WaterAid country director in Bangladesh Hasin Jahan said that if the government could relocate some people from slums to nearby areas, it would reduce coronavirus infection risk among the low-income group of people who are at high risk of contracting the virus.
She also urged the government to provide soaps for the slum dwellers with relief materials that should also include rice, dal, potato, oil and other essentials.
For the rural poor, the government has many types of social safety activities and local government representative updated the list of the families frequently, but in urban slums such activities were absent because a huge number of people migrated there suddenly, she added.
Hasin Jahan said that the government could immediately make a complete list of slum residents with the help of the NGOs working in slums and ensure relief distribution among them as many slum people were violating social distancing norms to earn their bread and butter.
WaterAid, an international non-government organisation, is working for the slum people for decades and is mainly focused on improving water, sanitation and hygiene condition in the slums.
She said that all the ministries should concentrate on poor people living in slums across the city as they were still the main challenge to achieve the sustainable development goals in Bangladesh.
Government’s SDG achievement action plan should be revised with a special focus on slums in Dhaka and other cities, she said.
Hasin Jahan said that relocation of these people would not be so easy but if the government could conduct a massive test drive among the slum people with COVID-19 symptoms and arrange for temporary dwelling places in nearby open spaces or at any hotel or ships and ensured them food and addressed other basic needs, it would reduce risks for all.
Hasin Jahan, a civil engineer with WASH, water and environmental management speciality, said that hand wash facility at all the entrances of slums and other spaces inside the slums should be installed immediately as in many slums people have very limited scope for handwashing.
‘When people’s earning reduce they cut their costs in hygiene which will increase the risks of coronavirus spread along with other diseases in this dry season when water quality falls,’ she said while talking with New Age on Friday.
She also said that most of the slum people are uneducated and as such unaware of most of these things. They used to gather violating social distancing rules for lack of awareness while in many areas in Dhaka even the educated and aware people were crowding into public spaces out of their curiosity.
Awareness building is another important task to be carried out among the slum dwellers as many people in such spaces still believe in superstitions, she said.
Hasin Jahan said that the NGOs that suspended operation in slums should resume their operation immediately after ensuring safety of their employees despite the risks involved as other professionals were also taking risks in this situation.
For that, she urged the government for its policy support and asked the NGOs to work more tactfully.
Local government minister Tazul Islam, quoting 2014 census, informed the parliament in June 2019 that around 6.46 lakh people were now living in 3,394 slums in Dhaka.
More than 70 NGOs work for the slum dwellers who claimed that the slum population in Dhaka crossed five million.
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