relative success of most migration is due in large to the fact that it is embedded in social relations (Roberts, 1995); It is difficult to generalize without discriminating carefully between migrants of different socio- economic backgrounds and between different urban and rural contexts (Roberts, 1995). Urban areas are the engines of economic growth as they are the locations for complex networks of activities essential to basic human functions of living and working (Mattingly, 1995). It is these changes that lead to the family economy of the early industrial period being replaced by the family wage economy and finally, by the family consumer economy, altering the expectations attached to the different family roles (Roberts, 1995). The move from one type of family economy to another entails a lessening in the collective coordination of family strategies. in the family-consumer economy, coordinating the contributions of individual family members is not essential to survival since the wage of the main breadwinner is enough to ensure the subsistence of the whole family. Children are thus ‘released’ to pursue their formal education and the spouse may specialize in managing the household (Roberts, 1995:163). Households whose male heads have stable jobs could survive on a single income with the wife attending to domestic work and the children in school (Roberts, 1995). Roberts (1995) points out that the original establishment of informal settlements is often based on prior social relationships among ‘the invaders’ and subsequent settlement also depends on having some relationship with existing squatters. Land occupation is not ordered neatly since, while most unoccupied space is on the urban periphery, its availability depends on political and/or commercial factors such as whether it is public or private, the capacity of popular organization to seize and defend it, and the speculative intentions of its owners (Roberts, 1995). According to Roberts (1995) under conditions of poverty and job instability, men may be unwilling to commit themselves to relatively permanent obligations; likewise, women may be unwilling to take on the liability of a permanent attachment when the man proves to be a drunkard, unable to earn a living or prone to violence. According to Roberts (1995) older people travel less frequently outside their neighborhood, rely on neighbors or are dependent on others visiting them; poverty inhibits external visits because of the expenses of travel and there is an increased reliance on neighbors. Males are more successful in the process of adaptation than females due to their greater participation in urban society. The urban poor are integrated into the capitalist economy in a multitude of ways, for example, through the types of goods that they purchase or through subcontracting work from large firms (Roberts, 1995).

Migrants from affluent regions enjoy better opportunities which help them in urban adjustment. And the young population is mostly successful in their adaptation process to the city of Dhaka (Hussian, 1996). The overview affirms that low-income groups, even with agonizing limitations, can use their potential to make vital improvements to their own homes at no direct cost to government (Tipple, 1996).  The rural-urban connection, while it cannot guarantee the success of the rural-urban migrant, makes a successful outcome more likely and reduces the stress involved in the venture (Gugler, 1997:71). Co-operation within the family networks is the basic pattern of social interaction (Lomnitz, 1997).

 According to Moser (1998) community and inter-household mechanisms of trust and collaboration can be weakened by greater social and economic heterogeneity. This contrasts with the ‘moral economy’ of rural areas, where the right to make claims on each other, and the obligation to transfer a good or service is embedded in the social and moral fabric of communities. Ameen (1999) also shows that despite most governments’ negative attitudes, the maximum utilization of space by housing extension has attracted many housing experts, especially in government or low-income public housing. an understanding of poverty widens – for instance to include poor quality and/or insecure housing, inadequate service and lack of civil and political rights – so does the greater current or potential role of local government to contribute to poverty reduction (IIED, 2000:3).

The actual and perceived economic opportunities available in urban areas attract migrants from rural areas in search of work and give a chance to improve their lives (Meikle, 2002). The job opportunities available for the urban poor depend on their skills. According to Meikle (2002) despite living in the city a significant portion of urban dwellers are living in poverty as they produce little toward their social well-being. The most vulnerable, and the least secure or skilled, engage in a variety of marginal, often illegal or semi-legal activities like begging, searching waste or prostitution. poor suffer from diseases, such as typhoid, diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, malaria and intestinal worms, which are associated with contaminated water and food, poor drainage and solid waste collection, proximity to toxic and hazardous wastes and exposure to air and noise pollution (Meikle, 2002:40). While poor communities may have internal solidarity they may be excluded from wider social networks. Simply by living in informal settlements, communities may be excluded from neighborhood opportunities and access to the services they need (Meikle, 2002: 44). According to Meikle (2002) the high cost of shelter in cities means that poor households are frequently forced to occupy marginal land illegally. The poor are forced to settle into slums and squatter areas (UN-HABITAT, 2003). A country like Bangladesh has an extensive NGO community and many of these organizations have enthusiastically embraced the concept of civil society as part of their own quests for identity and legitimacy. Some of the NGOs speak of constructing alliances between different groups within civil society in order to mobilise citizens in support of political and social objectives (Lewis, 2004).

 Summary of literature

There is a great deal of evidence to show that poor households in cities of the Dhaka are vulnerable in terms of both the material and non-material dimensions of deprivation. What is more – that various facets of capitalist development such as land speculation, income concentration and capital intensive industrialization combine to exclude the urban poor from the benefits of urbanization and economic expansion that have occurred in developing countries. The activities in which they must engage to make a living mean that they develop complex patterns of social interaction that are not confined to one neighborhood. In summary, the urban poor find ways of interpreting the uncertainties of their economic and social position, which are compatible with an active attempt to cope with the day-to-day problems of urban living.

The urban poor are not fully politically passive and unaware of issues of national politics. They are not politically marginal in the sense of not participating in or affecting urban politics in developing countries. Although they are skilful participants in local politics, the poor have been unable to sustain protests or political organization enough to constitute a serious threat to government. Their protests against the inadequacy of urban services are rendered ineffective because urban issues offer a fragile basis for political obligation. Protests can be bought off cheaply and one neighborhood is set against another by government provision of partial services. The activism of the poor is, however, a factor in urban politics since their behavior constitutes an unknown element which is alternatively feared and sought after, depending on the strength and political complexion of the government of the day.



The chapter deals with theoretical frameworks of poverty and livelihood in the urban context. It starts with the subsistence, deprivation and entitlement frameworks of urban poverty. The theory of ‘entitlement and capability deprivation’ explains poverty in terms of basic capabilities – food, shelter, clothing, education and freedom. The chapter also deals with behavioral, cultural and structural frameworks of urban poverty and marginality.  The theory of the ‘culture of poverty’ explains poverty as a subculture, which reflects both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position and its transmission from generation to generation through family lines. And the theory of ‘urban political economy’ explains urban inequality and poverty in reference to economic and political structures and processes. The chapter finally deals with the ‘urban livelihood framework’, which is widely used as an integrated framework for analyzing urban poverty in developing countries.  The framework includes the issue of poverty, deprivation and well-being, household and livelihood systems, household assets, community network and social capital, macro structures and processes and urban institutions and urban policies.

Subsistence, deprivation and entitlement frameworks

Theory of ‘subsistence’

The theory of ‘subsistence’ was developed through the systematic study of poverty by Rowntree (1901). According to his theory of ‘subsistence’ the poor are those who are unable to achieve physical survival. Families whose total earnings are insufficient to obtain the minimum necessaries for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency. Poverty falling under this head is described as ‘primary’ poverty; families whose total earnings would be sufficient for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency were it not that some portion of it is absorbed by other expenditure, either useful or wasteful. Poverty falling under this head is described as secondary poverty (Rowntree, 1901: viii). Rowntree (1901) identified a ‘cycle of poverty’ – children, young married couples with children and old people running the highest risk of descending into poverty.

Theory of ‘relative deprivation’

Townsend developed the theory of ‘relative deprivation’ through his extensive writings on poverty including his Poverty in the United Kingdom in 1979. Townsend (1979) defined poverty objectively and applied consistently only in terms of the concept of relative deprivation. The concept of ‘relative deprivation’ has been fruitfully used in the analysis of poverty. The relative term is understood objectively rather than subjectively:

Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customarily, or are at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinarily living patterns, customs and activities (Townsend 1979:31).

This covered diet, clothing, fuel and light, home amenities, housing and housing facilities, the immediate environment of the home, the characteristics, security, general conditions and welfare benefits of work, family support, recreation, education, health and social relations… The indicators can be expressed as indicators of deprivation – for example, lacking that amenity or nor participating in that activity. By applying the indicators to individuals and families, a ‘score’

For different forms of deprivation can be added up: the higher the score the lower the participation (Townsend, 1993: 114).

