Slum Dwellers: Unwanted in Bangladesh

Tanjila Drishti is a One Young World Ambassador from Bangladesh who wrote this blog in response to the recent eviction of the Kollyanpur slum in Dhaka city, which left hundreds of people homeless and sleeping under the open sky. Tanjila currently works as Regional Coordinator of Urban Development Programme, BRAC. She also serves as the elected divisional Public Relations Coordinator of Volunteer for Bangladesh (VBD).

 

Bangladesh is a developing country with a high population density. The country has been facing rapid urbanization over the past few years. There is a significant rural to urban migration within the country. There are various causes and factors influencing this internal migration, which includes but are not limited to employment opportunities, access to higher education, access to better facilities, industrialization etc. According to recent UN data 25% of Bangladesh’s current population lives in urban areas. Out of this 25% almost half resides in the four largest cities Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna. Due to lack of decentralizing of opportunities and services, Dhaka city is carrying a population of approximately 12 million. This includes a significant number of low-income people who are residing in slums in Dhaka.

Many of these slums have grown on government and private lands. Since the slum dwellers do not have ownership over the land they reside on, they are under a constant threat of eviction. Very recently, Kollyanpur Slum in Dhaka North City Corporation area was evicted leaving hundreds of people homeless. There are people among them who have lost their homes previously due to riverbank erosion and shifted to Dhaka the capital in order to earn a living. There are people who have been living in this area for three generations now. They have called this city home for years. One fine day, they have bulldozers running over their homes like monsters in a bad nightmare. Now, these people are sleeping under the open sky without access to proper sanitation, safe drinking water and cooking facilities.

Many of the people who reside in these slums serve as the much-needed daily labor that the nation utilizes everyday in the RMG sector and other industries. As a nation, we use them for our economic growth but seems like we do not care much about their wellbeing. Unfortunately, only few organizations have stepped in, to help the slum dwellers after the kollyanpur eviction. BRAC was one of them. BRAC urgently provided free medical check up and medicines for 131 people in the slum followed by blanket distribution to 1000 most needy families who lost their homes and are sleeping out in the cold.

The trend of slum evictions is something that needs immediate attention from government, NGOs and private sectors. It is crucial that Bangladesh develops a pro poor governance system at this point. The development of a nation cannot come at the cost of sabotaging lives and potentials of a significant population of the country. If the lands on which the slums have grown are to be vacated, there needs to be proper rehabilitation of the slum dwellers before taking up that land. Running bulldozers over their homes, subjecting them to mental and physical trauma and leaving them to suffer and starve in cold under the open sky can never be a justifiable option. This man-made disaster is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis.

There should be some policy level input in making the process non-violent and harmless. The government needs to ensure safe rehabilitation by allocating low cost living space for the existing slum dwellers before taking over the land. On the other hand, government, NGOs and private sectors need to give immediate attention on decentralizing of opportunities and services in order to decrease the pull factor of rural to urban migration. This may help in decreasing the formation of new slums on these areas. Instead of confining urbanization to just few cities, the whole country needs to be allowed to grow at the same scale.

The governing system of Bangladesh should start treating urbanization as resource instead of a threat. It is time that, as a nation Bangladesh starts focusing on finding ways of managing the urban poor population with respect and dignity so that they can serve to their full potential in making the nation grow.