What is the socio-economic condition of the slum dwellers who left their place of origin due to Aila disaster? How do they perceive about climate change?
Recently, when I traveled to a slum in Khulna city I tried to experience it the way a local did. I have worked to learn about the slum life from locals themselves in a field research project. The first few days, it seemed to me that the local residents are not willing to talk with me on the sidewalk, and those who were working were busy, they were reluctant about talking mainly because many people and NGOs talked about this but it was, to them, worthless; they thought it was a waste of time and wouldn’t bring any change in their lives. I began a conversation with a rickshaw puller. I asked him about his work, and how many years he has been living in the slum. When the man started to talk with me some slum dwellers also came forward.
It seems to me the socio economic lives of the environmentally induced migrants of Bangladesh are very much the same. Many of the residents of the slums migrated from their area of origin due to the Aila disaster. Their story of life is pretty much the same, that they had lost everything they had in their living- their homestead, house, cattle and many others.
It’s so ironical that slums (like all over Bangladesh) are the abode of lakhs of people whose work makes the lives of its better-off citizens easier and comfortable but they themselves are forced to live in worst of conditions. They don’t even have access to a basic need like functional toilets, safe water, and a proper household. The slums are in an appalling condition, each of the ‘shelter’ crammed near to each other, barely light enters through the corners. The houses are tiny and in a single room people were residing in inhuman conditions. When I asked them about how they felt living in the slums they replied that they were unhappy with their way of living and many of them wanted to go back to the village- their homestead, but they’d nothing left in there. Even due to the Aila disaster, according to their description, the land in their areas had been affected by salinity; the water had become brackish. Due to that reason cultivation was not possible and the water was not even fit for drinking. The government had given some of them twenty thousand taka to build a house, but that amount of money was not even suitable- plus they said that there were no occupations around there. They said they felt like they didn’t have any identity and life was quotidian. Their perception about Climate Change is not clear, some don’t even know what is climate change and to others Climate change are disasters like floods, draughts etc. When I queried them about why the Aila occurred that time they replied it was Allah’s wrath and that they had nothing to do about it. Their way of income was not that good, and they said that if the conditions improved after a period of time they’d return back to the village.
In the slums the women said that they are working in the local shrimp processing factories and some are working as domestic helpers. The women who work in the shrimp processing factories had bemoaned that their hands went numb in ice and were suffering from skin diseases. I found that the slum dwellers have Android mobile phones and some communicate with their relatives who are in their area of origin. The Government have many environmental policies but none of them actually dent a major impact in their lives.
Mohammad Jasim Uddin, PhD