Poverty is, of course, a matter of deprivation. The recent shift in focus – especially in the sociological literature – from absolute to relative deprivation has provided a useful framework of analysis. But relative deprivation is essentially incomplete as an approach to poverty, and supplements (but cannot supplant) the earlier approach of absolute dispossession. The much maligned biological approach, which deserves substantial reformulation but not rejection, relates to this irreducible core of absolute deprivation, keeping issues of starvation and hunger at the centre of the concept of poverty (Sen 1981: 22).

 Theory of ‘entitlement and capability deprivation’

Sen (1981) developed the theory of ‘entitlement and capability deprivation’ through studying the poverty situation in general in South Asia.¹ He examined the formal characterization of entitlement relations and their use, which is dependent on the legal, political, economic and social characteristics of the society. It concentrates on the ability of people to command food through the legal means available in the society, including the use of production possibilities, trade opportunities, entitlements vis-a-visa the state, and other methods of acquiring food.

A person lives in poverty either because of an inability to obtain enough food or because of not being able to avoid poverty. Sen (1981) argued that a person’s entitlement depends on – whether he/she can find employment, and if so, for how long and at what wage rate; what he/she can earn by selling his/her non-labour assets, and how much it costs him/her to buy whether he/she may wish to buy; what he/she can produce with his/her own labour power and resources and the value of the products; social security benefits and the taxes Sen (1984) argued that the entitlement approach concentrates on each person’s entitlements to commodity bundles including food and views starvation as resulting from a failure to be entitled to any ‘bundle’ with enough food.

Behavioral, cultural and structural frameworks

Theory of ‘culture of poverty’

Lewis (1966) defined the ‘culture of poverty’ as a subculture, which reflected both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in class-stratified, highly individuated, capitalist society.

Lewis regarded a ‘culture of poverty’ as a “defence mechanism without which the poor could hardly carry on” (Lewis, 1961: xxiv). This can be summarized in the following way:

(a) The nature of the community: The inhabitants live in overcrowded and poor housing settlements. In terms of social organization they can achieve little beyond the level of nuclear and extended families and limited kinship relations.

(b) The nature of the family: The family, including the personal relationship among family members, appears to be the most important social unit in the ‘culture of poverty’; with children experiencing an unstable and often violent family life. With a relatively high incidence of husbands abandoning wife and children, the family tends to be mother-centered.

(c) The character of individuals: The major personality traits of individuals are shaped by the subculture. The individual develops a strong feeling of fatalism, helplessness, dependence and inferiority. Class-consciousness, a low level of aspiration, a widespread belief in male superiority and a high tolerance for all types of psychological pathology influence the character of the individual.

(d) The relationship between subculture and the larger society: Characteristics of urban poverty such as low income, unemployment and underemployment, lack of property ownership, lack of savings and food insecurity reduce the possibility of effective participation and integration of the poor in the major institutions of the larger society. The victims of this subculture develop a critical attitude toward basic institutions and they make less use of the prevalent amenities of society.

Theory of ‘urban political economy

 The theory of ‘urban political economy’ derives from the materialist philosophy of Marx and Engels which explains inequality and poverty through analyzing the process of urban structures. Marx, a strict structural Marxist perspective concerns itself with capital labor relations. It treats all things as commodities and sees the urban in capitalist society as providing the historical conditions for capital accumulation during the particular phase of capitalism (Lyon, 1987).Castell’s theory was most fully developed in his book The Urban Question originally published in 1972.¹ He begins the book by characterising all non-Marxist approaches as ‘ideological’, which means that they are not scientific but rather are giving the reassuring impression of an integrated society, united in facing up to common problems (Castells, 1977).

The ‘Urban livelihood framework’: An integrated framework of urban poverty:

According to Rakodi (2002a) the concept of livelihoods, however, goes beyond notions of ‘poverty’ and embodies a number of important additional elements drawing on a decade or more of research on rural households, including the responses of those households to external shocks and trends, policy change and particular interventions. A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from shocks and stresses and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base (Carney, 1998:4). A livelihoods approach to development draws on a conceptual framework which may be used as a basis for analyzing, understanding and managing the complexity of livelihoods. The framework begins ‘from the bottom up’, drawing largely from literature on sustainable livelihoods. It then considers the structures and processes ‘from the top down’ that enable and constrain urban development. The final component of the framework includes a focus on urban governance as the meeting ground between these two constructs.

Poverty, deprivation and well-being

Rakodi has expliend, Households or individuals are considered poor when the resources they command are insufficient to enable them to consume sufficient goods and services to achieve a reasonable minimum level of welfare. The value of goods and services consumed, whether purchased, gifts, or self-produced, is expressed in monetary terms, enabling the definition of a poverty line. This may refer to either absolute or relative poverty: the former is based on the cost of basic food basket, with (the poverty line) or without (the food poverty line) other necessities, for a particular country or subnational area at a particular date; the latter refers to consumption equal to a proportion of total or average consumption (Rakodi, 2002a:4). Consumption is generally considered a better indicator than income in relation to measuring poverty.

Deprivation occurs when people are unable to reach a certain level of functioning or capability. According to Chambers (1989) deprivation is a product not just of material poverty, but of a set of interlocking factors, including physical weakness, isolation, vulnerability and powerlessness. The issue of well-being is closely connected with vulnerability. Vulnerability is related to insecurity, sensitivity of well-being in the face of a changing environment, and a household’s reliance and ability to respond to risks and negative changes and to opportunities (Rakodi, 1999). According to Moser (1996) environmental changes that threaten well-being can be ecological, economic, social, or political, and they can take the form of sudden shocks, long-term trends, or seasonal cycles. Well-being is understood as a continuum. One end of the continuum represents a state of well-being that is highly vulnerable to adverse changes in the urban environment. The other end of the continuum represents a state of well-being that is highly resilient in the face of adverse changes in the urban environment – whether these pose a threat to survival, security or quality of life (Coetzee, 2002:8).

Household and livelihood systems

According to Chamber (1989) the adopted strategies of households aim to cope with and recover from stress and shocks, by stinting, hoarding, protecting, depleting or diversifying the portfolio; to maintain or enhance capability and assets; and to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation. Households faced with shock, stress or risk devise coping strategies to protect their social reproduction and enable recovery. These may be ineffective in the long-term by consumption declines and/or assets lost permanently, or if successive calls on particular strategies deplete the natural, social or financial resources on which households or communities call. Poverty is thus characterized not only by a lack of assets and inability to accumulate a portfolio of them, but also by lack of choice with respect to alternative coping strategies (Rakodi, 1995a; 2002a). Households seek to mobilize resources and opportunities and to combine these into a livelihood strategy which is a mix of labor market involvement, savings, borrowing and investment, productive and reproductive activities, income, labor and asset pooling and social networking (Grown and Sebstad, cited in Rakodi, 2002a). A livelihood system of households encompasses income, both cash and in kind, as well as the social institutions (kin, family, village and so on), gender relations and poverty rights required to support and to sustain a given standard of living (Ellis, 1998).

Assets and vulnerability

The livelihood strategies available to individuals and households will depend largely on their access to resources or assets. Pryer categorized household assets/resources in the following ways:

(i) Material resources: These include assets and stores of value as well as money.

(ii) Human resources: The skills and capabilities of people within the households, including the age, gender, educational, skills, health and nutritional status of household members. (iii) Social resources: These include the set of relationships which a household has with other individuals, households and organizations which may be used to maintain or improve their situation. Such ‘claims’ to assistance may include claims on food, credit, labor or productive resources or services from kin, neighbors, labor groups, patrons, landlords and employers, from government, or from NGOs and the international community.(iv) Environment and common property resources: Natural resources may be used by different kinds of households. These can be defined by clear property rights, or may be nationally common property. Within the urban context, common property resources may include water, grazing land, fodder materials, fuel, tress, natural vegetation and garbage. (v) Cultural resources: Those resources which are available to households due to their cultural or ethnic origin (Pryer, 2003:10).

Analyzing vulnerability involves identifying not only the threats to individuals and households and their assets, but also their resilience – their ability to mobilize assets to exploit opportunities and resist or recover from the negative effects of the changing environment (Rakodi, 2002a). The ability of households to avoid or reduce vulnerability and to increase economic productivity depends on their initial assets and on their ability to transform those assets into income, food or other basic necessities, by intensifying existing, developing new, or diversifying their strategies (Moser, 1996; 1998; Rakodi, 2002a).

