DHAKA, – Up to 40,000 people living in the biggest slum in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, could be facing eviction after a court order to clear government land in the city. So far 4,500 have been put out of their homes, and activists claim there are similar plans for the rest of the residents in the coming months.
“Our day starts with the fear of bulldozer sounds and ends with the same fear,” Sopna Begum, 35, who lives in the Korail slum in the northern part of the city, told IRIN. “We cannot sleep at night, not knowing whether we will be evicted the next day or not.”
Such stories are not uncommon in this megacity of 14.6 million people, which the World Bank expects to top 20 million in 2020.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 new migrants arrive each year in search of a better life, placing additional strain on already stretched services. Thousands settle in makeshift shelters in large informal settlements on government land, where there is often no piped water, electricity or sanitation, or provision is informal and not always safe.
Exact numbers are not available, but at least 60,000 people were displaced by evictions in 27 of Dhaka’s slums between 2006 and 2008, the Economic Empowerment of the Poorest (EEP) Programme, a joint initiative by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bangladesh Government, reported in 2011.
Although some of the people in Shopna’s shanty were evicted in early April, she and her three children and husband were still able to remain in their partly demolished shelter. Not everyone is that lucky – many are now spending their nights in the open.
On 4 April, the Dhaka district administration began demolishing around 2,000 illegal structures. According to the rights group, Coalition of Urban Poor, some 4,500 people were forced to leave their homes without advance notice, making it impossible for them to retrieve their belongings.
District magistrate Selim Hossain Bhuiyan noted that the evictions had been carried out in accordance with a January court order instructing that the land be cleared, and that “The High Court order is valid until someone appeals or gets a stay order.”
Photo: Mushfique Wadud/IRIN
|Sopna Begum can’t sleep at night out of fear of being evicted|
Korail, located on 69 hectares of government land, is the largest slum in Dhaka and home to at least 40,000 urban poor, many of them former farmers who came to the capital in search of jobs and now work as rickshaw pullers, garment workers or domestic helpers.
Dhaka’s slum residents face the constant threat of eviction, rights activists say, and warn of consequences if Korail’s slum dwellers do not receive the assistance and support they need. Many accuse the government of ineptitude in addressing the problems of providing housing and services.
“I have no place to go. I will have to live on the streets with my husband if I am evicted,” said Johra Begum, 60, who has lived in the Korail slum for the last 15 years. She collects used bottles along the roadside and earns around US$45 per month to care for herself and her handicapped husband.
Kamal Hossain, 30, who survives by selling vegetables in an open market, was just as worried about where he would go if he and his family were put out of their shack. “It is not possible to manage the cost of a rented house with the little amount of money I earn,” he said.
For the moment, a court order has stopped further demolition, but the risk of eviction in Korail is not over. “There will be a social problem in the city if a large number of people are evicted without any rehabilitation programme,” said Khondker Rebaka Sun-Yat, executive director of Coalition for Urban Poor, emphasizing the need for government assistance.
“It is government’s responsibility to ensure the accommodation for all its citizens,” said Tofail Mohammad Alamgir Azad, one of the authors of a 2011 report by EEP and an expert on urban poverty. He warned of the adverse impact of eviction on residents.
“Without ensuring their rehabilitation, government cannot evict the slum dwellers,” he said. In 2008 the Bangladesh High Court ordered the government to ensure rehabilitation arrangements for Korail’s residents were in place before evicting them.
According to The United Nations Human Settlement Programme, more than 500 million people in informal accommodation – over half the world’s slum population – live in the Asia Pacific region, which includes countries like Bangladesh.