While the cases of the COVID- 19 are on the rise, people are advised to stay at home and keep a distance from each other in Pakistan and across the world. The hardest-hit amongst us will be those who are living in slum areas. Without proper sanitation, health facilities, education and above all, means and access to the basic hygiene facilities, slums are the ticking time bombs for the virus outgrowth. Slums are known for overpopulation and unhealthy environments that make it easy for diseases to spread. The lack of hygiene, sanitation, their weak immune system, lack of health facilities and their proximity to each other makes it a perfect breeding ground for diseases such as Coronavirus.
As of 2014, the World Bank declared the percentage of urban population living in Pakistani slums to be 45.5 %. In the World Cities Report by the United Nations, Karachi’s Orangi town was mentioned to be among the world’s five largest informal settlements in 2016. Although slums are in many cities in Pakistan some of the largest slums are in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore. According to research, about 60% of the population of Karachi are settled in various slums. Moreover, according to a journal by the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women, LEAD Pakistan, 30 percent of the localities in Lahore comes under the category of informal settlement as per the Lahore Development Authority (LDA). While Islamabad, at present has 34 slums spread across Islamabad, the recognized slums by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) are just 11 slums that are considered legal as per a research paper by Hussain, Abbas, Wei, and Nurunnabi.
Some of the necessary tips given by the World Health Organization to deal with the COVID-19 virus are washing your hands with soap, maintaining social distance and seeking medical health care in case of any symptoms that include cough, fever, and difficulty in breathing. In slums, these are all luxuries. People who skip their daily baths to save water can hardly think of washing hands even twice a day let alone after every two hours. Densely populated, these slums are with one to two-room houses built together with 8-10 tenants living in them. In such circumstance’s keeping distance is impossible making them the most vulnerable to get affected by Coronavirus.
To prevent COVID-19, slums don’t have essentials such as water to wash their hands religiously and the unhealthy environment contributes highly towards getting the disease. According to a research journal by Khan and Javed, 38.5 million people didn’t have access to safe drinking water as if 2005 and by end of 2015, it was predicted to increase to 52.8 million people that will be deprived of access to clean drinking water.
Besides water, a strong immune system is key to protect yourself from the coronavirus. But, the lack of nutritious food in slums and their weak immune system is a sign of insecurity and helplessness. These informal settlements according to an article by Sheikh Shakeel Ur Rehman lack proper food, health facilities, sanitation, and educational facilities. Children equally suffer because of their compromised lifestyles. Different diseases easily can hit the population due to the scarcity of adequate food and proper nutrition.
If these slums get infected, they most likely will not be able to seek medical care because they don’t have access to primary health care. According to a journal from the Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health by Aleemi, Khaliqui, and Faisal Pakistan doesn’t provide Primary Health Services, especially in slums. Corona’s spread can be predicted knowing that the communicable and noncommunicable diseases in these areas that are highest. 58% of the slums have contagious diseases while non-communicable illnesses are 10 %. These decreases are mostly because of unhealthy lifestyles, and unhealthy residential conditions.
An asset that can save lives form the coronavirus is money. Rich people have an option to eat well to boost their immune system and proper food the poor struggle for the basic treatment. They have saved that they can use to taking care of themselves and their families. For slum residents, people do not have to get to eat three meals a day let alone savings. These people go out to earn their daily bread by working hard the whole day. They have to either die of hunger or risk their lives to get infected and feed their families.
Slums residents work every day to earn some money to feed their family but it is not enough. For example, a case study of Arifwala Slum by Faheem, Mehmood, and Shah, shows that most of the inhabitants in slums are illiterate and sustain on daily wages only. The majority of them have Rs.2159.95 RS Per capita income per month. According to the Cynosure Consultants (Pvt.) Ltd, the average income of households in Peshawar slums is Rs. 18,718. But considering the earnings per month and the size of their family which is around 11 members per house, it is far from enough. When comparing this income to the international poverty line of USD 1.25 per day, 31% of the studied families are poor, and 35% live in extreme poverty. In such conditions, people in this crisis are not able to maintain a social distance but go out and earn their daily wages.
In circumstances like these, heads turn towards the government for help. The government is having difficulty in dealing with COVID-19 pandemic but, Prime Minister Khan in a statement ruled out on total lockdown in favor of the poor. The People in slums are mostly rickshaw drivers, street vendors, and scrap purchasers who are daily earners. The lockdown will impact them the most. Pakistan right now is having a partial lockdown because of the increasing COVID-19 cases but the government has promised that needy people will get food delivered on their doorsteps.
According to the Asia Pacific, 25% of the country’s people live below the poverty line, it is hard for the government to reach everyone. In such circumstances, NGOs come to play their part. Al-Khidmat Foundation, which is one of the largest charity organizations in Pakistan is distributing 15 days of ration to families that are not economically sound. The aid also includes soap, sanitizers, and facemasks across the country. Additionally, it has charity hospitals and has also designated isolation wards for the affected patients in Thar.
Another charity organization that is contributing to helping low-income families is the Edhi Foundation. The foundation has coronavirus testing kits provided to the government and other hospitals to help combat COVID-19. The foundation is also giving a service of 1500 ambulances in addition to distributing ration to families that are in need.
In the past the government has allocated funds for the legal slums but the funds are only for infrastructural development. Illegal slums are not even considered for infrastructural funds according a research. Moreover, it has allocated agencies that are responsible for any changes in these slums. For Pakistan, these authorities’ function in 4 cities that constitute the Katchi Abadis Department of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad, the Katchi Abadis Department of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) in Lahore and the Punjab Katchi Abadis Directorate. According to the Capital Development Authority Wing, the CDA, has worked towards the upgrading and relocating of some of the slums in Islamabad. While relocating and upgrading has been done in some of the slums in Islamabad, the committee doesn’t seem to have any documented contribution towards slums in the current crisis.
Living in slums is hard but it gets harder with a crisis such as the COVID-19. The pandemic doesn’t only threaten their way of earning but also threatens their lives. Being the most vulnerable to the disease, these people do not have the necessities to fight the virus. Their living conditions and unhealthy lifestyle contributes towards the spread of the disease. It is in these situations that these people need the most attention.
It is the right of these people to get attention from the government to a least provide the necessities needed to protect themselves from the deadly virus. In such circumstance’s prevention, the government must provide necessities such as hand sanitizer and masks with clean drinking water and food for the prevention from Corona.
To prevent them from the future crisis the government should provide them with at least primary health care to keep a check on their health. To stabilize their economy government should try and bring projects for education, or vocational training that would enable the youth to get employment to earn well.