Will Slums Survive The Pandemic?

Will the coronavirus wreck congested townships? (File/Pixabay)

Awbuck Qandoe 

New Delhi, May 4, 2020: As the number of #coronavirus cases in India has shot past 40,000, the spotlight firmly remains on Mumbai’s #Dharavi area, considered among the biggest slums in the world – and now the most vulnerable of settlements.

On Sunday, Dharavi reported close to 100 new #Covid19 infections, taking the overall number of cases in the densely-populated colony to almost 600. The slum has officially reported at least 20 deaths, but the number could be much higher than that.

Health authorities in India are scratching their heads, wondering as to what extent the virus might ravage the sensitive sub-society of Dharavi. It is too large and too clustered for so-called elite-friendly ‘social distancing’ rules to be put in place there. For an unprotected super-slum to be saved from the coronavirus, if ‘social distancing’ is the best answer that the government has, then it’s a sorry ‘state’ of affairs.

Take the case of Dharavi’s patient zero, for example. The slum’s first Covid patient reportedly lived with his eight-member family – his wife, four daughters, and two sons – in a claustrophobic 420 sq ft one-room space in a low-rise set-up surrounded by congested shanties.

Scary as it may seem, it is inevitable that in a setting like this, the deadly virus is transmitting among people within the close-knit neighbourhood at no less than lightning speed. And it’s jumping from one resident to another there at a brutal pace as you are reading this piece.

In fact, given the nature of this opportunist coronavirus, it is not just Dharavi but all of the world’s largest and most congested slums that are at risk of phenomenal, unstoppable damage.

Let us just take a step back and have a good look at some of the world’s most prominent super-slums that can easily be said to be at risk of extinction to the deadly respiratory disease.

Here are five well-known super-slums that are facing a nightmare catastrophe as the #pandemic expands its footprint:

#Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa
Population: 400,000
According to the 2011 Census, the townships of Khayelitsha are home to nearly 400,000 residents, 99% of them black.

#Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya
Population: 700,000
Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, is just 5km from Nairobi city centre. It is home to more than 50,000 children, most of whom go to informal schools set up by residents and churches.

Dharavi, Mumbai, India
Population: 1 million
In Dharavi, where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed, thousands of small businesses thrive. The slum has an informal economy with an estimated $1 billion annual turnover.

#CiudadNeza, Mexico City, Mexico
Population: 1.2 million
Once a sprawling slum, Ciudad Neza, east of Mexico City, has become more like a suburb thanks to residents’ efforts to build a community and deliver public services.

#OrangiTown, Karachi, Pakistan
Population: 2.4 million
Asia’s largest slum Orangi Town is believed to be home to around 2.4 million people, although no-one knows the exact figure.

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