Community networks and social capital

Social capital is defined as rules, norms, obligations, reciprocity and trust embedded in social relations, social structures, and society’s institutional arrangements, which enable its members to achieve their individual and community objectives (Narayan, 1997). Social networks are not all supportive of the poor or effective as social capital and are generally thought to be less robust in urban areas because of the mobility and heterogeneity of their populations. Social capital (or informal networks) built by households over generations in the village may take on a different form in dynamic, multi-cultural urban context where people come and go. This can induce new forms of social organization at the community and city levels which provide the basis for more effective pooling of resources for lobbying of political leaders, engaging in partnership with civil society, the private sector and local government and for undertaking community development and management initiatives. Community networks are typically understood in a livelihood framework as social capital but they are benign, helpful and redistributive and need not necessarily be sustainable, especially in the case of poor household’s communities.

Macro structures and processes

The livelihood framework, therefore, further turns to the structures and processes in the macro environment that impact on urban poverty and vulnerability. Livelihood systems and community networks develop in the context of shifting relationships between the state, market and society. These shifts are significant for urban vulnerability as they entail a redistribution of power and responsibility in relation to poverty reduction and development (Coetzee, 2002:16).

Diagram: Urban livelihood framework: components and processes

Urban livelihood framework

For the purpose of this framework, the macro environment is seen to contain a number of globalised trends, which may vary in intensity and outcome across space and time. And the impact of these trends in different localities will be shaped by several factors including local urban contexts and modes of urban governance (Coetzee, 2002).

Why the ‘urban livelihood framework’?

The theory of subsistence focuses on the absolute level of poverty and it defines the poor as those who are unable to achieve physical survival. The theory of ‘relative deprivation’ explains poverty in a relative sense and considers individuals, families and groups as poor when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities, and have the living conditions and amenities of urban life.

The theory of ‘entitlement and capability deprivation’ focuses on basic capabilities – to meet nutritional requirements, to escape avoidable disease, to be sheltered, to be clothed, to be able to travel, to be educated, to live without shame, to participate in the activities of the community and to have self respect.

The present study explores both the material and non-material dimensions of poverty in Dhaka City. It focuses on the adaptations of the urban poor there in terms of their poverty and vulnerability. And the other poverty theories – especially the ‘culture of poverty’ – may seem suitable for analyzing the cultural dimensions of poverty. The ‘urban livelihood framework’ to be the most suitable frame of reference for analyzing urban poverty and adaptations in Dhaka City.


This chapter deals with the methodology of the study on poverty and adaptations of the urban poor in Dhaka City. It starts with the strategy of the research, highlighting the theoretical basis of the study. It deals with the research questions and the research hypotheses derived from the theoretical premises – in particular the ‘urban livelihood framework’. The measurements of poverty and adaptation and the definitions of key terms used in this research have been clarified here. It also deals with the study areas and forms of habitats from where the subjects were recruited, and it outlines the sampling design for the study. The chapter explains the survey instrument, especially the questionnaire, the ways the survey was conducted and the problems encountered. It discusses how qualitative data was collected through personal observation and case studies to supplement quantitative data. Finally, the issues of how reliability and validity were ensured in data collection and data management are addressed.

The strategy of ‘theory to research’

The strategies of ‘theory to research’ and ‘research to theory’ are widely used in scientific research depending on the discipline and the nature of research topics. It reviewed relevant theoretical premises on poverty and vulnerability critically and used an ‘urban livelihood framework’ as the major guide of reference for analyzing urban poverty and vulnerability in Dhaka City.

The ‘urban livelihood framework’ argues that the poor may not have cash or other savings but they have other material or non-material assets – their health, their labour, their knowledge and skills, their friends and family, and the natural resources around them. Social capital is an important component of a ‘livelihood framework’. Following a ‘theory to research’ strategy a number of research questions were set up and hypotheses were formulated in reference to an ‘urban livelihood framework’. The research questions and hypotheses cover both the material and non-material dimensions of urban poverty and adaptations. The study aimed to answer these research questions and to test the formulated hypotheses through presenting empirical data.

The analytical framework

Research questions

The study mainly deals with the broad research question of how poverty impacts on the adaptations of the urban poor in Dhaka City. Based on this broad research question the study aims to answer the following specific research questions:

a)      What are the characteristics of poverty and vulnerability experienced by poor communities in the city?

b)      What livelihood strategies have evolved in urban poor households to cope with their poverty and vulnerability?

c)      How does poverty limit the urban poor’s access to essential urban infrastructure and social services?

d)     Do family and social networking play significant roles in the urban poor’ adaptations?

e)      Why do traditional rural values prevail among poor communities despite living in an urban environment?

f)       To what extent are poor communities integrated into city politics?

Hypotheses formulations

Socio-demographic differentials in poverty and adaptations of poor households were addressed in the hypotheses formulations. What is more, the following hypotheses were formulated to be tested in this study:

  1. Urban Poor settled in temporary habitats experience a higher level of poverty and asset vulnerability than those settled in permanent habitats.
  2. Recent poor migrants (from outside Dhaka City) are poorer and more vulnerable in terms of their asset level in the city than long-term poor migrants.
  3. Female-headed poor households face a higher level of poverty and asset vulnerability than male-headed poor households.
  4. Poor households settled in squatter and resettlement neighbourhoods are more vulnerable in terms of housing quality than poor households settled in slum neighbourhoods.
  5. Single-headed poor households are more connected with rural areas than poor households with two and more members.
  6. Recent poor migrants are more dependent on social networking for adaptations to the city than long-term poor migrants.
  7. The literate poor plan better for the future than the illiterate poor.
  8. Long-term poor migrants plan better for the future than recently arrived poor migrants.
  9. Urban poor settled in squatter and resettlements neighborhoods are more integrated with urban politics than those settled in slum neighborhoods.
  10. Recent poor migrants are less integrated with urban politics than long-tem poor migrants.

Measures of poverty and adaptation

The concepts of poverty and adaptation have been measured in this research by a set of socio-demographic, economic, physical, social, cultural and political variables. These are as follows:

Socio-demographic variables: neighborhood and habitat types, age, gender, marital status, education, migration pattern, urban residence and household organizations

Economic variables: employment pattern, household income, household expenditure, consumption pattern, savings, loans and household assets

Physical variables: access to land, quality of housing, urban infrastructure facilities and neighborhood environment

Social variables: access to social services, family pattern, social networking and urban-rural ties

Cultural variables: behavioral patterns, values and practices, attitudes, lack of knowledge, world views, fatalism and future planning

Political variables: informal power structure, participation in city politics, affects of urban policies and urban protests

Definitions of key terms

Urban poverty

The World Bank (2001) has been used in this study as a working definition:

Urban poverty is a multi-dimensional phenomenon, and the poor suffer from various deprivations, e.g., lack of access to employment; adequate housing and services; social protection; and lack of access to health, education and personal security (World Bank, 2001a:1).


To approach the adaptation process functionally, by looking at the history of the individual’s aspirations, expectations, learning and coping strategies, and attitude changes, and structurally by analyzing the internal and external status of the migrant (Taft, 1988:154).


The definition of ‘slum’ developed for the Census of Slum-1997 has been used for the present study. This definition is:

A slum is a cluster of compact settlements of 5 or more households which generally grow very unsystematically and haphazardly in an unhealthy condition and atmosphere on government and private vacant land. Slums also exist in the owner based household premises. This is characterized by predominantly very poor housing structure; very housing density; generally slum settlements grow on govt./semi govt. vacant land and public owned places, abandoned buildings/ places or by the side of the road; slum housing materials are very cheap and of low quality such as old gunny bags, polythene, straw etc. and have lower height in comparison with other normal structure; having poor sewerage and drainage or even it has on such facilities; inadequate, unhealthy drinking water supply; prevailing unhealthy atmosphere; insufficient or absence of street lighting; little or no paved street; and slum settlements are inhabited by poor, uneducated and below poverty level people (BBS, 1999: 2-3).


Person or persons having relation or not, living together and taking food from the same kitchen is considered as a household (BBS, 2003:7).

