arrow-circle arrow-down-basicarrow-down arrow-left-small arrow-left arrow-right-small arrow-right arrow-up arrow closefacebooklinkedinsearch twittervideo-icon

City Spotlight: Singra, Bangladesh

Formed in 1999, Singra is a small municipality[1] in western Bangladesh near the border with India, sitting between the larger cities of Bogura and Rajshahi. It is currently led by Mayor Mohammed Zannatul Ferdous and has a predominantly Muslim population, while also containing a small Hindu community.

The Municipality joined Strong Cities Network in 2023 after attending the South Asia Regional Hub’s regional workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka on inclusive, city-led approaches to preventing hate, extremism and polarisation.

[1] In Bangladesh, ‘city corporations’ make up the largest tier of urban local government, followed by ‘municipalities’. Both tiers are led by an elected mayor and elected councillors.

 

What is the local government concerned about?

Singra’s economy depends primarily on agriculture and small family businesses. Climate change is thus of particular concern to the local government. For example, Singra is surrounded by three rivers and a vast wetland, which has made it susceptible to floods that are only exacerbated by climate change. The impact of these disasters on Singra’s infrastructure and economy has led to feelings of insecurity amongst residents and increased tensions over access to resources.

In discussions with Strong Cities’ South Asia Regional Hub, Mayor Ferdous expressed concern that the socioeconomic impacts of climate change may fuel a resurgence of terrorism and sectarian violence, which have posed challenges in the past. While the central government provides funding support to address infrastructural damage caused by floods and other natural disasters, the Municipality lacks tools, resources and capacities to effectively address the detrimental effects of climate change on social cohesion and inter-communal tolerance.

How is the local government responding?

Despite a lack of tools and other capacities, the Municipality has implemented several initiatives to mitigate the social impacts of climate change, given the city’s history of sectarian violence.

Community Engagement

Like other municipalities in Bangladesh, Singra has established Town Level Local Committees (TLLCs) that are public forums where citizens can voice their concerns and share their needs. Additionally, the mayor and the city council have sought to engage young people by creating a team of more than a hundred youth that will advise and coordinate youth-relevant activities with the Municipality, including to address the needs that arise out of the TLLCs. Further, through town hall meetings, this group and the Municipality have consulted youth across Singra to better understand the scale of potential harms such as hate, polarisation, sectarianism and extremism, and to deploy youth-informed responses to them.

To further strengthen community engagement and build trust between residents and the local government, the Municipality holds public hearings on a quarterly basis to allow citizens to connect with their elected representatives and the city administration. The participation of minority communities is particularly encouraged in these meetings, which are open to all residents.

Municipal – Law Enforcement Cooperation

A significant part of Singra’s efforts to prevent hate, extremism and polarisation involves cooperation with the national government to implement its counter terrorism action plan. This includes through the establishment in Singra of a ‘Rapid Action Battalion’ and the ‘Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit’, which work with national law enforcement to mitigate terrorist threats locally. This includes both identifying and addressing potential cases of radicalisation to violence, as well as to coordinate on the protection of soft targets and other infrastructure and to dismantle active terrorist cells.

Cooperation with International Partners

The Municipality’s efforts to prevent hate and extremism are supplemented by support from multilateral donors, such as Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), to mitigate the economic impacts of climate change, including through diversifying its economy and through other ecosystem uplift programmes. In this context, Singra was appointed as the first Voluntary Local Review (VLR) city in Bangladesh, meaning it is undertaking a review of the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals at the local level. This will inform the Municipality’s policy priorities going forward.  

Our experience so far based on our work to promote peace and harmony in Singra has shown us that we are unable to provide security and wellbeing for communities without these four pillars.

Zannat ul Ferdous, Mayor, Municipality of Singra

What’s next?

Going forward, with Strong Cities’ support, Singra will continue to strengthen its approach to preventing hate, extremism and polarisation, including through the development of a designated local action plan against these threats. Mayor Zannat ul Ferdous has identified four pillars (see below) that he considers to be key to developing such a framework, and is working towards achieving these through the above initiatives:

  1. Willingness and trust for the local community to cooperate with the Municipal Council.
  2. Commitment of citizens to democracy and respecting the democratic process during elections.
  3. Strong cooperation and coordination between the municipality and law enforcement.
  4. Consensus among local political elites to collaborate with the local civil ministration on prevention.

The Mayor has further identified three priorities for the Municipality to strengthen its whole-of-society approach to prevention. Firstly, it involves institutionalising national-local cooperation. While there is already significant cooperation with the national government, the Mayor and other municipal officials believe this is largely due to the existing personal relationships between them and national government counterparts, and that this is therefore not sustainable. A priority in the coming months is thus to institutionalise NLC to guarantee a long-term successful partnership. Secondly, Singa practitioners would benefit from more resources and strengthened capacities to effectively engage in hate and extremism prevention work. To this end, the Strong Cities South Asia Regional Hub will work with the city to facilitate its implementation of guidance provided in Strong Cities’ Guide for Mayors and Guide for Cities. Third and finally, gender-based violence is of increasing concern to the Municipality and thus the Mayor wants it seek subject-matter expertise and technical support on this topic to develop and start implementing an action plan to address this particular form of violence.

Is your city a Strong City?

Strong Cities membership is open to local authorities at the city, municipal or other subnational level. Membership is free of charge.