Can Chinese urban slum strategy be a role model for Bangladesh?

 Originally published on News from Bangladesh on 5 September

Chinese government recently took a bold step to help people who had no jobs and thus were forced to migrate to Beijing in search of work. These people were scattered and they had to live in poor conditions. The government built 500 public multi-storied housing units for them. For construction of these slum housing units, the government utilized used and hard recycled materials.

The government also facilitated service access to these people. Currently, education is provided to the slum children by several university and college students. The slum people therefore have their own educational facilities inside the area. Other vocational training institutions also ensured presence in these slums and started providing labour skills to the slum dwellers. As an incentive, the government pays a significant amount of money and provides achievement certificate to both the trainers and students. This came as big encouragement for volunteer mentors and teachers.

Interestingly, these housing units do not have any power connection directly from a supply source; they have solar panels installed instead. There are well managed grocery shops and food markets in the community along with other small businesses as part of income generating activities. For the security of the community there are community guards who are selected from the people of the community. To address the needs of health and medical conditions, surveys are conducted every month. The government monitors thoroughly any sicknesses that spread in the community and also provide medical services when needed.

The government also has its officials to monitor the activities of the area and report to higher authorities for promoting policies and actions. An interesting fact is that these people are provided with training concerning micro insurance and micro-finance. Few banks already stepped forward to provide loans at low interest rate. In addition to that, public and private bank volunteers visit the place and teach people the concept of business, management and savings.

An amazing thing about this effort is that the government and people are directly linked and thus there are no middlemen or opportunists who can take advantage of the poor or exploit them. All things of the community are owned by the state; people living there are able to lease the housing for a period of 50 years. When the economic conditions of the households improve, they will have to provide tax to the government, which would then be allocated for spending for the development of the slum.

Bangladesh could very easily follow this model. Bangladesh has plenty of unexploited resources that could be used and recycled for income generating purpose and employment, which would ultimately lead to improving the conditions of the urban slums and the people living there.

Huge number of people lives in urban slums in Bangladesh. The government through proper planning could use them for mutual benefit. The large manpower from these slums could be used to maintain several areas which would improve the environment quality as well as living standard of the areas. The government can select some of the land it owns and resettle the dwellers in a planned way and at the same time engage them to make the roads, houses and establish small non-formal industries and innovative recycling plants among others. These dwellers could also be used for cleaning roads, maintaining open spaces and parks, gardening at the road sides. This would fulfill performing civic activities in one hand, and generate employment on the other.

The development agencies could take initiative to provide cash and kind ration or wages to these people and employ them for maintenance work and cleaning works they perform, instead of providing onetime cash support, which hardly lasts for some time. This would also allow those employed to save from the wage they receive. They can afterwards go back to their village and invest this money for further income generating.

It is time that Bangladesh takes innovative decisions rather than evicting them and utilizes the underutilized resources it has in its slums. Why not make the maximum out of the resources present at the moment? And considering slum dwellers as human resources is not a new concept.   

Wasim Subhan Choudhury
-works as a risk analyst for a London based risk assessment company and contributes to several research institutes and investment firms in the US as a freelancer.


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