Selection of study areas and subjects

Study areas

The study was conducted in Dhaka City, Bangladesh, which has been transformed into a megacity in recent times. About one third of the city’s population is living in slums and squatter settlements, mostly found on the urban fringes due to the increasing value of urban land. The study has been conducted in two of the greater thanas of this city, namely Mirpur and Mohammdpur, where most of the city’s poor live. The brief descriptions of the study areas that follow are made based on the Bangladesh Population Census-1991, Community Series, Zila: Dhaka (BBS, 1993).


Mirpur, the most populous thana of the Dhaka City Corporation evolved in 1962.² This thana occupies an area of 58.66, including 1.03 of river. The thana is bounded on the north by Tongi thana of Gazipur district, on the east by Uttara and Cantonment thanas, on the south by Mohammadpur thana, and on the west by Savar thana. The decadal population growth rate of this thana is 93.13% and the annual compounded growth rate is 6.80%. In this thana 17.42% of the dwellings are made of straw/bamboo, 27.54% are made of cement, and 55.04% are made of a combination of different types of materials. In this thana, 21.41% of the households use a tube-well, 71.90% use a tap, 5.14% use a dug-well, 0.62% use a pond and 0.93% use the canal/river as the main source of drinking water. In Mirpur thana, 67.92% of households have sanitary latrines. A total of 27.11% of the households have non-sanitary latrines while 4.96% of the households have no toilet facilities. Moreover, 2.95% of the households depend on agriculture as the main source of household income: 1.37% on cultivation/share cropping, 0.70% on livestock, forestry and fishery, 0.06% on pisciculture with 0.82% working as agricultural labour. Other sources of household income are non-agricultural labour (2.13%), business (21.16%) and various forms of employment (37.41%).


Mohammadpur is a thana of the Dhaka City Corporation, the seventh largest thana of Dhaka district in terms of population. This thana occupies an area of 11.65 including 0.49 of river. Mohammadpur thana is bounded on the north by Mirpur and Cantonment thanas, on the east by Tejgaon thana, on the south by Dhanmondi thana and on the west by Savar thana. The thana has a population of 316,203 of which 173,977 are males and 142,226 are females. The decadal population growth rate is 43.98% and the annual compounded rate is 3.71%. In this thana 22.67% of the dwellings are made of straw/bamboo, 36.07% are made of cement and 41.26% are made of a combination of different types of materials. In Mohammadpur thana 20.53% of the households use a tube-well, 76.94% use a tap, 1.17% use a dug-well, 0.41% use a pond and 0.94% use the canal/river as the main source of drinking water. Furthermore, 66.77% of households have sanitary latrines. A total of 28.24% have non-sanitary latrines, while 4.99% have no toilet facility. In this thana 1.55% of the households depend on agriculture as the main source of household income: 0.50% on cultivation/ share cropping, 0.40% on livestock, forestry and fishery, 0.02% on pisciculture while 0.63% work as agriculture labour. Other sources of household income are non- agricultural labour (2.95%), business (22.11%) and various forms of employment (32.91%).

Types of poor habitats

Based on the previous slum studies conducted by Shakur (1987), CUS (1990; 1993; 1996), BBS (1999) as well as the researcher’s personal observations, slums have been categorised into the following types:

Type-1: Jhupri/ tong/ chhait: Jhupri has a ceiling which is less than four feet and is constructed of very cheap materials like straw, bamboo, grass, leaves, polythene sheets, gunny bags and so on. Tong, a purely temporary structure, is built on bamboo pillars in low lands and with the cheapest construction materials. Chhait is a half arch shaped small structure open at the front and the rear. As jupri, tong and chhait are almost similar in terms of tenure security, construction materials and land ownership, they have been categorised in the same category.

Type-2: Tin-shed: A tin-shed is generally a structure of normal height with a roof made of corrugated/plain tin sheets. It does not have any walls made of bricks. These types of dwellings are also created temporarily on vacant (private and public) land and are comparatively more stable and protected than jhupri/ tong/ chhait. In many instances the land is leased from owners and the dwellings are made for low-income city dwellers.

Type-3: Semi-pucca/ pucca: Semi-pucca is a structure of normal height with wallsmade of bricks. The roof is generally made of any material (other than cement/concrete). The pucca structure has its roof and walls made of bricks and mortar. A very small portion of the urban poor live in these dwellings and those do have access to some urban services like sewerage, water supply and waste disposal. These types of dwellings are categorised as permanent types of poor habitats.

The subjects of the study

The subjects of the study were selected from six clusters of slums located in greater Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Demra thanas of Dhaka City. The poor living in the various housing structures outlined above have been selected from three clusters in Mirpur thana. The poor who were evicted from the city centre have settled in Urttar Kalshi temporarily with the permission of the city development authority. The poor who have settled in the Ceramic Basti for a considerably long period of time have done so due to available jobs in the adjacent ceramic industries. And a number of the poor were forced to resettle in bastohara (resettlement camp) immediately after the independence of the country. The subjects were selected from another three clusters of slums in Mohammadpur thana, which were mostly developed on vacant (private and public) land. The poor have settled on both sides of Ring Road and Beribad temporarily and city development authorities frequently evict them without warning. The poor living in the Adabor area pay rent and have better housing conditions.

                                 Table: Study locations by areas and types of habitats

ThanasClustersType of habitats
MirpurUttar Kalshi

Ceramic Basti


Jhupri & Tin-shed


Semi-pucca & Pucca

MohammadpurRing Road Basti




Tin-shed & Semi-pucca

Jhupri & Tong

Data collection and data analysis

Sampling for household survey

 Sampling is a compromise between technical efficiency and time and resources. It, as Sprent (1988:188) points out, “provides a mechanism whereby we can make an estimate of population characteristic and get, based on probability theory, a numerical measure of how good that estimate is.” Moser and Kalton (1983) list several advantages of this method: first, in contrast to a complete enumeration of the population, the data are cheaper to collect. Second, it requires fewer people to collect and analyse. Third, it saves time as a sample is quicker to analyse and process. Fourth, it often permits a higher level of accuracy as the sample size allows a check on the accuracy of the design. Finally, fewer cases make it possible to collect and deal with more elaborate information from each.The samples of the current study were drawn from three strata. The first stratum is comprised of poor households living in habitat type-1 (jhupri/tong/chhait), the second stratum is comprised of poor households living in habitat type-2 (tin-shed), while the third stratum is comprised of households living in habitat type-3 (semi-pucca/pucca). The sample from the total households was selected proportionately.

             Table: The number of households surveyed by areas and habitat types

ThanasNumber of householdsTotal
Habitat type-1Habitat type-2


Habitat type-3




 In this study 50 households were surveyed of which 20 have been selected from the habitat type-1 consists of jhupri, tong and chhait. As the poor in Mirpur and Mohammadpur are mostly living in these types of habitats, most of the households living in these habitats were selected from these two thanas. Only 7 households living in these habitats were selected from Mohammadpur thana. In Mohammadpur thana most of the poor households live in tin-sheds and therefore out of 13 households in this category, 25 households were selected from this thana. Whereas only 17 households living in tin-sheds were selected from Mirpur thana. The number of households living in semi-puca/pucca housing was 9 out of 50 in Mirpur and Mohammadpur.

Conducting the survey

The survey was conducted during July 2012. It may well be asked why such a survey method was used as the prime method of data collection for the present research. Considering a number of factors such as scope, availability of funding, time and precision a survey by structured questionnaire was chosen for collecting data from poor households in Dhaka City. As Sarantakos (1998) points out, surveys are the most commonly used method of data collection in the social sciences, especially in the discipline of sociology. According to Yin (1994) for an explanatory study on real life situations over which the researcher has little or no control, a survey is the most appropriate approach to use. Considering these advantages, the survey method has been used for data collection in the present research.

Before formally starting the survey a preliminary contact was made with the subjects in order to ‘build rapport’. Even so, at the beginning many people were reluctant to speak to the researcher, believing that trouble may arise from such an interview. After much persuasion, discussion and explanation they permitted the survey to be carried out.The survey was conducted through a detailed semi-structured questionnaire. Each interview took at least 15 minutes to 20 minutes. In most of the cases household heads were selected for an interview. But in some cases it was not possible to interview household heads due to their busy work schedule and in such instances data were collected from their spouses or other household members. In many cases information on the household was collected from more than one household member to crosscheck provided data. Due to the general lack of privacy in slum settlements neighbours or friends of households often interrupted the interviewing, which was otherwise strictly controlled. Although a detailed survey questionnaire was used for data collection, necessary notes were also taken during interviewing on a blank sheet of the questionnaire.

