Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Strategies to Reduce Exclusion among Populations Living in Urban Slum Settlements in Bangladesh

Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Strategies to Reduce Exclusion among Populations Living in Urban Slum Settlements in Bangladesh

Article excerpt


In this paper, the term 'slum' has been consciously used rather than 'informal settlement' for the following reasons: during my research with residents of slums, I have found that all of them unanimously refer to their 'informal' settlements as bastees, slums and often commented, 'bastees are where even dogs do not live ... we live worse than animals ....' Secondly, the term 'informal settlement' is misleading as it does not capture the realities of residents living in slums, which have been long neglected by the state. Finally, the term 'informal settlement' has a particular meaning and definition --the absence of regulated housing structures resulting in informal structures. However, many housing estates in Dhaka are not regulated and are built in the margins of the city. These, therefore, can be referred to as informal settlements but these are not slum settlements. Furthermore, some slum settlements in Calcutta are being regularized. Perhaps, these are no longer informal settlements, although populations continue to live in conditions which reflect the characteristics of most slums.

The health and rights of people living in slum settlements are key development issues of the twenty-first century. As of 2007, the majority of the world's population lives in urban areas. More than one billion of these people, or one in three city-dwellers, live in inadequate housing with no or a few basic resources (1). Bangladesh, one of the poorest and most densely-populated countries in the world, is facing rapid urbanization.

Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 is: by 2020 to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million people who live in slum settlements (2). The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh (1972) outlines that the Government of Bangladesh is responsible for creating an environment that allows its citizens to improve the quality of their lives through access to health, education, and other basic services. Despite these edicts and Dhaka's huge growth, Bangladesh has no explicit or comprehensive policy on urbanization and urban poverty (2).

Bangladesh has an urban population of about 35 million, approximately 25% of its total population (145 million). The urban population, growing rapidly since the Independence in 1971, has now a growth rate of 3.5% annually. By 2015, Bangladesh is predicted to have an urban population of almost 50 million (3). Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the fastest-growing megacities in the world. An estimated 300,000-400,000 migrants, mostly poor, arrive at the city annually (4). Dhaka's population of 12 million is expected to grow to around 20 million in 2020, and Dhaka is projected to be the world's third most populous city (3,5).

This rapid growth of urban population is fuelled by migration of the rural poor to the cities, drawn by perceived chances of finding cash employment in the industrial sector and pushed by the limited opportunities in rural areas. On arrival, many are unable to afford proper housing and so, turn to live in slum settlements. Urban slum settlements are generally excluded from public-sector resources, severely limiting access of residents to formal education, healthcare services, and water and sanitation.

In Bangladesh, slum settlements tend to be built on vacant government land or private vacant land located in low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding and other natural disasters. A spatial mapping found that approximately 7,600 households in slum settlements are within 50 metres of a river and at the risk of being flooded (4,6). Of 9,048 slum settlements studied by Islam, only 10% had sufficient drainage to avoid water-logging during heavy rains (6). Many slum settlements are built on waste or polluted spaces, exposing residents to industrial noxious wastes. Houses in slum settlements are usually made of flimsy material which provides little protection from fire, or monsoon rain [The United Nations' definition of an informal settlement is: an area characterized by overcrowding, deterioration, insanitary conditions, or absence of facilities and amenities which, because of their conditions or any of them, endanger the health, safety and morals of its inhabitants and community (7). …

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