Today around 1 billion people dwell in slums all over the world. This growth is only set to multiply explosively as countries around the world experience rapid urbanisation. It is estimated that by 2050, around 70% of the world’s total population will reside in urban localities. Slums would consequently mushroom as a side effect of urbanisation, particularly in developing countries like Pakistan.
Impact of Urban Slums
1. On Slum Dwellers
- In Sindh, the immunisation rate is exceptionally low, with less than 50% of the population retaining vaccination cards against polio, measles, tuberculosis, and Penta-5 diseases. As of 2014, the coverage rate for various antigens is only 43% in Sindh. In early 2019, an HIV epidemic hit the Sindh population in underserved areas.
- Immunisation is a difficult task due to marginalisation of the slum population, lack of access to health facilities, lack of collective confidence to approach vaccination services, lack of parents’ education to undergo secondary immunisation, and high population density that makes vaccine-preventable diseases a norm.
- It is also challenging to track down immunisation and incorporate the population in the birth registration system.
Various studies based on the correlation between the working status of low-income working women and their health have revealed that due to the lack of schooling and potential skills, women are forced to take on strenuous jobs in domestic settings, factories, or brick kilns. These women are also burdened with caretaking responsibilities of the entire household. The impact of this paid and unpaid work compromises their health and nutrition. They become more prone to fatigue, lack of nutrition, poor appetite, and recurrent diseases.
In the world, 168 million children aged 0-5 are malnourished, and 76% are present in Asian countries. Urban slums provide a vulnerable environment for children with complex social, biological, psychological, and economic factors. Children receive an inadequate diet that leads to stunted growth. Stunted growth increases infections, behavioural issues, cognitive problems, lower productivity, and slim chances for a successful future. Due to the lack of vaccination, many children also suffer from polio and deformations, further aggravating malnutrition.
2. On Urban Life
A general prejudice against slum dwellers exists in urban settings, together with a socio-economic divide. The inequality is evident from;
- Lack of sanitation
- High unemployment
- The vicious cycle of poverty
- High crime rate due to lack of law and order
- Lack of regulation by development authorities
High Transaction Cost
Slum-dwellers have to pay a higher cost to access public services than other citizens and thus face a harsher brunt of diseases and disasters. This leads to the marginalisation of the poor community, with reduced participation in social mobility. It also negatively affects investment opportunities in nearby regions and job opportunities. The lack of tenancy rights and formal oversight segregates the entire area from urban life.
3. On Environment
Slums are active sources of air, water, and land pollution. They are often used as waste sites that contaminate the water gushing through the untreated open drains. The emission from coal, firewood, and filthy water streams pollutes the air. The impact of this pollution spreads into the broader urban fabric, apart from direct effects on the health of slum dwellers.
Contaminated land and water degrades the quality of topsoil and infrastructure of informal settlements that are already weak in stature. There is barely any presence of trees which, if present, are used as firewood. The lack of education and resources aggravates the degradation of slum areas, pollution, and any opportunities for upgrading.
- Due to the lack of proper physical distancing, self-isolation, and strict implementation of the SOPs in slum areas, the residents are at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19.
- The lack of access to health centres and awareness regarding vaccination further complicates the situation.
- Moreover, studies predict a higher risk of gender violence in slums due to lockdowns and difficulty of living.
- Lastly, the economic impact of lockdowns directly affects the daily wagers and low-income groups belonging to these areas.
Being a signatory, Pakistan can achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 that pertains to ensuring safety, resilience, and sustainability in urban planning and human settlements. The current government’s initiatives of ‘Ehsaas Program’ and ‘Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority’ are progressive in tackling covid-19 induced poverty and the lack of affordable housing. However, there’s still a lot to achieve in controlling slum proliferation.
What Else Needs to be Done?
- Each slum area should be provided with basic health facilities with trained doctors and monitoring. Licensed pharmacies should be present with a certain amount of medical credits for the residents, covered under a health safety net program.
- Collaboration with NGOs to provide additional medical services, awareness programs (particularly Covid-19), and vaccines.
- Immunisation awareness about repeated doses and eradication of public fear towards vaccines.
- Public schools should be constructed in the vicinity of slum areas.
- Incorporation of slums into a town or residential plan to allocate land use.
- Welfare programs and NGO initiatives to introduce schooling systems.
- Ensure inclusion of all genders, sects, and ethnicities in these schools.
- Transportation, updated curriculum, free books, and trained teachers.
- Fundraising at prime locations of cities – festivals, concerts, donor programs, etc.
- Home economics to all students must be imparted to eradicate intra-house gender biases.
- Registration policy to get slums under urban planning and registry.
- Gradual upgradation of slums areas starting with basic facilities.
- Low-cost incremental housing.
- Interest-free loans to low-income families.
- Tenancy rights with participatory discussion with the residents.
- Housing schemes specifically targeting slum areas.
- Development projects should not forcefully evict slum dwellers. Upgrading schemes should be considered in all development schemes.
- The National Sanitation Policy of Pakistan should be strictly enforced that caters to suitable liquid and solid waste treatment and sewage systems.
- Cost-effective sewage treatment – biofilters, sedimentary tanks, anaerobic treatment, etc.
- Public toilets and water availability spots should be made secure for women.
- Increasing capacity of nearby dams and linkages to boost water supply.
- Installation of garbage bins and drums.
- Water filter plants, rainwater harvesting, secure tube wells, sturdy water pipelines.
- Allocation of need-based funds and public funds for slum upgradation.
- Participation of the community in all meetings and decision making.
- Collaboration with top brands and NGOs like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Graana.com, WHO, U, WWF, etc., to solve urban slum problems.
Community building and genuine regard for poverty-stricken communities in slum areas lie at the heart of all solutions. Without these factors, any hope for eradicating slum-based poverty is far from reality. For how long will the government and its citizens turn a blind eye to the existence of slum areas? For how long will we continue to reap personal and economic benefits from these low-income groups on the one hand and disregard the plight of their living conditions on the other?