One of the challenges facing Bangladesh is the continuous increase of its urban population. In 2005, one quarter of the population resided in urban areas. By 2030, it is expected that 40 percent of the population will reside in cities and urban centers (UNFPA). One influencing factor is the increase in population, which is projected to increase by approximately 50 million by 2030.
Urban Population as a Percent of Total Population
The main reason for this (projected) increase in urban populations is the sustained population growth rate and internal migration (from rural to urban centers). Various studies on migration in Bangladesh have shown that the main factor for migration has been lack economic opportunity (Singh et all 1981, Hossain 2001). Land holding and size of a household play important roles in determining rural emigration away from an agrarian economy where the people are mostly dependent on land for their livelihood. People migrate mostly from large households because it is easy to spare some members to go outside for work.
Migration contributes to the livelihoods of the poor. It is assumed that the extremely poor are more likely to migrate to other parts of the country. Roughly 70 percent of rural people are either completely landless or functionally landless (BBS, 1998–1999). Every year, more than one million people lose their homesteads or arable land due to river erosion. In these circumstances, migration is a major coping strategy for poor people to earn a livelihood (Hossain, Khan and Seeley, 2003). Studies show that displaced people initially try to relocate within the village, then in neighboring villages and gradually move to urban areas when no other livelihood option is available in their known rural surroundings (Mamun, 2003). Initially, they try to earn a living from wage labor and other off-farm activities, but once they are in an urban setting they look for jobs in different parts of the informal sector, for example in rickshaw-pulling or vending (Sadi, 2003). Many young women from poor rural backgrounds also migrate to major cities such as Dhaka, Khulna and Chittagong to work in garment factories and food processing industries (DFID, 2003).
Some rural poor people migrate internationally. Some studies suggest that international migration entails huge costs. Those who migrate have some resources at their families’ disposal and/or have access to social networks for generating further resources to finance migration.
The increasing relevance of migration is also seen in the increase in remittances. Bangladesh National Bank data shows that remittances sent by overseas wage earners have increased from US$ 23.71 million in 1976 to US$ 2,617.92 million in 2002. Nonetheless, the annual growth rate of remittances is much less than the growth rate of the total number of migrant workers. In 1991, emigration increased by 41.72 percent from the previous year, whereas remittances grew by only 1.56 percent over the same period. In 1998, emigration grew by 29 percent while growth in remittances was 4.86 percent. The most important reason for the disparity between migrant and remittance flows is that Bangladesh has recently exported more unskilled and semi-skilled migrants whose wages are rather low compared to those of previous skilled and professional ones (DFID, 2003). Wage rates have also fallen drastically over the past decade (Siddiqui and Abrar, 2001).
Number of Bangladeshi Migrants in Industrialized Countries (2000)