During the survey some difficulties were also encountered at all the study sites. Some young thugs, locally known as mastans, initially created problems by trying to stop the common slum dwellers cooperating with this research. The subjects accepted the invitation to cooperate once they learned the objectives of the survey and the affiliations of the researcher.

Qualitative study

The study has employed very useful techniques for collecting qualitative data on the adaptations of the urban poor in Dhaka City. Brief life stories are important techniques in collecting qualitative data for social research. Life stories have been found to be a valuable source of information particularly when information on subjects is lacking and they possess a very low degree of educational attainment (Hussain, 1996). In this study qualitative data from brief case stories – in the forms of narrative analysis and biographical approaches – were collected mainly to complement the quantitative data collected through the household survey. Five in-depth interviews were undertaken from two research sites. To cover various forms of urban adaptations the life stories of the urban poor were collected focusing on their economic, physical, social, cultural and political adaptations. Beside these useful life stories, personal observations were noted during the fieldwork.

Study instruments

Survey questionnaire

For conducting the research a set questionnaire was developed based on the research objectives after consultation with research supervisors before going in to the field. The questionnaire was then translated into the Bengali dialect. After pre-testing, the results were analyzed by bi-variate descriptive statistics and the questionnaire was revised as required with the consultation with supervisors.

The survey questionnaire also includes information on informal power structures, participations in city politics and the impact of polices relating to the regulation of slums and low income activities on the livelihoods of the urban poor. In order to obtain directly comparable material, the questionnaire had structured questions, but open-ended questions were also included to gain wider insights into the poor’s perceptions.

Techniques of data analysis

There are number of phases of data preparation and analysis in arriving at the results of this study. The data obtained through the survey have been edited and coded simultaneously. Through editing it was verified whether questionnaires were correctly filled in and the skip patterns were followed. It was verified whether there is a consistency among the recorded responses. Open-ended responses are recorded verbatim and these verbatim responses have then been categorised by their commonness and frequencies. Coded data have been entered into a computer database using Statistical Software SPSS (Version 10.0). Then data were run for cross tabulation and rechecked to find out inconsistencies and errors of codingIn the study, survey data have been analyzed by using both descriptive and inferential statistics. While descriptive statistics are mainly used to classify and summarize the numerical data, the inferential statistics were used to make inferences by using the corresponding characteristics of the sample households. A series of statistical analyses were performed to produce descriptive and inferential measures.

Ethical issues

These concerns, which relate to survey research as much as to other forms of social sciences, have led to most professional research organizations and professional associates developing codes of ethics to govern the way in which surveys are conducted. It became easier for the researcher to conduct the research due to his previous experience in conducting research with vulnerable urban groups. As per the rules of the ethics committee the study purpose was clarified to the subjects before starting their interviews. It was also assured that their participation in this research has been voluntary and they could withdraw from the research at any stage. The subjects were also assured that the information provided in the interview will remain strictly confidential, except as required by law and persons interviewed will be anonymous. After finishing the survey and computerization of data the questionnaires have been preserved safely.

Validity and reliability

The survey questionnaire was designed with logical consistency so that inaccurate data on some issues were easily crosschecked with each other. As the survey was conducted at the place where the subjects were living it was easier for the researcher to check some data during interviewing. In many instances, where the respondents were confused or lacking information, data were also collected from other household members simultaneously to ensure the quality of the survey data.

The involvement of this researcher in all phases of qualitative data collection provided confidentiality and greatly helped in maintaining detailed records of the responses. The length and intensity of the interview sessions help the researcher to observe the subjects more closely. This provided an opportunity to check the validity and reliability of ethnographic data.


This chapter deals with the findings of the study on the urban poor’s adaptations in Dhaka City. The survey questionnaire was developed to investigate adaptations of the urban poor following the ‘urban livelihood framework’ as a guide to the areas of questioning. The questionnaire covers the issues of employment, income, expenditure and consumption, household assets and vulnerability, access to infrastructure and social services, family and community networking, values and the cultural system, and community participations, all of which are addressed in the livelihood framework. Qualitative data were also collected through in-depth interviews to supplement the survey data.

The results outlined in this chapter are presented in three broad sections based on the survey questionnaire. Relevant qualitative data have also been used in sections. The first section deals with socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents. The second section deals with the features of poverty and vulnerability of poor urban households. The final section deals with different forms of adaptations of the urban poor.

Socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents

Neighborhood and habitat types

The urban poor surveyed in this study were recruited from three neighborhoods falling under administrative units of the city called thanas. Table-6.2.1 shows that 53% of the total respondents were recruited from Mirpur, another 47% of the total respondents were recruited from Mohammadpur. The percentage of the ‘absolute poor’ is higher than the ‘hardcore poor’ in both Mirpur and Mohammadpur.

Table-: Neighborhoods of the respondents



Hardcore poor

(n= 22)

Absolute poor


All poor


Mirpur45.45 (10) 60.71 (17)53.0 (27)
Mohammadpur54.54 (12) 39.29 (11)47.0 (23)

                                    Table-: Habitat types of the respondents

Habitat typesHardcore poor

(n= 22)

Absolute poor


All poor


Jupri61.36 (13)33.92 (10)47.64 (23)
Tinshed34.09 (7)37.50 (11)35.80 (18)
Semi pucca/pucca4.55 (2)28.57(7)16.56 (9)

 The urban poor live in a variety of habitats such as jupri, tin-shed and semi-pucca/pucca(were defined in Chapter-5). Table-6.2.2 shows that 47.64 % of the total respondents were living in jupri, the most vulnerable form of habitat. More than 60% of the hardcore poor were living in jupri alongside about 34% of the absolute poor. Another 35.80 % of the total respondents live in tin-sheds. Both the hardcore and absolute poor are almost equal in numbers in terms of tin-shed habitation. The table also shows that the remaining 16.56 % of the total urban poor reside in semi-pucca/pucca habitats, which is less vulnerable. Only 4.55 % of the hardcore poor live in this less vulnerable habitat whereas 28.57 % of the absolute poor live there.

Demographic characteristics


The distribution of the respondents by age is presented in Table-6.2.3. It appears from the table that a small proportion (9.2%) of the respondents is in their twenties. The respondents are mostly distributed among the age groups of 21-30 years (29.8%), 31-40 years (28.8%) and 41-50 years (22.4%). The remaining 9.8% are in the age group of 51 years and above. Table-6.2.8 shows the mean age as 36.41 years with a wide variation in age of the respondents (std. dev 12.32).

Table-: Age structure of the respondents

AgeHardcore poor

(n= 44)

Absolute poor


All poor


Up to 20 yrs9.09 (4)8.92(5)9 (9)
21-30 yrs29.55 (13)28.57 (16)29.06 (29)
31-40 yrs29.55 (13)28.57 (16)29.06 (29)
41-50 yrs20.45 (9)25 (14)22.73 (23)
51 yrs +13.36 (5)8.93% (5)11.15 (10)

Residential patterns

The poor communities in this research have mostly taken up permanent residence in the city of Dhaka because they have no agricultural land in their villages to live off. Although most of them resided in the city on a temporary basis at their initial stages of migration, they gradually became permanent city residents. Graph-6.2.3 shows that 87.6% of the respondents are residing in the city on a permanent basis whereas the remaining 12.4% are residing in the city on a temporary basis.

Household characteristics

The numbers of female-headed households¹ are conventionally higher among the poor communities due to their marital instability and the higher number of separation and divorce. Graph-6.2.5 shows that 91% of the households are male-headed whereas 9% households are female-headed. According to Table-6.2.9 the household head type and poverty level are asymmetrically related (λ= .317; sig=.00) which means that male-headed households are better off in terms of poverty than their female-headed counterparts.


In the survey the head of the household has been given priority for providing data. As the majority of households are headed by males, the proportion of male respondents is much higher in this survey. According to Graph-6.2.1 male respondents represent 72.6% of the total respondents; whereas female respondent constitutes 27.4 %. The graph also reveals that the proportion of absolute poor is higher among male respondents and the proportion of hardcore poor is higher among female respondents.

This indicates a higher level of poverty and vulnerability among female respondents than their male counterparts.

