As the entire nation is beleaguered fighting constantly against the ferocity of the coronavirus disease, the issue of slum dwellers in the city facing high risk of coronavirus infection is seen as a steep blow on all concerned.
The slum dwellers, who live on hand to mouth, might fall prey to coronavirus (Covid-19) infection as most of them do not maintain personal hygiene as well as social distancing, experts said.
This is beyond logical ground to expect slum dwellers to spend extra money for maintaining health guidelines and proper hygiene as most of them struggle every day for their meals.
While visiting different slums in the capital, this correspondent found that four to eight people were living in a small room. One person's body gets stuck with another's on their way back and forth as the road is very narrow.
Similar condition is prevailing in all the slums of the capital, including Karail slum, Vasantek slum, Kalyanpur Porabasti, Beguntila slum of Mirpur, BNP slum, seven-storied slum of Mohakhali.
Experts said that public-private awareness campaign needs to be stepped up to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection.
They said adequate water and soap should be provided in the slums. Otherwise, the situation will deteriorate further.
According to slum dwellers, almost all of them are low-income people. Some are rickshaw-pullers, some drive vans, some are day laborers, some are domestic workers and some are garment workers.
They go out in search of works in the morning. They are being forced to live a miserable life as they have not had a job for a long time.
“We cannot eat properly and maintain health guidelines. In April, we got some relief, but now we are living an inhuman life,” said, Salma, a resident of capital’s Karail slum.
She said, “It is not possible for most of the slum dwellers to use masks.”
Kalyanpur Porabasti slum dweller Morzina Begum said, “We are alert but most of the slum dwellers are not aware of the virus. We have no hand sanitizer.”
“Those who work as housemaids in different houses know a lot, we have heard about safety measures from them,” she added.
Khandaker Rebecca Saniat, executive director of the Coalition for the Urban Poor (CUP), said, “The government should give importance to slums immediately. The slum dwellers have to be kept in quarantine side by side with going for corona tests.”
“As low-income people live in slums, they have to go different places in quest of work for livelihoods. If necessary, the government should arrange their foods and keep them in quarantine,” she added.
She also said that most of the slum people are uneducated and as such unaware of most of these things. They are used to gather violating social distancing rules for lack of awareness while in many areas in Dhaka even the educated and conscious people were seen crowding into public spaces.
WaterAid country director in Bangladesh Hasin Jahan said that if the government could relocate some people from slums to nearby areas, it would reduce coronavirus infection risk among the low-income people who are at high risk of contracting the virus.
She also urged the government to provide soaps for the slum dwellers along with relief materials that should also include rice, pulse, potato, oil and other essentials.
For the rural poor, the government has earmarked a number of social safety programmes with local and government representatives updating the lists of the needy families frequently, but urban slums are devoid of such activities because a huge number of people migrated there suddenly, she added.
According to 2014 census of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), about 22 lakh 32 thousand people live in some 13,935 slums in the country. Of these, about 11.44 lakh are men, 10.86 lakh are women and 1,752 are transgenders.
According to the BBS report, the highest number of slum dwellers (10.62 lakh people) lives in Dhaka division as the number of slums in Dhaka stands at 3,394.
However, more than 70 NGOs work for the slum dwellers who claimed that the slum population in Dhaka crossed 50 lakh.