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A billion people live in the slums of the world’s megacities—and they’re being missed by coronavirus plans

Sprawling urban areas in Brazil, Nigeria and Bangladesh are all seeing COVID-19 infections rise rapidly.

A billion people live in the slums of the world’s megacities—and they’re being missed by coronavirus plans
A market area in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, crowded with people despite the coronavirus pandemic, May 12, 2020. [Photo: Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto/Getty Images]
some of the , the coronavirus pandemic is now spreading into the megacities of developing countries. Sprawling urban areas in , and are all seeing COVID-19 infections rise rapidly.

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We study the and of such cities and their urban peripheries, with the aim of encouraging data-driven policy decisions. Given its deadly trajectory in marginalized communities of hard-hit and , coronavirus may well devastate much poorer cities.

Particularly concerning are the that are home to roughly a billion people— . Characterized by insecure property rights, low-quality housing, limited basic services, and poor sanitation, these aggregate risk factors that accelerate the .

在线看的免费网站黄2019Yet, our research finds, many residents of slums and squatter settlements are not getting the help they need to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Density and poverty

Overcrowding is one reason slums are known . Informal settlements are typically than neighboring areas of the same city.

The Dharavi slum in central Mumbai, for example, has some , compared to elsewhere in the city. It is far harder to practice physical distancing, at home or on the street, in such close quarters.

在线看的免费网站黄2019Most of the world’s poorest urban neighborhoods clean potable water and a private bathroom, making lifesaving practices like handwashing .

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To get to work—a necessity for those with very low incomes and no savings —many people in slums travel jammed together in vans and buses over long distances that are for disease.

在线看的免费网站黄2019For several reasons—among them little access to healthcare—people living in informal settlements also suffer disproportionately from such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, according to a . All of these problems can exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

Rio de Janeiro

In Brazil, which is fast becoming a global , at least 1.5 million of Rio de Janeiro’s live in the city’s 1,000 “favelas,” or slum settlements.

在线看的免费网站黄2019Many favela residents . But Brazil’s national government, which denies the severity of its outbreak, is . That’s left community organizations to deliver to Rio’s poorest.

[Photo: ADLC/iStock]

在线看的免费网站黄2019Hundreds of favela residents have already tested positive for COVID-19. But with , those experiencing severe illness have little chance of getting proper emergency care.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 is also devastating for poorer people. In Rio’s favelas, where residents typically make , over report an income decline since the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey supported by the Locomotiva Institute and the Unified Center for Favelas.

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Lagos and Dhaka

Fighting coronavirus is , the largest city in Nigeria and its COVID-19 epicenter. The city, Africa’s biggest, is home to . Nearly three-quarters of them live in one of Lagos’s 100 slums.

在线看的免费网站黄2019A large proportion of those in slums subsist hand-to-mouth, as street vendors, waste recyclers, artisans and the like. Such jobs offer no health insurance or pensions–no basic social safety net.

As in Rio, many informal workers in Lagos have been deprived of even this meager income during the capital’s . Staying home to survive a pandemic .

Similar crises are playing out in many poor megacities worldwide. In Bangladesh, for example, COVID-19 is , home to almost nine million people, .

The Bangladeshi capital has about 80 public intensive care units, than required. Nationwide, just over 190 ICUs serve Bangladesh’s population of 161 million—47 times less per capita than New York City after it surged its ICU capacity.

Lockdowns and curfews

Some developing countries acted early to prevent outbreaks and appear to have dodged the first wave of COVID-19. With memory of past pandemics fresh, governments, businesses, and civil societies in conducted extensive testing and contact tracing and to , combined them with targeted education campaigns.

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在线看的免费网站黄2019Yet, our research finds many governments are responding to coronavirus outbreaks in slums in one of two ways: with a heavy fist or with neglect.

In city after city, we see on poor populations without regard to the factors that could impede compliance. Where food handouts are provided, supplies are .

People who violate quarantine—by trying to work, say—. Conflicts have in cities across .

Such tactics risk undermining residents’ already low faith in government, just when is most needed to ensure compliance with health guidance.

State neglect also allows the criminal groups to consolidate their influence in slum areas. From Brazil to Mexico, , and are handing out food and medical supplies, deepening their grip on power.

A better way

在线看的免费网站黄2019A recommends that developing countries facing infectious disease outbreaks prioritize getting water, food, and sanitation materials to their poorest residents.

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also advise making to the and halting evictions, both measures taken to ease the coronavirus crisis in advanced countries.

To work in areas where trust in government is low, must be underpinned by a strong communications program involving credible neighborhood leaders, . Groups like and are working with local organizations in slum communities to reach people in places where assistance is most needed.

在线看的免费网站黄2019Global pandemics require . But places like Rio, Lagos, and Dhaka face different challenges in the coronavirus fight than, say, New York City.

The public health response must look different, too.


is a lecturer at   is a professor at the

This article is republished from under a Creative Commons license. Read the .

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