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Families-in-Dhakas-Korail-009When I was visiting China few years ago, I noticed an interesting housing project in the outskirts of Beijing. Out of curiosity I asked my tour guide about them and to my surprise, I learned that they were slums. I was truly amazed by this initiative and couldn’t help but wonder whether it would work in the Bangladeshi context.

At first it was difficult for the Chinese government to take effective measures, but gradually they came up with a plan to improve the living conditions of these scattered people. The people they are dealing with had no jobs in their hometowns and were forced to migrate to the city for work. So, about 500 public housing multi-storey units were built using strong used materials and hard recycled materials and handed over to these homeless people.

The Chinese government has facilitated access to services to these people, which is run by a voucher system. They have their own educational facilities situated inside the area, where students from various universities and colleges come to visit these slums 5 days a week to teach students in the slums. Other institutions provide skilled mentors to give vocational training and teach labour skills to the people in the slums. The Government pays a substantial amount of money and gives a certificate of achievement to these students and trainers, so that they are encouraged to do this educational volunteer work.

Solar panels are installed to these households to manage power source. The government did not provide any power connection from a direct supply source. The community has a well managed food market and grocery shops and other small businesses. Community guards are made from among their own people to ensure their security and safety. Health and medical surveys are conducted every month to check the medical conditions and health needs of these people. More often it is seen that, various diseases and sickness spread in the communities and the government thoroughly monitors these matters and provide medical services.

Government officials monitor these areas carefully to report to higher level authorities for actions and policies to promote. The thing that interested me the most is that these people are given training about microfinance and micro insurance concepts, and then banks give them loans with small amount of interest, and also give interest to households for savings. Volunteers from both public and private banks visit this area to teach people about business, savings and management concept.

Ultimately what I came to know is that, the area is thriving and the result is 100% successful in program management. There are no middle men or opportunists who can do business, or take advantage of the poor. The government is directly linked to the people. As the government has a strong initiative to restrict illegal migration, the project is aimed at outskirts of mega cities. As China is a socialist country, there is no form of ownership system, everything is owned by the state and the housing is leased to the poor people for 50 years more or less. Gradually if and when the condition of the household is improved, they give tax to the government. And the government spends all their allocated tax money for the slum development.

I believe Bangladesh can follow the Chinese model, as we have plenty of untapped resources which can be utilized and recycled to generate income, employment and bring prosperity to our urban slums. The government can select some government owned lands and resettle the slum dwellers in a planned way engaging the dwellers themselves in making houses, roads, establishing small non-formal industries, innovative recycling plants, etc. Also engaging them in civic activities like road cleaning, maintaining the parks, open spaces and gardening on the road islands, etc. I noticed many road cleaners in China working 24/7 but one can hardly notice them. If someone throws a cigarette filter or any dirt on the road or on the footpath, a cleaner appears immediately and swipes the dirt. I am not sure how many such cleaners are engaged in Beijing but we can easily implement such labour intensive activities in urban areas and achieve two objectives at a time — clean environment and employment for the urban poor.

After witnessing the misery of the slum dwellers of Korail eviction I was thinking if we could use this huge manpower for maintaining the Gulshan area, the environment of the area would have been different. The government or the development agencies could give monthly cash and kind ration or wage for their cleaning or maintenance work instead of giving them onetime big amount of cash support. Each beneficiary could save an amount from their wage. After three years they would have a good amount of savings and then if they wanted to they could go back to rural areas again and invest the money h/she earned. At this stage the government or any development agency could come forward with extra financial support in the name of microfinance or micro insurance. The general peoples’ perception is that the slum dwellers make the city dirty but as I saw in Beijing they can play significant role in keeping the city clean.

Bangladesh can learn from China and other successful countries and think innovatively to utilize the slum resources instead of evicting them. It is the matter of changing the mindset of the planners and authorities. The development agencies partnering with local and international NGOs has already implemented unique thoughts.

Shiree, the economic empowerment of the poorest has made a significant revolution among the slum dwellers in Bangladesh, the UKAid/DFID funded project Shiree, partners with DSK has been working for the last 20 years with slum dwellers in Dhaka and Chittagong to improve the living standards of the extreme poor. The hard work results women being supported through accumulation of physical and financial capital. Awareness training in human rights, social entitlements. Training technical skills and business capabilities and strengthening of CBOs for protection and management of common assets and services.

Government administrative structures need to be revolutionised in engaging and changing business process for the urban local government institutions. I believe we do not need much money but just change our outlook, attitude and traditional thinking. We should come out of the box and think and try differently, and grasp challenges to implement new innovative projects.

Shah Jawad Shamir is an analyst working at Shiree.