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    In recent years in Bangladesh consensus has emerged amongst urban researchers and development practitioners
    on the importance of decoupling poverty from a rural context, and the need to understand it in urban terms. But
    while urban poverty is now accepted as an issue of its own, it must go beyond being described in simply numeric or
    economic terms – as a quantity of people or households below the poverty line. To really understand the complex and
    challenging nature of urban poverty, and find workable solutions to respond to it, it needs to be described in a more
    nuanced and contextual manner.


    One of the reasons why poverty has been difficult to tackle is that the current discourse on poverty reduction has
    been largely confined to the field of economics, and excluding other fields and ways of understanding it. Defined
    through an economic lens, using income and assets to identify and quantify the poor population, means that there
    has been less attention to other more nuanced factors that contribute to their condition. For example it has not
    been understood as a phenomena that is constantly in flux, a dynamic that is changing with trends and subject to
    pressures from all around. In an urban setting this might mean that a poor urban poor household – one that might
    be relatively wealthier than their rural counterpart – will be susceptible to the rising prices of food items and fuel,
    subject to the worsening health conditions of deteriorating public services and infrastructure, and psychologically
    and emotionally threatened the threat of eviction. These conditions may spike suddenly, or evolve gradually, resulting
    in their constantly living in a vulnerable and precarious condition, despite remaining above what has been deemed
    the poverty line.


    Spatial considerations are also important factors in identifying and defining poverty, that hitherto have been
    neglected. Where the urban poor live and work has an important bearing upon their capacity to access basic services,
    jobs, and also the stigmas that influence their chances of upward mobility. The location of one’s home or community
    can determine the health of one’s family, access to quality education, childcare, quality and price of water, even how
    much one spends on transportation, and how much time that would take to get to work everyday. Critically, where
    one lives also impacts the perception of security one has for one’s property, as a result how much one would invest in
    one’s home and surroundings. In short, place or location matters, and the city is a vast and complex world of spatial
    relationships. It is important to better understand where the poor are located, and how they relate to other activities,
    social infrastructure and services, and for this, spatial information is necessary. At the moment very little urban
    data is available, making an insightful and detailed picture that describes the position and conditions of the poor
    out of reach.


    Due to this lack of understanding and low awareness about urban poverty, it does not feature as a priority in the
    public imagination or agenda. Perhaps as a result of this, it also doesn’t feature prominently as a government priority,
    which explains the lack of a set of consistent government actions and policies to address it. Since the government
    has not reached consensus about how to manage urban poverty – for example through the formulation of a national
    policy or plan-, or at the city-level -through mandated poverty reduction action plans and policies- this has resulted
    in a systemic neglect for the issues of the urban poor. In addition there are few resources, knowhow, or capacity to
    systemically address it.
    In the public sphere, urban poverty also does not rank high amongst priorities, with the simplistic belief persisting
    that policies that improve the conditions of the poor will only attract more rural migrants and further deteriorate
    the conditions of cities. The urban poor are thus victims of lack of awareness about their condition, and a lack of
    readiness and willingness to confront its implications for the rest of the city and country.


    Rapid urbanisation and climate change add further challenges to an already formidable task of reducing poverty
    levels in cities. But progress in doing so will not only bring about benefits for the millions living in poor conditions
    and insecure livelihoods, it will bring about positive impacts for the country at large. Cities are, after all, the growth
    engines of many of Asia’s most successful economies, and ensuring better health, education, housing conditions, and
    mobility of the poor, will translate into more productivity and growth for all. This will require massive investments
    in infrastructure, extensive social welfare policies, and new thinking about urban planning.