City slums prove to be biggest challenge in tackling Covid-19 battle
As Mumbai crosses the 10,000 coronavirus cases mark on Wednesday, it is clear that stemming the spread of the pandemic in the city’s slums and congested areas is turning to be one of biggest challenges for the state and city administration.
Local representatives and ground-level NGO workers point out that the plight of the slum dwellers is worsening due to lapses in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) handling to contain the virus. They have called for a more differentiated approach in every ward or slum cluster facing the outbreak, pointing out that the conditions of the people living in these areas are vastly different from not just middle-class colonies but also each other.
An analysis of the total deaths in the city by the BMC so far also shows that 60% of deaths have been reported from slums.
Besides, Dharavi, the largest slum in the country, slum clusters in Govandi, Bandra East, Kurla West, Malad, Borivli and major slum clusters in Mulund are a cause of worry for the city administration.
Arun Kumar, CEO of Apnalaya, a non-government organisation that works in M east ward including areas of Govandi, Cheetah Camp, Deonar said, “There is an urgent need to recognise that different pockets or wards of the city are differently equipped to handle the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. Any ward with over 55% of its population working as casual workers living in barely 15x10 sq ft houses would face challenges concerning ‘social’ distancing and lockdown.’’
Giving an example he added, “In Shivaji Nagar, a slum cluster of over 4.37 lakh population, about 35% of households don’t have ration cards. What sense would relief measures like free ration distribution make to people who can’t access it? This is an area where over 11% of people struggle with food security during normal times. How would they be navigating these days when they can’t go out to work and earn?”
The M east ward, for instance, is among the largest wards in the city and nearly 77% of its population lives in slums. But the area is serviced by only two hospitals that are already overburdened by Covid-19 cases. Currently, this ward has recorded 460 cases and 51 deaths so far.
Dharavi, the 240-hectare slum sprawl, which has around 8.50 lakh citizens and a population density of 66,0000 per sq km, has reported 665 cases and 20 deaths so far. Experts believe this may just be the tip of the ice-berg given that social distancing is impossible here.
Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner of G north ward (Dharavi-Dadar), said, “One of the major challenges in Dharavi is the density of the population. There are 19, 000 stranded workers who are being provided food by the BMC and they have to step out to collect food parcels. Another major problem is common toilets in the majority of the slum pockets. The common toilets are sanitised once or twice a day but the toilets are used by the people regularly. The only solution we are looking at here is isolating a maximum number of people and increasing our isolation capacities.”
Akhtar Qureshi, local corporator from Govandi, said, “There are not enough measures being taken by the BMC for containing the virus in slums of Govandi. Daily, I have been coming across cases of patients running from pillar to post for treatment or to even get a bed in a hospital. The slums of Govandi area are going through a major health crisis. These issues will not be solved just by sanitising the area or implementing stricter lockdown measures.”
Considering that home quarantine is barely a viable option for people living in slums, the BMC has hired rooms from local lodge owners and turned sports complexes and schools into Covid-19 care facilities to increase their capacity. A civic official confirmed that M east ward has more than 1200 quarantine beds where nearly 400 people have been shifted.