Mumbai, India - May 23, 2018: An aerial view slum of newly painted by 'Chal Rang De' at Khar Danda in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (Photo by Ragul Krishnan/ HT PHOTO)(HT PHOTO)
Mumbai, India - May 23, 2018: An aerial view slum of newly painted by 'Chal Rang De' at Khar Danda in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (Photo by Ragul Krishnan/ HT PHOTO)(HT PHOTO)

When Covid-19 enters India’s slums

India is home to one-third of the global slum population. The State needs a plan
By Miniya Chatterji and Mohammad Zeeshan
UPDATED ON MAR 23, 2020 06:43 PM IST

The spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India’s slums will be even faster than in the non-slum areas we seem to be tracking so far.

Overcrowding, lack of clean water, poor sanitation, social dependency, larger number of human contacts, low disease immunity of dwellers, besides poor medical facilities make for tremendous speed and size of virus transmission in slums. The poor quality of air in urban slums are a common cause for respiratory diseases that further reduces the respiratory tract’s ability to shut the coronavirus down. Our research at the Centre for Sustainability has explored the implications of the unique social infrastructure of slums in India on the significant role it plays in the spread of Covid-19.

India is home to about one-third of the global slum population, with an average of one in six city residents living in slums where population densities vary between 277,136 persons per square kilometre (sq km) in Dharavi to 125,000 persons per sq km at the Rasolpoora slum in Hyderabad. Slums are an integral part of the city’s economy as that is where a majority of workers and domestic help stay.

Various authors have estimated that reproductive ratio (R naught) for Covid-19 is somewhere between two and three, and that it would be about 20% more in the case of India’s slum population. This means that the reproductive ratio of Covid-19 would range between 2.4 to 3.6 in Indian slums. R naught applies to a situation where everyone in the population is susceptible, and no control measures are taken. It gives us the number of new cases that an existing case can generate over time, on an average. If R naught is below one, the population of infected individuals will get smaller and smaller over time. But in a fictitious population, where one infected person infects three other individuals on average — A gives it to three people (B, C, and D) and these three people give it to three more people each — R naught is equal to three.

Indeed, the spread of Covid-19 depends on the susceptible population that an infected person is going to encounter per time unit — let us say per day, times the average duration of infectiousness in days, times the average probability that transmission will take place per unit of contact. In order to ascertain if Covid-19 is going to spread fast and wide, besides the R naught, we need to also know the serial interval of the spread. The serial interval is a measure of how fast the disease spreads from one person to the next, and this changes across localities and time.

We took a fictional case of 1,000 individuals in a Delhi slum who have never been exposed to the coronavirus. While R naught is three, we find the current serial interval in a moderately dense Delhi slum zone to be close to about 7.5 days. So, in the first 7.5 days, the infected person infects three people, and they develop the disease.

After 7.5 more days, each of these individuals infects three more people, and they, then, develop the disease. So, we now have nine infected people, and, after 7.5 more days, each one of those nine people infects three people each. Similarly, after another phase of 7.5 days, each 27 infected individuals infect three people each, which means 81 individuals. Add the first individual with the next three, then the next nine, then the next 27, and then the final 81. And, in a month, you have 121 new cases per 1,000 people.

This simulation indicates the high speed of spread of Covid-19 in all the slums in Delhi/India. Assuming such a community transmission occurs, we are in for a disastrous situation, for which the precautionary measure of maintaining physical distance between individuals in slums appears impossible for at least three reasons.

First, the sheer lack of living space in slums makes physical distancing of people impossible. The average slum household size in India is typically three times larger than a non-slum household, but members only have a few square metres to live within it. The average population density is about 1,000 people per square mile but in the slums, it is 10-100 times higher.

Second, the lack of adequate social security by the State or private insurance makes the fight against Covid-19 even more complex. It leads to the impossibility of expecting slum dwellers to socially distance themselves from the only insurance policy they usually have — their family and social networks.

Third, with an average of 88.7% of households in India having access to improved sanitation services under the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the situation is better than it was before 2014. However, access to sanitation is still low. Our research indicated that 70.30% households in Delhi slums do not have improved sanitation. The situation is much worse in Dharavi with one toilet per 1,440 residents. How do people maintain social distance in such situations? Moreover, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic survives even longer than three days in faecal matter, which makes crowding around toilets and living amid bad drainage a major threat at this time.

And so, instead, we propose the immediate roll-out of the following urgent measures.

First, the focus must shift to proactive testing for asymptomatic and symptomatic Covid bearers within the most vulnerable, high population density pockets of our population. There are genuine capacity issues but this would mean that we need mandatory testing of Covid-19 of all slum inhabitants across India. Quarantine the asymptomatic and symptomatic bearers of the virus in slum zones in different isolated locations.

Second, we need to ensure that slum residents do not have to crowd around sanitation facilities. Install temporary or mobile toilets.

Third, we must deploy tankers to immediately provide clean water to slums so they can maintain good hygiene.

