Arming slums against disaster | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 15, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 15, 2019

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Arming slums against disaster

In a disaster-prone city such as Dhaka, slum dwellers are often the most vulnerable to fires, earthquakes, water-logging and other disasters. The fire in Bhashantek slum (known locally as Jahangirer Bosti) this year burnt down 1,000 shanties; the Ilias Mollah slum fire in Mirpur and the Karwan Bazar slum fire of 2018 burnt down nearly 18,000 houses in total; and the Korail slum fire the year before that, gutted at least 500 shanties.

To better prepare slum-dwellers to deal with such disasters (including reducing their risk in the first place) and to ensure that emergency equipment is available, Plan International Bangladesh and Social and Economic Enhancement Programme-SEEP established six Disaster Resource Centres (DRCs) in three slums and two DRC corners at two madrasas in Mirpur. The DRCs were established under a four-year project, 'Journey Towards Disaster Resilient Dhaka City' (JTDRDC).

Every DRC consists of rescue equipment such as safety belts and ropes, stretchers, helmets, loudspeakers, torch lights, whistles, gumboots, hammers, hand saws, fire extinguishers, first aid boxes, tin cutters, masks, hand gloves and much more. DRCs are generally accessible for children and young people living in the community. Under the project, around 1,200 dwellers of three slums have received training on firefighting, rescue and first aid for emergencies.

These DRCs have become lifesavers for thousands of people living in packed slums. Md Mohsin Ali Hawladar, an inhabitant of Beguntila slum in Mirpur area, remembers what could have been a serious fire incident in their slum. “The fire broke out from a gas stove. The middle-aged garment worker who owned the house was at work. Her house was crammed with many belongings, so the fire spread rapidly. But that time we were able to extinguish it quickly using the DRC resources,” explains Hawladar, an urban community volunteer trained in Fire Service and Civil Defense through the JTDRDC project.

Imran Hossain, another trained volunteer of Bauniabadh slum areas, informs us that most of the slum-dwellers don't keep any equipment in their houses (except water and sand bucket thanks to  advocacy by children and youths in the community). DRCs enable them to use valuable resources to protect their homes. “Last month, when Bhashantek slum caught fire, we rushed there with our DRC equipment and gave primary treatment to the injured,” he adds. “Fire service vehicles sometimes can't enter the narrow streets of our slums. By the time they arrived, we have often extinguished the fire already with our resources,” he adds.

Inspired by these DRCs, the Dhaka North City Corporations (DNCC) have also established such a centre at Ward 2 (Bauniabadh) councilor office of DNCC. Anwar Hossain Bhuiyan, slum development officer of the DNCC, informs that these DRCs are effective and necessary for the slum dwellers. He has physically visited some of these centres as well. Besides, people of the communities and different organisations, including the DNCC, have also been using these centres for meetings or recreational activities for children.

Bhuiyan adds that, “Hopefully in our next meetings or while drafting future work-plans, we will try to consider building more centres. Currently, we have five warehouses in five zonal DNCC offices. There is enough equipment to handle any kind of disaster there.” 

The idea of DRCs has already opened the slum-dwellers' eyes. Now, they wait for the government to adopt the model and implement a sustainable measure to reduce their vulnerability to disaster.

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