Monday, December 19, 2011
Dhaka is one of the most rapidly expanding cities in the world. There are 3,500-4,000 slums in Dhaka, and about 35 million people living in slums in the cities. It is estimated that this will increase to about 68 million in 2015. About 40% of the urban population are living in slums and it is an emerging issue that needs to be given attention so that they can live their lives properly.
Poor people migrate to urban areas due to river erosion, natural disasters and lack of employment. They are also contributing to GDP through the non-formal (or informal) and formal economies. Urban poverty has not received due attention from the government, donors and NGOs. As a result, the number of poor has increased gradually.
Urban slums people face many problems. Some are mentioned below:
Slums have been mostly established on public land. So, there is a constant threat of eviction. Although a number of development agencies including the UNDP have protested against any evictions before ensuring rehabilitation, in August and September 2010, and May 2011 we saw three major evictions; two at Sattola slum and T&T (a part of Korail) and one from Bosila road to Buddijibi baribad. As per High Court ruling the government must ensure rehabilitation before eviction, but this is not being followed. One solution may be ensuring the land tenureship for slum dwellers who have nowhere else to go. In the People’s Report 2004-2005: Bangladesh Environment it was stated that average room rent (per sq. ft) is higher in slums than in most of the high quality residential buildings in Dhaka.
Access to Health and Water and Sanitation (WATSAN):
Wasa doesn’t have any plan to set up a water supply system in slums. The People’s Report 2004-2005: Bangladesh Environment stated that people living in slums have to pay 80 times higher prices than the water supplied by Dhaka Wasa. Health of the poor people is the main human asset that needs to be maintained, otherwise any support or efforts will not be effective. The government is the main provider of WATSAN and health services in the country. It is inadequately operated in the slums. But health and WATSAN for the poor are related to different types of illnesses/diseases along with health related expenditure, which is a major contributing factor in their continuing poverty cycle and insecurity. So, access to water and sanitation and health services should be imperative in the National Urban Sector Policy.
VGD, VGF, old aged pension scheme and 100 days work scheme that are available to the rural poor are not available for the extreme poor living in slums. We should ensure safety- nets for them. Although the government has allocated 7.3% of its budget for safety-net programmes, there is nothing for the urban poor. Urban slum dwellers are contributing to Dhaka’s economic growth as they are providing necessary labour to manufacturing, services and other sectors. So, it is important to bring them into the mainstream economy and provide support to lift them out of poverty.
Alternative job opportunity and capacity building:
The City Corporation has suspended issuing licences for new rickshaws and rickshaw vans. But one of the potential income generating activities for many extreme poor households is rickshaw and rickshaw van pulling. . Some old and disabled people are also earning by renting out their rickshaws, rickshaw vans, and boats. We can play a role to convince the City Corporation to provide licences, especially for poor slum people. Besides the allowances, the policy should support capacity building of income generating activities based on individual capability, skills, experiences and interest. Alternative job opportunities and capacity building initiatives for elderly, disabled and widowed extreme poor deserve special attention.
Poor people don’t have any organisation. But it is imperative to have their own organisation where they can raise their voice and clam their right. Cooperatives for the poor people supported by the policy can positively influence sustainability. A one-time asset transfer will not solve their poverty problems; it will require strong linkage with their own registered cooperatives with management systems, access to financial/microcredit institutions, and their understanding of value chain, trade and market linkages.
Public Private Partnership:
The private sector is not responsive to the products of the poor people and their initiatives. But their interest in helping extreme poor as a part of their social responsibility needs to be further advocated and stronger liaison is needed with them. Communication and follow-up between the partners, other stakeholders and service providers are needed in this regard.
So what needs to be addressed for slum people are the following:
* No eviction without rehabilitation;
* Inclusion of safety-net programmes, like VGD, VGF, 100 days works and allowances provided in the rural areas, for the urban poor and extreme poor people;
* Integration of formal service provider with the informal service provider working in the slum;
* Access to water, sanitation and health services; and
* Land ownership so that they are not under the threat of eviction.
It is crucial to apply the appropriate policy for the urban sector, but it should be designed in such a way that slum dwellers’ participation, awareness, and ownership are ensured. These three aspects are very important to make any policy sustainable and successful. Policy should be linked with the sectors or factors contributing to poverty, like assets transfer, health, sanitation, cash stipend for pregnant and lactating mothers and for the disabled, and focus on increasing capacity of the target communities. Active participation of women in developmental activities needs to be supported by the policy. More integration is necessary between the government and NGO programmes and initiatives through policy support for better supporting the urban slum community.
The writer is Project Director, DSK-Shiree Project of the Dhustha Shustha Kendara.