What is turning Dharavi into a Covid nightmare of such magnitude

Ghughuti Bulletin


Dharavi, the
Mumbai slum of global renown, is now beginning to give civic authorities the nightmare of their lives.

The number of Covid-19 cases in the slum has risen to nine after two more men, one 25 and the other 35, tested positive. The rise has made matters touch-and-go for the state authorities already hard-pressed to control a surge of infection that has afflicted over a thousand and killed 64 so far.

As per Health ministry data, Maharashtra has been one of India’s major hot zones with more than a tenth of the country’s total novel coronavirus cases. The state also currently accounts for almost half of the deaths.

And within the bustling capital city of the state, Dharavi is easily the biggest ticking time bomb. Almost 15 lakh people — many of them migrant labourers from all states of the country — live there in small shanties, making the 2.16 sq km slum one of the most densely-populated areas anywhere on earth.

As of now, about 3,000 residents of the slum have been quarantined. There are reports that not many people are readily cooperating with the authorities. Officials admit that people are scared of the virus, but they are more scared of losing their jobs and being taken away to quarantine centres.

“In Dharavi, it’s very difficult to get the facts right. A lot of times residents are not telling us the truth about their travel history or where they have been out of fear. They fear they will be nabbed and punished for not following lockdown rules,” a Bloomberg report said quoting government official Kiran Dighavkar.

People in the slum are scared out of their wits about the fact that the deadly virus may have already possibly taken a firm grip on their shanties. And their fears are not without basis. Given the ground situation in the locality, social distancing doesn’t mean much to the residents. “We are talking about a slum where 10-12 people live in 10×10 feet tin hutments. You can’t expect them to sit at home all day long,” Vinod Shetty, director at the non-profit Acorn Foundation, told Bloomberg.

“They pay Rs 25 for a gallon of water, you’ll tell them to wash their hands frequently. Eighty people share a public toilet, you’ll tell them to not leave their house. How is that possible?” he asks.

That is what makes the case of Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, absolutely crucial in the fight against the rapidly spreading pathogen. According to health experts, stopping the virus from breaking loose in Dharavi would be key to preventing hospitals in Mumbai from getting overwhelmed.

The same goes for hospitals in other states too — many of the migrant workers living in Dharavi probably left for their villages before the lockdown could be strictly implemented, possibly taking the virus far and wide.

An even bigger number of migrant workers are currently sitting idle in the slum and are being provided food by political parties or some other bodies. The fear now is that as soon as the lockdown is lifted, these migrants will leave for their homes in other states, taking the virus deep inside the hinterlands where medical facilities are scarce. The spectre is giving sleepless nights to authorities everywhere.

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