Our research shows that 19.15% of inhabitants of slums in Delhi have no clean water sources. About 160 million Indians do not have access to clean water, and definitely not hand sanitisers.

And, finally, the only way individuals suffering from mild to severe symptoms from the slums will come forward is if they think the State or the health authorities can do something to help them. We must not make Covid-19 a social stigma.

Miniya Chatterji is CEO, Sustain Labs Paris; adjunct professor, SciencesPo Paris; and director, Centre for Sustainability (CFS), Anant National University. Mohammad Zeeshan is senior researcher at CFS. This piece was co-authored by Dhaval Monani and Sharadbala Joshi of CFS
The views expressed are personal
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)

Espionage to smuggling, scandals spice up every poll in Kerala

By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvanathapuram
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 07:26 PM IST
  • controversies and scandals were part of the state polity in the last three decades and mushrooming digital media also played its part in amplifying them, said a political observer.
Close
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)

Why 2021 political rhetoric is no match for 1962 fighting in Ladakh

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 02:15 PM IST
  • India and China came close to war last year after Indian army commanders atop Rezang La-Rechin La ridge threatened to fire at the advancing PLA tank regiment that sought to dislodge the Indian troopers.
Close
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)

J&K delimitation: Go by the population rule

By Haseeb Drabu
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 06:39 PM IST
Having already decided on the number of electors as well as the number of elected, the only part of delimitation that has been left to the Commission is the electoral cartography — the redrawing of boundaries and enclosing people within the constituency framework. Notwithstanding these debilitating infirmities in the context of J&K, the redrawing of the constituencies is an extraordinarily complex and highly contentious exercise. It can potentially alter the electoral demographic balance.
Close
Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

Congress needs to worry more about rebels than opponents in Puducherry

By Abhishek Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:32 PM IST
The only time the Congress has lost Puducherry, it has been because of a rebel. The Congress and DMK together have won over 50% seats in every assembly elections in Puducherry since 1980, except in 2011
Close
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)

Behind PM Modi’s stinging critique of the IAS, a Jan meeting holds the clue

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 17, 2021 09:35 AM IST
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given bureaucrats an earful at a January meeting of the country's top officials and underlined the price that India paid for their slow pace.
Close
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.

Salute to Ghulam Nabi Azad underlined PM Modi’s personal ties with rivals

By Saubhadra Chatterji | Edited by Abhinav Sahay, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 14, 2021 03:37 PM IST
  • Leaders from the Congress and other Opposition parties have many stories to show that the Prime Minister has maintained personal rapport with leaders cutting across political boundaries.
Close
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)

Not just climate change, Chamoli disaster was human-induced

UPDATED ON FEB 08, 2021 12:15 PM IST
Stone quarrying, blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels in the base of the mountain system for two dams on Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers played havoc with the local ecology
Close
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)

Perception is the truth in information warfare over farm laws

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi, Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON FEB 04, 2021 01:42 PM IST
  • The Chinese were among the first to recognise the role of information warfare to weaken the adversary from within
Close
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)

A new confidence about India reflects in a bold Budget 2021

By Monika Halan
UPDATED ON FEB 01, 2021 09:59 PM IST
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has chosen to spend on generating future income using the higher capital spending, which has gone up by 35.4% over the previous year
Close
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)

The life and times of a Patna intellectual

UPDATED ON JAN 31, 2021 06:20 AM IST
Shaibal Gupta was rooted and cosmopolitan; idealistic and pragmatic; and an insider and outsider — all at the same time. Patna’s public life will not the same without him.
Close
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)

Jaishankar yellow-cards China for violating pacts, spells out the India way

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 03:02 PM IST
  • S Jaishankar’s speech on India-China ties signals India’s determination to continue to stand up to Xi Jinping’s expansionist plans for Asia as an equal and makes it clear that nothing that Beijing does against India will be overlooked, or allowed to go unpunished.
Close
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)

Jack Ma story: China’s deep strategic ambition

By Manoj Kewalramani
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 04:50 AM IST
This statist vision of the future is very different from the government creating a level-playing field for private capital to compete and the market to do its job. It is about the State guiding capital and private entities towards what it believes are national strategic priorities, rather than allowing them to simply focus on generating greater revenue.
Close
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

Republic Day raid was pre-meditated, planned well in advance

UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2021 02:17 PM IST
With Delhi Police under firm orders not to open fire, the armed Nihang Sikhs provided the cover for the tractors to roll towards Red Fort.
Close
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.

How unruly farmers tried to embarrass India on Republic Day

UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2021 02:09 PM IST
The tractor-borne unruly farmers were minutes away from India Gate when they were blocked by New Delhi Range police.
Close
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The policy landscape around digital and physical micro-lending

By Amol Agrawal
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
In 1870s, a similar backlash emerged in Poona and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay presidency. The agriculture boom in the early 1860s led farmers to take loans from moneylenders
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP