Slum people pay more for basic needs

Ahammad Foyez

People living in the sprawling slums in three cities, including Dhaka, are purchasing basic services like water, electricity and dwelling from informal sources at rates higher than the middle class and well-off sections spend on utilities provided by government agencies.
‘Most slum dwellers in urban areas are engaged in informal work and they also purchase some basic needs from informal sources,’ said a joint study of BRAC University’s institute of development studies and Actionaid Bangladesh.
Actionaid on Sunday made public the findings at a workshop on ‘Informal Works and Wellbeing in Urban Areas’ at a hotel in the capital.
Researchers said that absence of an urban poverty reduction strategy and limited government services force slum dwellers to live in substandard and unsanitary conditions. In most slums the people do not have easy access to 10 basic services, including drinking water, enclosed toilet facility, access to dwelling and schooling for children.
The Actionaid study explored the determinants of wellbeing for informal workers living in slums in Bangladesh and India.
In Bangladesh, the study was conducted in seven informal settlements in Dhaka, Chittagong and Bogra cities, which were selected as mega, established and emerging cities respectively.
Of them, two settlements each are located in Chittagong and Bogra cities and three others in Dhaka.
Centre for Policy Dialogue executive director Mustafizur Rahman told New Age that landlords, who set up and control such informal settlements by grabbing government lands, or in cases private owners of slums charge their tenants more for electricity, gas and water at rates higher than the government agencies do.
In two of the slums, people have to purchase a jar of water at a rate of Tk 1-5, the survey found.
They said that the survey collected data through focus group discussions. The survey included 709 male and 755 female respondents across the sites. It was not designed to be statistically representative at city or national level, they added.
‘Only one person among the dwellers of the seven settlements works as a 4th class employee in a government office. The income of the people living in these settlements varies from Tk 50 per day to Tk 10,000 per month,’ the survey found.
Addressing the workshop as chief guest, former caretaker government adviser Actionaid treasurer M Hafiz Uddin Khan said that there was no collective initiative to address the problem of urban poverty.
The government, instead of addressing the issue, was compounding the problems by eviction of slum dwellers in the name of development work without taking steps for their rehabilitation.
‘The problems will remain until the government adopts an effective strategy for urban poverty reduction,’ he added.
Mustafizur Rahman suggested that the government should find ways to give utility connections to slums directly both for the benefit of the government and slum dwellers as well as to check power and water pilferage.
The study provides four policy recommendations for addressing the problems, including greater attention to people’s wellbeing priorities to guide supporting interventions.
It also recommended basic services to the people living in informal settlements so that they could enhance their capability and enter into formal sectors and escape from the trap of poverty.
The recommendations also included formulation of an inclusive urban policy that would ensure inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urban settlements for all people living in urban areas and respecting the citizen rights of the people living in informal settlements upholding their human dignity.
According to a study of Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre, a policy research institute in Islamabad, Pakistan, published in November 2014, Bangladesh has the highest number of slum dwellers – 60 per cent of the urban population in the South Asian region.
It said the country has the highest number of urban people living below the poverty line – 21 per cent, as opposed to 14 per cent in India, 13 per cent in Pakistan, 5 per cent in Sri Lanka and 15 per cent in Nepal.
Among others, Centre for Urban Studies honorary treasurer Salma A Shafi, Actionaid director Tariqul Islam, Dhaka University teacher Ferdous Jahan, IDS fellow Dolf te Lintelo and Actionaid country director Farah Kabir were present at the programme.

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