The government is duty-bound to provide basic amenities like safe water and housing to the urban poor living in slum settlements for their direct contribution to the country's economic development, leading development practitioners told a workshop yesterday.
The slum dwellers, as per a survey on seven settlements in Dhaka, Chittagong and Bogra, prioritised safe drinking water, adequate quality latrines, sanitation, housing, schools and job security as needs to escape the vicious cycle of poverty, ill-health and illiteracy.
For these priority needs, including basic hygiene knowledge and medical services, this enormous population living in informal settlements remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and fail to live a decent human life, said the survey.
It was conducted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex, UK in collaboration with ActionAid Bangladesh and Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).
IDS and ActionAid Bangladesh organised the workshop, “Informal Work and Wellbeing in Urban Areas”, at a Gulshan hotel in the capital.
Over 90 percent of respondents said to have used shared latrines, said Prof Ferdous Jahan of BIGD.
Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, who moderated the consultation, said there were examples of the Indian government providing some basic amenities to slum dwellers in Kolkata and Mumbai.
The survey, citing UN findings, said around 62 percent of the Bangladesh population live in informal settlements, surviving on informal work like housekeeping, plying rickshaws and auto-rickshaws for hire, manual labour, masonry, hawking and vending tea.
Citing the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, it said Bangladesh's urban population was growing at a rate of three percent annually as a result of rapid urbanisation and economic opportunities. Simultaneously, urban poverty is increasing with over 21 percent of the urban population living in poverty.
A number of them present at the workshop said they were held hostage by slumlords with powerful political connections while local public representatives spoke for musclemen controlling the slums.
“We pay our slumlords Tk 1,600 per month for a 65-square foot of space to live with family, buy drinking water and electricity and pay for shared latrine,” said Kulsum Begum from the Beltoli slum in Kalyanpur.
There remains no penny to finance the education of children, said Kulsum, a domestic help.
An IDS fellow, Dr Dolf te Lintelo, and Salma A Shafi, a renowned architect, town planner and honorary treasurer of the Centre for Urban Studies, spoke among others while M Hafiz Uddin Khan, former adviser to a caretaker government and currently treasurer of ActionAid Bangladesh, chaired the workshop.