Features of urban poverty and vulnerability

Employment patterns:

Employment structure

The urban poor of Dhaka City are mostly involved in a variety of occupations in urban informal sectors. And due to a lack of education and employment training they usually do not gain entry into the more competitive formal sectors of urban employment. Gender difference is observed in the pattern of employment of the urban poor. Male respondents are generally involved in labor intensive and high risk involved jobs in rickshaw pulling, driving and transport work and construction. Where female respondents are mostly involved in garment factories, personal services and domestic works.

Employment pattern of the respondents is generally presented in Graph-6.3.1.

According to this graph 29% of the respondents are employed in pulling rickshaws in the city. Most of these rickshaw pullers are illiterate and have no formal employment training. They mostly received some informal training from their friends and relatives who also pulled rickshaws in Dhaka City. Another 23% of the respondents are involved in street peddling and petty trading. These trades have no registration from the government authorities. And they mostly operate these informal trades with the help of family members. The poor also work in other occupations like construction (6%), driving and transport (5%), garments and factory work (5%) and personal services (8%). A small portion (5%) has some level of education and work as low grade employees in different government and semi-government organisations. The graph also shows that 12% of the respondents are housewives who are involved in domestic work.

Income patterns:

The rates of income, wage and productivity are very low among the urban poor. As they are involved in self-employed, low paid jobs in informal sectors of work they are unable to earn more despite their efforts. Graph-6.3.3 shows that some of the households (3.8%) have a very low level of income (up to 1500Tk. per month) and they are unable to support themselves.¹ Another11.4% and 29 % of households have earnings from 1501-2500Tk. to 2501-3500Tk. per month. These groups are also hardcore poor, as they cannot buy the required food from their limited incomes.

The graph also shows that 21.6% and 12.6% of poor households earn between 3501- 4500Tk. and 4501 5500Tk. monthly. The remaining 21.6% of the poor households earn 5501Tk. and above. Table-6.3.3 shows that the average household income of the poor households is 4424.30Tk. But the intra-household income differential (std. dev. 2289.46) is very high due to the higher level of income of households with more members in the urban workforce.

Table-: Sources of household income















Up to 1000Tk.11.0 (10)23.8 (6)25.5 (7)24.2 (4)34.6 (8)25.8 (2)
1001-2000Tk.20.7 (15)32.1 (7)47.2 (12)30.3 (5)28.8 (7)32.3(7)
2001-3000Tk.35.6 (25)20.8 (5)13.2 (6)21.2 (3)7.7 (2)29.0 (6)
3001-4000Tk.18.2 (13)12.5 (3)6.6 (3)9.2 (2)11.5(3)6.5 (1)
4001Tk.+14.5 (12)10.7 (1)7.5 (4)9.1 (1)17.3 (5)6.5 (1)

Expenditure and consumption patterns:

Level of expenditure

The rate of expenditure in poor households is low because they earn little. Graph-6.3.4 shows that some of the poor households (3.8%) have a very low level of expenditure (up to 1500Tk. per month). And other 12.2% and 30.4 % of poor households have expenditure from 1501-2500Tk. and 2501-3500Tk. per month respectively. The graph also shows that 22.2% and 12.8% of poor households have expenditure from 3501-4500Tk. and 4501-5500Tk. per month. And the remaining 18.6% of poor households have expenditure of 5501Tk. and more. Table-6.3.11 shows that the minimum household expenditure is 500Tk. whereas the maximum household expenditure is 14250Tk. The average household expenditure of poor households is 4148.13Tk. The table indicates a wide intra-household differential (std. dev. 1907.98) of expenditure due to a comparatively higher level of expenditure among a considerable proportion of households.

Level of consumption

The urban poor buy food items like rice, cereals, lentils, potatoes and vegetables at a low cost from retail shops located in their neighbourhoods. They rarely go to wholesale markets to buy such small amounts of goods. Table-6.3.12 shows that the average rice intake per person is slightly above 400 grams per day and there is a wide variation (std. dev 123.02) in rice intake among them. The urban poor mostly consume rice and few of them eat cereals at breakfast. With rice they mainly eat lentils, potatoes and vegetables, as these items are relatively cheap. The average intake of lentils, potatoes and vegetables is 23.3, 20.95 and 129.19 grams per person per day respectively. But there are wide differences in the rates of consumption of these items, which are expressed by standard deviations. Most of the urban poor consume fish but they consume only a very small quantity (average 34.07gram). These poor people usually buy a poor quality of fish from local fish markets at low prices.

The average intake of expensive items like meat and poultry, milk and milk powder and fruit are 17.9, 25.59 and 7.23 grams per person per day respectively. Table-6.3.12 shows wide deviations in intake of those expensive items too. The urban poor mostly avoid those expensive items due to their low incomes. But there is a difference between the hardcore and absolute poor in terms of consumption of these expensive items.

 Forms of adaptations of the urban poor

Family and social networks:

Types of family

The family plays an important role in the adaptation of the urban poor to city life.

Different forms of families exist among the urban poor with the nuclear family being the most common. Graph-6.4.1 shows that 9% of the families are single parent. These single parent families are mostly mother-centred, which occur due to the separation of wives and husbands, broken marriages and widowhood. The numbers of these mother-centred families are increasing among these poor communities due to the increasing rate of abandonment of wives by husbands. Moreover, these families are more vulnerable in the city than other forms of families. They usually get support from their maternal relatives for adaptation to the city

Due to poverty and a lack of adequate accommodation, the household head usually lives in the city with his wife and children and therefore nuclear families are prominent.

Graph-6.4.1 shows that 53% of the families are nuclear where only a husband and wife, or husband, wife and their children live together. One-fourth of the total families are identified as ‘extended’. Table-6.4.1 shows that out of 125 extended families 71.2% are ‘blood-based’ where extended members are blood relatives – especially parents or brother and sister of the head of the family. In another 32.8% of families, extended members are marriage-based relatives especially mother-in-laws, brother-in-law and sister-in-laws. In the remaining 6.4% of families, ‘fictive’ relatives – especially village friends – are living as extended family members. The table shows that most cases (65.6%) of extended members live in households due to family ties. In another 31.2% of families, extended members reside there for work purposes. And in the remaining 9.6% of families, extended members live in the households because of inadequate accommodation in city.

Behavior, culture and values

Behavioral patterns:

The urban poor easily become angry with their families and communities due to stress.

Graph-6.4.5 shows that 11.8% of the total respondents frequently become angry, while most of the respondents (62.4%) occasionally become angry with their families and communities. The graph also shows that 19.2% of the respondents become angry very occasionally and the remaining 6.6 % rarely become angry with families and communities. It is the circumstances they encounter in their daily lives that make them angry with their families and communities. Graph   shows that most of them (54%) become angry due to economic reason. As the income level of the poor communities is very low and they are unable to support their families with their limited income, they become stressed and angry. Another 32% of the respondents become angry due to social reasons, especially family affairs, and the remaining 14% become angry due to psychological stress. In fact, individuals who are poor sometimes become angry because their poverty produces social and psychological tensions and stress.

Religious and cultural practices

Poor communities in Dhaka City’s slums practise popular religious and cultural values. Visiting mazars (shrines) is one of the commonly observed practices among these poor communities. In most cases the poor build shrines in their locality in the name of their pirs (spiritual leaders) who have charismatic power. They are devotees of spiritual leaders known by their places of origin, such as Maizbandary, Atroshi, Charmonai, Enyatpuri and so on.¹ Table-6.4.11 shows that 55.2% of the total respondents visit different shrines in the city. They are very devoted to these shrines and frequently visit them. Both the hardcore and absolute poor visit shrines, with the absolute poor predominating. The hardcore poor are more occupied with work and get less time to visit these shrines.

Table-: Religious and cultural practices










Visiting mazars (shrines)49.3 (15)59.9 (25)55.2 (40)
Plan to mannot (sacrifice in the name of God)72.4 (20)71.0 (32)71.6 (52)
Devotion to pirs (religious leader)37.6 (12)33.3 (62)35.2 (74)
Using jar/ fuk (spiritual treatments)51.6 (35)46.2 (38)48.6 (73)

Table- shows that most of the respondents (71.6%) plan to make mannots¹ (sacrifices in the name of God) to achieve certain goals.

