The percentage of our poor is growing at its fastest rate in the urban areas of Bangladesh. Along with it, the number of slums is also growing rapidly. Dhaka alone houses nearly 5,000 slums. Approximately 40% of the total urban population is concentrated in these slums.
Their lives aren’t easy. Just fulfilling daily tasks is a difficult endeavour for them. Housing, for them, is a pie-in-the-sky dream.
Too many impoverished families live in tight, congested spaces. Those who are lucky enough to find a dwelling in a slum find themselves in housing systems which are unhygienic and poor even by the most basic of infrastructural regulations.
Deprived of various social and civic rights, a huge number of people live in crowded environments with various natural and man-made risks, and lead a miserable life. Those who have never gone into a slum and have never seen the inside of a slum will not be able to imagine what a miserable reality these people face in their everyday lives.
These poor, deprived, and neglected slum-dwellers provide various services to urban residents. But they can never earn enough to upgrade their impoverished situation.
There are always some uncertainties prevailing in the slums based on issues such as disputes over land-ownership, political violence, and clashes between vested groups. As a result, most of the time, slum-dwellers find themselves vulnerable to many outside forces -- the biggest of these forces being eviction and fire hazards.
Due to a severe lack of economic resources, the survivors of the fire were forced to live in the slums. They had been evicted several times before. But now, everything they had has been destroyed by a fire
Fire in the slums is nothing new in our country. Once a fire spreads, it’s not easy to bring it under control.
On December 4, a deadly fire broke out at Bowbazar, a part of the well-known Korail slum in Dhaka, from where approximately 2.5 million people live, who work almost everywhere around Gulshan, Banani, and Mohakhali.
The electical fire started in a quilt mattress store at a local market. The fire spread rapidly. At the time of the incident, there were hardly any people except the elderly and children in most of the houses.
Due to a severe lack of economic resources, the survivors of the fire were forced to live in the slums. They had been evicted several times before. But now, everything they had has been destroyed by a fire.
Another fire broke out at Saat Tola slum in Mohakhali at around 1am on December 12. More than a hundred families were affected, and an NGO school was completely incinerated.
Slum fires have become a regular event in our country. We are accustomed to almost yearly large-scale fires, and the consequent loss of lives and resources. The Kallyanpur slum fire from last year is still fresh in our minds, but there is hardly any reprieve.
There is no end to this. History repeats itself every year in these slums -- the same helpless scrambling, the same relief distribution, the same media coverage. Every year is the same.
It is dumbfounding how we see this exact same scenario play out, every year, ad nauseum.
If the authorities aren’t able to find a solution to this vicious cycle, then they are part of the problem.
Shamim Hossain is a researcher and development practitioner, currently working at BRAC Urban Development Program.