Poverty, accompanied by inflation and lack of affordable housing, has resulted in more and more people squatting in slums housing over 640,000 people.
Urban planners, however, said the slum population had already surged up to 44 percent of the city’s current residents, who paid through the nose for their living, sometimes more than the super-wealthy classes of such areas as Baridhara, Gulshan and Banani.
The Korail slum lying at the edge of Banani and Gulshan is a typical of hundreds of other slums in the city. Home to over 40,000 people, the slum sits on a 19-hectare government land.
Dilapidated and dirty roads, with heaps of garbage strewn throughout, lead to the country’s largest as well as longest-standing informal settlement, male inhabitants of which work as day labourers, rickshaw-pullers and the likes, while their female counterparts pitch in by working as domestic helps in the high-rises.
However, insecurity, fear of eviction and uncertainty over alternative housing have left them high and dry, with the ICT Division planning to set up a hi-tech park – Mohakhali ICT Village, as it has been dubbed – in the slum area.
Nasima Begum, a resident of the slum, said: “We heard of the government’s plan to conduct an eviction drive to clear the area. Should we be evicted, we will have nowhere to go but the streets.
“We live from hand to mouth. Although one of his legs is untenable, my son Masud supports our five-member family with whatever small earnings he can make by pulling rickshaw.”
Migrating from Jamalpur in search of livelihoods, they live in a squalid shanty made of corrugated tin and bamboo that they have rented for Tk1,500 a month, the 55-year-old woman said.
“My life is almost over. Come rain or shine, I would be able to pass the rest of the days on roads,” a tearful Nasima said.
Echoing her, Kurrum, a 48-year-old auto-rickshaw driver who left his Mymensingh village home in his mid-20s, said they would be left at the god’s mercy if they were evicted from the settlement since they had no other place to go.
Revealing the horrors of their ordeals, many said eviction, fire, extortion and sexual harassment had become their constant companions. Added to that are turf wars among thugs over taking control of the slum to run their drug businesses.
Another inhabitant, Renua Begum, 45, said a makeshift shop for selling rickshaw-pullers rice and curry had been their lone source of livelihoods. But misfortune befell them in December last year, when it was burnt to ashes in a devastating fire.
She alleged that no governments had ever taken any development initiative for them even though they were enfranchised.
“Here water is in short supply. Toilets are few and dirty. Many defecate in the open. Women have no choice either,” said Renua.
After losing everything in soil erosion in her home district Tangail, Hazera Begum, who migrated to the city in 2012, managed to find sanctuary in the slum.
She along with her husband and son used to live in a shanty of 100 sq-feet that they rented for Tk2,000 a month. The owner raised the rent to Tk 2,500 for a new one of the same size after the fire had reduced the old one, along with their belongings, to rubble, she said.
Though the colony lacks proper amenities and is fraught with innumerable dangers due in part to its shoddy construction, they say it is far better for them to stay where they are rather than go home to their respective villages.
“The lives we lead may be more of an animal’s than a human being’s. We will not go anywhere whatsoever. There is nothing to do back there,” added Hazera, the wife of a rickshaw-puller.