The already poor living conditions of residents of the Kallyanpur Pora Bosti, one of the largest slums in the capital, are aggravated by the mindless dumping of wastes around the locality, and to make it worse, poor waste management is causing a rise in diseases.
Visiting the slum, this correspondent saw that most of the wastes end up in drains and water bodies around the slum. Garbage was also seen piled up on the roadside.
The slum dwellers are exasperated at the foul smell all around and the menace of mosquitoes breeding in the dirty water.
A lot of the garbage, including household wastes, ends up within the slum area, causing various water and air borne diseases among the inhabitants, which experts say can be avoided through better waste management.
According to the preliminary report of the 2022 census published by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), more than 18 lakh people live in slums across the country. Dhaka Division alone houses more than 8.84 lakh slum dwellers.
However, according to various non-governmental organisations, the number is 40 lakh.
Most of these people are looking at long-term physical and mental health risks arising from appalling living conditions of the slums. They usually do not go to the doctors unless they are suffering from major diseases. Instead they depend on the local pharmacy.
Nasima Begum, a resident of the Kallyanpur slum, told TBS that she was diagnosed with a tumour in her throat four years ago but could not undergo surgery due to a lack of money.
"Unless the disease is something severe, I take medicine from the pharmacy," she said.
Md Shaheen of Samit Pharmacy, a drugstore in the slum area, told TBS, "Most slum dwellers come to buy medicine without any prescription. If the disease is serious, I suggest that they go to a hospital. They mostly come to us about fevers and colds."
Environmental activist Ferdous Ahmed Ujjal told TBS that slum dwellers are suffering the most due to waste mismanagement.
"Since the slums are on low lying land, wastes from the surrounding areas are also dumped next to the slums. The city corporation is definitely responsible for that," he said.
He also said that most slum dwellers suffer from various diseases due to the random waste dumping in the slums.
"People who are responsible for the waste management in slum areas should be held accountable," he added.
A study conducted under the Dhaka Calling Project has revealed that due to the dirty environment, about 34% of the slum dwellers are affected by various infectious diseases.
The study further said that the physical and mental health of the slum population is at risk in the short and long term as a result of the poor waste mismanagement. The study found that slum dwellers suffer from various diseases, including fever, cold, headache, skin disease, urine infection, cancer, jaundice, pneumonia and typhoid.
A slum dweller, Abdus Samad, said, "The city corporation does not clean the nearby water bodies and drains. Mosquito repellent is given once a month, which is not enough."
Dewan Abdul Mannan, ward 11 councillor of Dhaka North City Corporation, told TBS, "We collect kitchen waste from the Kalyanpur slum every day, but as there is land owned by the House Building next to the slum, they keep the waste there.
"Although we have removed the waste several times, the housing authority is reluctant to remove the waste from their vacant lots," he said.
"We are trying our best in waste management. But many scrap stores, built around the slum, dump their waste in the water bodies. As a result, despite cleaning it several times, it ended up becoming dirty," he added.
Abu Naser Khan, chairman of the Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba), told TBS that about 30% of Dhaka's people live in slums and most slums are built by dumping waste in low-lying places.
"Places like Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur and Purbachal should have government housing for slum dwellers. In the new economic zones, if all facilities are provided for low-income people, the living standards of the slum dwellers will be improved and the problems will also be solved," he recommended.
He said, "We often see that some slums are evicted but there is no initiative for the relocation of the slum dwellers."
Public health expert Lelin Chowdhury said that the poor people of the slums are suffering from water-borne diseases the most.
"To address public health problems due to waste, coordination among ministries, sanitation, strong oversight and accountability of waste management are needed," he said.
Professor Adil Mohammed Khan, executive director of the Institute for Planning and Development (IPD) told TBS, "Since waste management is the responsibility of the city corporation, they should collect the waste from the slums. When the waste mixes with water, all city dwellers suffer, not only the slum dwellers.
Citing a court order, he pointed out that no slum dwellers can be evicted unless alternative arrangements are made for them.
"Accordingly, the slum dwellers are entitled to all the benefits of the two city corporations," he added.
Professor Adil Mohammed Khan also suggested involving slum dwellers in the development of slums.