 Summary of findings

The respondents have mostly been living in temporary habitats in different poor urban neighbourhoods. Both unmarried and married respondents are incorporated in the study. Although most households are male-headed, female-headed households are increasing among the poor communities in Dhaka City.

The respondents generally earn a low level of income insufficient for supporting their livelihoods. Because of their low level of income their level of consumption is als The urban poor have little access to urban land and they are mostly settled on vacant government land or private land in the city. They are mostly settled in different forms of temporary habitats made of low cost housing materials. These habitats become vulnerable due to annual floodwater. They have generally limited access to urban infrastructure facilities. The quality of material environment is very poor. They have very limited access to services for heath, education and recreation which are essential for their social well-being. Most of their earning is spent on food.

The poor sometimes become angry with their families and communities due to economic tensions which produce stress. They practise some traditional activities like visiting shrines, sacrifices in the name of God, using folk treatments from religious and spiritual leaders and so on. The poor have generally a low level of knowledge. The urban poor are often vulnerable to crime and violence often operated by powerful non-slum residents. Grouping and conflicts are characteristics of the urban poor. They have informal power structures based on community based organisations which play significant role in solution of community conflict. The poor communities also actively participate in urban politics.


This chapter opens with a discussion about the main findings of the study on adaptations of poor people to poverty in Dhaka City. A comparative analysis between the findings of this study and those in other studies is also provided.

This chapter focuses on the discussion of informal employment and livelihood strategies of poor communities in the urban context of Dhaka City. Different dimensions of poverty, asset vulnerability and well-being issues have been addressed. Their values and cultural practices have also been analyzed to understand their cultural adaptations to the city. It further focuses on their political participation and the role of state and global forces in poverty and adaptations

The ‘urban livelihood framework’

A ‘livelihood’ is generally defined as comprising the capabilities, assets, including both material and social resources and activities required for means of living. The framework provides the analytical basis for livelihoods’ analysis by identifying the main factors affecting livelihoods and the relationships between them. In the ‘livelihood framework’ poverty is characterized not only by a lack of assets and inability to accumulate a portfolio of them, but also by the lack of choice with respect to alternative coping strategies. Social capital is one of the important components of the ‘livelihood framework’. The ‘livelihood framework’ also turns to the structures and processes in the macro environment that impact on urban poverty and vulnerability. Livelihood systems and community networks develop in the context of shifting relationships between the state, market and society.

Understanding urban poverty and adaptations

Characteristics of the urban poor

The age structure of the urban poor is to some extent different from the other urban population.

A number of studies conducted in other developing countries also confirm that age selectivity can be considered the most important characteristic of rural-urban migration: young adults are more migratory than their counterparts.

Young populations predominate in urban centres because they are usually not yet integrated into rural traditional systems and they are more likely to leave the village than the older population.

The proportion of the elderly population who has lost their ability to perform labour-intensive jobs is negligible in the slums area. Elderly people (usually 46 year plus) have either returned to rural areas or did not migrate to the city. The present study reveals that most of the urban poor migrated from a few rural districts which have a very good connection with the capital city (Dhaka). Improvement in transport facilities, river erosion, low income in rural areas, job opportunities in the city and family migration are found to be the major reasons for rural-urban migration.

The push factors include over-population, floods and natural disasters, river erosion, growing landlessness and exploitation by the rural elites and moneylenders. The pull factors are employment opportunities in the informal sectors of the economy, better opportunities in the city and relative freedom for female workers. The poor migrate to the city initially as singles and gradually bring their families and ultimately become city dweller. In the study locations in Dhaka City, 9% of the poor households were identified as female- headed.

The average household size in the present study (4.63) is comparatively lower than the national household size of 4.8 (BBS, 2001a). Despite the fact that the fertility rate is conventionally higher among poor communities in the city compared to other social groups. The present study reveals that increasing numbers of ‘single member households’ significantly affects the household size in urban slums.

Informal’ employment and livelihood strategies

More than half of the poor household heads are involved in rickshaw pulling and petty trading. And the rest of them are also mostly involved in other informal sectors. According to his survey the urban poor are involved in street selling and other petty retailing, repairs and personal services, crafts and other manufacturing, construction and transport work.

As such, significant portions of the urban poor in Dhaka City are involved in low paid self-employment in the informal sectors of the economy.

The study has revealed that a considerable portion of the urban poor are involved in household based informal employment. Salway et al. (2003) shows that in the Dhaka slums 50% of adult women are engaged in income generating activities outside the home. Moreover, they experience discrimination and sexual repression at their work place. This study, however, argues that income opportunities for women in the city have been increased over the years which have not significantly changed the vulnerability of poor women. It is true that many households are totally unable to cope with poverty and vulnerability without their children’s earnings. 53% of young children were under the age of 14 and they were not attending school due to work involvement. Cain (1977) points out that in Bangladesh by the time a son has reached 12 years of age, he has worked enough to earn his own keep, and by 15, he can also support other family members.

 Poverty and vulnerability

Incidence of poverty

The urban poor have been categorized in this study as ‘hardcore’ and ‘absolute’ poor based on their household income. The survey shows that poor households having an income of up to

3500Tk. per month are hardcore poor and poor households having an income of 3501Tk. and more per month are absolute poor. Out of the total 50 households 42.2% are categorized as hardcore poor and the remaining 57.8% are categorized as absolute poor. This was the resource considered necessary to meet the requirement of 2122 calories, based on a price index determined by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS, 1988). The level of expenditure of impoverished urban households is also generally low. The average expenditure of these households is 4148.13Tk. The expenditure level of the poor has increased over the years due to their increased income. The urban poor generally spend their earnings on food, housing and some other non-food items. It appears from the survey that the hardcore poor mostly spend their earning on food. Whereas the absolute poor spend a considerable portion of their income on non-food items.

Correlates and determinants of poverty

The study reveals that the proportion of hardcore poor is lower in both Mirpur and Mohammadpur. Gender and marital status are also determinants of the level of poverty.

In this study the percentage of hardcore poor is significantly higher among the illiterate 67.9%) than the literate (32.1%). According to the survey, household income increases by about 40% with one additional year of formal schooling. The length of urban residence is as another determinant of economic status. Out of total 47 female-headed households, 34 are categorized as hardcore poor based on their household’s monthly income. Household head type and household structure significantly determine both income and consumption of the poor households studied.

Household Vulnerability

Households are vulnerable when they are unable to cope with and respond to risks and shocks. To cope with vulnerability poor people have to rely largely on ‘self-insurance’. The survey shows that out of 50 households only 12 households had some savings. In most cases, savings are too small to invest for the future. Moreover, the poor have very limited access to formal financial institutions. The poor households are very much dependent on loans to meet their immediate crisis. The majority of them took loans form informal sources like money lenders, credit associations, relatives and friends. Only about20% of poor households was found to take loans from different NGOs in the study locations in Dhaka City.

Grameen Bank, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Association for Social Advancement (ASA) and Proshika are involved in poverty alleviation programs nationwide, but the majority of their initiatives are directed towards rural poverty .This study shows poverty in urban areas is in need of special attention as it is becoming more acute and because a growing number of poor live in unbearable environments in slums and squatter settlements.

Access and well-being

Living conditions

Housing is an important aspect of the quality of life and an important expression of material well-being. The urban poor in Dhaka have less access to land. According to their study 18% of poor households own land in urban Bangladesh but only 3% of these own land in Dhaka City.  Poor households mostly live in informal housing, were dwelling units are structurally very meager and physically constricting. The poor quality of the informal housing of the poor in Dhaka City is a result of low levels of environmental and utility services such as water supply, sanitation, street lighting and fuel, garbage disposal, drainage services.

Social well-being

The well-being of poor communities in Dhaka City is very much dependent on their health conditions. Education is another important indicator of social well-being. But the majority (60.3%) of the urban poor in the locations studied in Dhaka City was found to be illiterate and to have never attended school in their lifetime. Significant portions of children among the urban poor do not currently attend school due to the lack of access to schools and their involvement in the workforce at an early stage of life.

Family relationships and urban adaptations

The present study found that 9% of total families among the urban poor were single parent. Single parent families are mostly ‘mother-centered’, a finding well supported by previous studies

The number of mother-centered single parent families has significantly increased mainly due to an increase in marital instability. As Pryer (2003:45) points out, “Everywhere in Bangladesh, polygamy exists in slum communities and causes marital instability and discord. Mother-centered single parent families often suffer economic hardship.

