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Migrant’s Journey from Rural Bangladesh Shows Sacrifices and Dangers of Slum Life

A 2014 census found that nearly 60 percent of slums in the north and south of Dhaka are built on private land

FILE - A view of Korail slum, one of Bangladesh's largest slums in Gulshan area, Dhaka, Bangladesh. VOA

Dhaka, November 16, 2016: For much of his early life on Bhola, an island in south-central Bangladesh, Mohammed Abul Kalam battled poverty and a hostile river that twice engulfed his homestead.

Now, as a resident of a “bastee,” or private slum on the western edge of the capital, Dhaka, he faces new challenges: the trade-offs he has made on the family’s health, education and security in exchange for being near a source of work.

“I came here because I found no other way,” Kalam said, sitting on the floor of his tin shack.

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The story of how he swapped rural farming for survival in one of Dhaka’s burgeoning slums on privately-owned land reflects the precarious situation of up to half a million Bangladeshis estimated to migrate to the capital each year.

Kalam’s journey began when the Meghna River wiped out his home for the second time, sending the family deep into debt after he borrowed $765 from moneylenders to build a new house.

His neighbors told him, “Go to Dhaka”, suggesting that in order to pay to marry off two teenage daughters, he would have to leave his home in Madras, on Bhola, home to more than two million people, a third of whom live below the poverty line.

With empty pockets, he and his family set off on the 18-hour trip by river to the capital, where he was taken on by a garment washing factory to carry clothes in a role that was a far cry from his old life paddy farming in his village.

Earning just $76 a month, Kalam struggled to make ends meet and, four months into the job, he left to take up other work demolishing buildings with a hammer and a shovel, he said.

This paid a little over $6 a day but the work was irregular and eventually he had no alternative but to find work for his two eldest daughters with a garment producer in Mirpur district.

There, his teenage daughters cut sewing threads and checked clothes for alterations for $51 a month – less than the industry minimum wage of $68.

Rural exodus

Kalam and his family are not alone. According to the World Bank, each year up to half a million rural migrants stream into Dhaka for work, swelling the ranks of the urban poor.

Experts say more than three-quarters of new arrivals end up living in a bastee – owned by private landlords who provide some services – as squatter settlements on public land have disappeared amid demolitions and evictions by authorities.

Since Bangladesh declared independence in 1971, the city’s population has quadrupled to around 20 million. By 2050, it is projected to reach more than 35 million.

Three years on, life for Kalam and his family is far from comfortable. He and his wife sleep on the concrete floor of their one-room shack to leave space for four children who share a bed. The family shares a toilet with 10 households and risk fire by cooking with an electric stove as they have no gas.

Even a brief burst of rain sends water into the bastee, which is spread out over five acres of low-lying land.

“[My] sorrows have a beginning but no end. I have lost everything, but the greatest loss is my daughters’ education,” said Kalam, reflecting on his life in the city.

Private slums

The family rents their room for $32 a month and the landlord takes care of some services, including electricity and water – important in a city where slum-dwellers on public land often have to pay “mastaans”, powerful local figures, for utilities.

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Experts say the failure to re-house inhabitants evicted from homes in public settlements that have been demolished partly accounts for the boom in privately-owned slums.

“Slums are being cleared, but slum dwellers stay behind – they are not leaving Dhaka,” Khondker Rebaca Sun-Yat, executive director at advocacy group the Coalition for the Urban Poor (CUP), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A 2014 census found that nearly 60 percent of slums in the north and south of Dhaka are built on private land, but urban experts and rights groups estimate the figure at 80-90 percent.

Sun-Yat blamed centralized development that focuses services and industries in urban areas for the rise in private slums.

“Cities have sources of income. You build infrastructure in cities; how can you expect rural people not to come to cities?” she said. “If rural areas had income sources and mills and factories, people wouldn’t have come to Dhaka,” she said.

Nevertheless, she warned that cities would “become paralyzed” if slum-dwellers returned to their place of origin.

The development of Dhaka reflects a wider rise in the numbers of urban poor and what economists call the “non-monetary” conditions of poverty, such as overcrowding, vulnerability, poor security and poor sanitation, experts say.

