HOUSING facilities for working class people living in urban areas has been a neglected issue for decades. With goods prices soaring and frequent increases in utility charges, a standard housing facility is beyond the reach of many and they end up living in squalid, crowded shanties in city slums. Not only access to water, gas, power and sanitation is scarce, but there is also risk of frequent fire in the slums. At least four city slum fires have been reported in six months. On Saturday, a fire burnt 200 shanties at the Banani BTCL colony in Dhaka that left 30 people with burn injuries and made hundreds homeless. As the fire broke out at night, people could hardly save their material belongings. A four-member committee is set up to investigate the fire and to estimate the damage that the fire caused. The city authorities have visited the site and promised some relief supplies, nothing yet having reached them.
Housing for working class people who earns a living from menial labour-intensive jobs to keep the city functional is an issue that has never been a policy priority of successive governments. Government responses have so far been limited to setting up investigation committees and giving out relief supplies. On January 24, at least 100 shanties were burnt and two became injured in a fire at the Chalantika slum at Mirpur. In August 2019, in a nearby slum, more than 2000 families lost their belongings to a fire. In all the incidents, committees were set up to investigate the fire and estimate the damage but the findings have not been made public and the affected have rarely received damages. Most people living in the slums are victims of river erosion and other natural disasters who migrated to cities in search of better economic opportunities. An increased number of natural disasters and loss of livelihood because of climate change force people to migrate internally. According to a study of the International Organisation for Migration, about 9.6 million people could migrate internally because of climate factors in 2011–2050. In the light of the projected situation, urban planners have suggested that the cities need a planned housing scheme for low-income people and slum dwellers. Without including these people in the national housing policy, the government cannot secure the right to shelter and livelihood for all.
Recurring fire in slums or high rises is worrying and indicative of the negligence of the authorities concerned to fire safety standards. All the authorities concerned must, therefore, ensure that the committee set up to investigate fires submit its report in time and the recommendations are acted on. For a sustainable solution to the housing crisis of low-income and working class people, the government must, however, develop an inclusive housing policy.
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