The survey shows that 53% of families are ‘nuclear’, where husbands and wives are living either with their children or without any children. Mess hall living’ has developed in poor urban neighborhoods as a ‘non-family’ adaptation. The temporary poor migrants who come to the city without their families often take shelter in this form of accommodation.

Networking and social capital

Urban networking in adaptation

Social networking based on kinship and community plays a significant role in the urban adaptation of poor communities. Such networking works as a source of social capital in the context of migration to the city – by providing information related to migration and adaptation to city life, and by providing initial accommodation and employment information. The present study reveals that most of the poor migrated to the city with direct or indirect help from their relatives or fellow villagers who live in the city.

 ‘Urban-rural network’- A mode of adaptation

An urban-rural network is more common among first generation migrants. But the present research reveals that both first generation and second generation migrants are very much connected with their ancestral villages. However, both urban social network and urban-rural network play a significant role in the adaptations of poor migrants because, as already mentioned, they are very much marginalized in the city.

Cultural adaptations and modernity

It appears that the cultural practices of the urban poor are, more or less, traditional. In their study also show that many slum dwellers seem to have deep faith in the supernatural power of shrines to improve their social and economic well-being. The urban poor studied in Dhaka City feel culturally stigmatized because they live in slums. Most of the cultural activities in the city are organized by the urban middle class to whom the poor have very limited access. Poor communities sometimes organize folk music in the city, a contrast with the urban culture. Besides these activities, whenever they get a little free time, they chat and play cards in groups. Thus the entertainment activities of slum dwellers are quite disorganized and informal, and are, to a great extent, separated from the recreational and leisure activities of the city. Though there are a lot of cultural and recreational centers available in the city, the slum dwellers are not able to enter there because of their economic hardship.”

Determinants of political participation

The political integration of the urban poor is significantly determined by the neighborhood in which they have settled. The poor have been resettled in Mirpur by the urban authorities and they actively participate in politics to demand housing and other benefits from the urban government. Because there are several community based organizations in this neighborhood the poor are more politically aware.

Whereas the poor living in low-cost housing in Mohammadpur (by paying rent) are less active in urban politics as they do not get any support from local power brokers. In addition, the type of habitat also determines their political integration. The poor who are living in jupri, a temporary habitat made of bamboo and straw are more active in city politics to protect their habitat from eviction. The poor living in semi-pucca/pucca habitats are less active in political activities as they are less dependent on the support of local power brokers. But the poor living in the semi-pucca/pucca habitats are politically aware because of their better socio-economic background.

Revisiting theory and research

The ‘urban livelihood framework’ has been used for analyzing urban poverty and adaptations in the context of Dhaka City. The urban poor have little access to urban land and are mostly settled on vacant government or private land, illegally or in some cases with the consent of urban authorities. Kinship and community networking have been found as social capital for migration and adaptation of these poor communities in the city. The effects of policies, institutions and processes in urban poverty and vulnerability have been included in the livelihood analysis.

Overall, the ‘urban livelihood framework’ appears to be the most appropriate framework to analyze urban poverty and vulnerability in developing countries as it incorporates both material and non-material issues.


This Paper has explored urban poverty and adaptations of the poor people in Dhaka City. Rapid mass urbanization is occurring without development and has led to the formation of a huge number of slums and squatter settlements in the city. In Dhaka City urban poverty is shaped by rural-urban migration, household organization, and participation in the informal sector of the economy, lack of access to urban land, poor housing and services, and restricted participation in social, cultural and political activities of the city. This research has addressed both the material and non-material dimensions of urban poverty.The study is based on empirical data drawn from the experiences of poor people in Dhaka City’s slums, collected through both quantitative and qualitative research. The combination of both theoretical and empirical research makes the study distinctive.

Focus on the research findings

The study has attempted to explore the features of urban poverty in Dhaka City’s slums. It reveals that urban transformation of Dhaka City has created severe pressure on existing infrastructures and its ‘absorbing’ capacities. Urban poverty in Dhaka City is closely associated with rural-urban migration. Poor people living in the city slums have mostly migrated there from rural areas rather than other cities or towns.  Both the pull and push factors – including low incomes in rural areas, river erosion of agricultural land and job opportunities in the city are the main factors behind this rural-urban migration. Urban poverty of Dhaka’s slums is closely linked with the participation in the informal sectors of the economy. Employment in the informal sectors is generally characterized by a low level of income and high level of vulnerability in terms of risk and harassment. Poverty is clearly seen in patterns of income and consumption of poor slum communities. Almost half of the poor households of Dhaka’s slums are hardcore poor  whose monthly household income is insufficient for their basic needs. Female-headed households are poorer in terms of both income and consumption due to multiple forms of discrimination.  The urban poor lack of access to formal sources of credit and other resources and are consequently usually forced to seek credit from informal sources such as co-operatives, money lenders, relatives and friends. The increasing demand for land and its increasing value in the city centre has forced the poor to be relocated there Poor health is an important dimension of urban poverty. Lack of access to education and training is another important feature of urban poverty. Children experience more vulnerability and deprivation in mother-centered families because they are reduced to a female’s single income. Social networks play significant support roles in migration and the poor’s adaptations to the city. In fact, social networking generally works as ‘social capital’ in urban adaptations of poor migrants – who have limited access to the formal sources of support. Poverty has a definite impact on the behavioral and cultural life of slum communities. Poor people living in Dhaka City’s slums often become angry with their families and neighbors due to stress resulting from economic constraints. Due to their life long experience of poverty slum people are often fatalistic and unable to make plans for the future. The informal power structure headed by slum leaders plays a significant role in resolving conflicts among the poor communities in question. Slum clearance also affects economic activities of poor people which were mostly developed based on slum localities. The regulation of informal activities, more importantly, the regulation of rickshaw pulling causes a huge number of unemployment and underemployment. This study has focused on social questions of poverty with its economic and housing questions. It contributes to the development of sociological knowledge about poverty in the context of the megacity of Dhaka.  Poor migrants are often excluded from the formal sectors of the economy and they are mostly involved in the informal sectors for supporting their livelihood. Instead the urban poor hold strongly to traditional rural values despite their move to the city. The interests of the urban poor are neglected in the urban policies and planning because they remain politically marginalized and excluded from city politics.

Implications of the findings

Implications at a theoretical level

Urban poverty has been conceptualized in terms of a sustainable livelihood of poor households. Households and social networking based on kinship and village networks are important for poor people’s adaptation to urban life in Dhaka City. Urban poverty has implications at a behavioral level. Muslim slums in megacities as uniquely ordered and regulated by the complex educational and philanthropic networks of Islamic civil society.

The poverty of slum communities of Dhaka City has been largely shaped by the urban policies in relation to housing and land use.

Implications at a practical level

One-third of the total national urban population is now living in this city. A huge number of rural women have migrated to get employment in garment factories which have mostly been established in the last decade. In general, an effective decentralization policy needs to be implemented by the government to ensure a balanced national urban development which would reduce population pressures on Dhaka City.

This study further suggests micro-level policies for slum development. The study reveals the vulnerability of the urban poor in terms of access to land and housing. As poor communities have limited access to urban land, they temporarily settle on vacant land. The socio-cultural integration of the urban poor is also essential for their social well-being. Interactions between slum and non-slum populations are needed for their cultural integration.

The need for future research

The present study has extensively explored the issues of urban poverty from an integrative framework. It is based on sound theoretical and empirical research, which is a breakthrough in urban poverty research in Bangladesh. But more research is needed for exploring the issues of urban poverty from a sociological perspective. Employment and livelihood strategies have been the focus of this research, but they need further exploration. The issue of the informal economy is essential for analyzing urban poverty – as significant portions of the urban poor are involved there. The urban poor often experience harassment from state agencies in these forms of employment.

Further qualitative studies are needed for exploring employment vulnerability of the ‘informal’ poor, which is often difficult through survey research.

Informal politics and relationships with local power brokers need to be explored in detail for analyzing political adaptations of slum communities. Finally, intra-household differentials of urban poverty and vulnerability are important for future research. This study shows economic differentiations among the slum communities in Dhaka City – despite the fact that they are often considered as a homogenous group.

slum children in Demra