In comparison to rural poverty, urban poverty is surging.

The number of urban poor in Bangladesh rose to 8 million from 6 million between 1991 and 2010, the latest period for which data is available. In contrast, the number of rural poor went down in the same period, to 46 million from 55 million.

Nine in 10 slum-dwellers in Dhaka were born outside the capital, while one-fifth are poor, according to initial results of a 2016 urban slum survey conducted by the World Bank.

Tenure in privately-owned slums is no more secure than in public squatter settlements, according to Salma A. Shafi, treasurer of the Centre for Urban Studies, a think tank in Dhaka.

“The tenants (in private slums) have no security as rents are raised according to the owner-developers’ whims,” she said.

“Without any contractual agreement or legal support, tenants have no power.”

‘Sub-human conditions’

Mosharraf Hossain, Minister of Housing and Public Works, is among those who believe migration to urban areas of Bangladesh is now “unnecessary” as wages have risen in rural areas.

He said the city was not in a position to absorb more rural migrants given the poor state of its sewerage network, which covers just two-fifths of the city’s population.

“It’s better not to have slums,” Hossain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at his ministerial office in central Dhaka. “Slum people are living in sub-human conditions, near the rail lines. This is unnecessary.”

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The government was piloting a low-cost housing project in Mirpur, which would be scaled up if successful, he said.

Kalam said he was prepared to move to another private slum nearby – even for more rent – if he had to, but he did not want to leave Mirpur, where he and his daughters earn their living.

“I never expected my daughters to support me,” he said. “Instead, I dreamed they would continue their education.” (VOA)

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World could see 140mn climate migrants by 2050: Report

World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said the new research provides a wake-up call to countries and development institutions

climate change is happening at a quickened pace and thus leading to melting of huge ice bergs
climate change is happening at a quickened pace and thus leading to melting of huge ice bergs
  • Three regions can witness migration due to climate change
  • The regions also include South Asia
  • It is important to take measures to control climate change

Three densely populated regions of the world, including South Asia, could see internal climate migrants of over 140 million people in the next three decades if climate change impacts continue, a new World Bank Group report finds.

The report, “Groundswell — Preparing for Internal Climate Migration”, released on Monday, finds that unless urgent climate and development action is taken globally and nationally, the three regions — Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America — together could be dealing with tens of millions of internal climate migrants by 2050.

World can witness migration of many due to climate change. VOA
World can witness migration of many due to climate change. VOA

These people will be forced to move from increasingly non-viable areas of their countries due to growing problems like water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise and storm surges.

The “climate migrants” would be an addition to the millions of people already moving within their countries for economic, social, political or other reasons, the report warns. The exodus could create a looming humanitarian crisis and will threaten the development process.

Also Read: Climate change driving dramatic rise in sea levels: NASA

However, with concerted actions — including global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and robust development planning at the country level — this scenario could be dramatically reduced by up to 80 per cent or more than 100 million people.

The report is the first and most comprehensive study of its kind to focus on the nexus between slow-onset climate change impacts, internal migration patterns and, development in these three developing regions of the world.

World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said the new research provides a wake-up call to countries and development institutions. “We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality,” Georgieva said.

It is important to control climate change now.

“Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends. It’s also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable.”

The research team, led by World Bank Lead Environmental Specialist Kanta Kumari Rigaud, include researchers and modellers from CIESIN Columbia University, CUNY Institute of Demographic Research, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Also Read: Maharashtra’s climate action plan yielded disappointments

They applied a multi-dimensional modelling approach to estimate the potential scale of internal climate migration across the three regions. They looked at three potential climate change and development scenarios, comparing the most “pessimistic” (high greenhouse gas emissions and unequal development paths), to “climate-friendly” and “more inclusive development” scenarios in which climate and national development action increases in line with the challenge. Across each scenario, they applied demographic, socio-economic and climate impact data at a 14 grid-cell level to model likely shifts in population within countries.

This approach identified major “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration – areas from which people are expected to move and urban, peri-urban and rural areas to which people will try to move to build new lives and livelihoods. “Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” the report added. IANS