• Thursday, Apr 09, 2020
  • Last Update : 03:05 am

Dhaka's slums in the dark about Covid-19

  • Published at 10:28 pm March 22nd, 2020

Worryingly, a headcount in the slums showed 650,000 people living in the capital's 3,394 overcrowded slums 

When most Dhaka city residents have limited their movement and many more have already returned to their village homes following the coronavirus outbreak in the country, strikingly enough, most slum dwellers in the capital remain unaware of the deadly disease.

Worryingly, a headcount in the slums showed 650,000 people living in the capital's 3,394 overcrowded slums where families are cramped in single rooms and live in the most unhygienic of conditions. And they do not know how to protect themselves from the deadly virus, also known as Covid-19.

A visit to the city's Korail slum — widely recognized and the largest of its kind in the capital— revealed these findings when this newspaper interviewed people in the slums about the coronavirus on Friday.

Twenty-year-old Mohammad Shamim Miah, who lives there with his wife and two children, said they do not have any hand wash, sanitizer, or even soap, to begin with.

This correspondent noticed five children playing on a bed in the tiny room with poor ventilation. 

Asked, Shamim said he cleans himself at work, but not at his residence which he said is not possible for obvious reasons. 

His wife, Tania Akhter, who works for a Chinese company, has a strange understanding about the highly contagious disease.

"Chinese nationals have been exposed to the virus by watching TV," she said.

Referring to a leaf or medicinal herb which she saw on a YouTube video,which supposedly works as an effective remedy to the virus, Tania asked this correspondent where she could get that. 

Garments worker Shefali Akhter, another Korail slum resident, said she had little or no knowledge about the viral outbreak before this correspondent approached her regarding this Covid-19.

"I reckon, it is likely to be a myth or unreal story which people have been circulating in their conversations or social discourse” she said, terming Covid-19 the "korolavirus.” 

"The government did not warn us about the virus," she said, adding that it is neither possible for them to buy hand washing items, nor keep their children clean at all times in this densely populated place.

"All we can do is say prayers to almighty Allah, if and when the disease strikes us hard," she concluded. 

The three people who talked to this correspondent are from among 20 families living in four blocs of the slum, which a 2017 survey said covers approximately 100 acres and is home to more than 59,000 residents and 18,067 households.

The slums are posing a great health risk of extreme outcomes as crowded places are highly susceptible to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

According to the Child Well Being Survey-2016 and the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), around 75% of slum dwellers live in one room dwelling places, with children in urban slums suffering.

On this matter of concern, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) said it would take proper measures within the next few days.

Tazina Sarwar, chief social welfare and slum development officer at DNCC, said they sat with their ward councilors on Thursday, when they decided to distribute leaflets to slums dwellers as part of an awareness-building campaign.

She was also expecting non-government organizations to join the city corporation in boosting the campaign soon. 

Tazina went on to say: “It is difficult to explain the disease to slum-dwellers as they think it is a fairy tale or rumor.”

Abdun Noor Tushar, a medical doctor and popular media figure, said since the number of Covid-19 positive cases is increasing, it is reasonably mandatory for people to avoid public gatherings and crowds. 

The current situation poses a real threat, specially for high-density places such as slums, he said, fearing that the virus may spread fast if it emerges in any Dhaka city slum.

"For instance, most of the infamous Korail slum will be contaminated by Covid-19 overnight, as it is densely populated,” he said.