I don’t really know where to begin from. I’m thinking how to start the amazing experience I had of visiting a slum area of Islamabad. In my entire life, I’ve never been to any place like this. It was really an eye opening to actually see how people live over there. The one we visited were Mehr Abadi or Baykah Saeeda. The living conditions at these Slums are deplorable, which differentiates it from the normal living places. The inhabitants lack fundamental resources and capabilities such as adequate sanitation, improved water supply, durable housing or adequate living space. Well, the touchiest scene was when I saw children wandering in the streets, playing with mud and pebbles, some following us too. The only areas for children to play were breeding grounds for flies, cockroaches and rats; increasing the health risks for many people.
People inhale the toxic gases from the nearby stagnant water that is breeding ground for mosquitoes and God knows how they tolerate its foul smell. I wondered; don’t these people feel sick and catch all the water borne diseases. Probably this is the reason why the disease rate is greater in slums. These people don’t take care of their health and hygiene. Life is so precious, why don’t they take care of their health and lives, why do they take life for granted?
Imagine living in this suffocating overcrowded environment surrounded by mounds of uncollected dirty waste. I could probably die even by imagining such harsh living.
Well the study was undertaken with a view to identify the environmental conditions e.g. water supply and sanitation facilities of the slum in Islamabad. In order to achieve the objectives household surveys, field visits and a questionnaire survey was conducted. The quality of the houses reflected the poor quality of life in the slums of Islamabad. ‘Household head’ or else in case of his absence, the second important adult member of the family was interviewed. Information was also collected through ‘non-participatory observation’.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children die of malnutrition, diseases, unhealthy conditions, and more in slums. During my survey I observed that environment in slums was terrible and malodorous. The main reason to why the slums are extremely littered is mostly because people are happy the way they are living, although they do want basic necessities of life but they have no intention to walk an extra mile to bring such change in their surroundings. They themselves are responsible for creating huge piles of trash around them. The overall environment in the slums smelled like human excretions, carcass, and dry fish. The roads in the slums were heavily polluted and the shacks were lined up so tight that we had to walk in single-file past the sewers. Real toilets, sinks, and showers were not available to the slum-dwellers so they do their personal needs any place that is available. In short people were deprived of basic human needs and situation of slums were far worse than I ever imagined.
Along with having air pollution surrounding people in the slums, they can also not escape from polluted water. The access to clean water in slums is impossible to obtain so the water used is filled with chemicals, trash, and human waste. I myself witnessed that slums lack proper water supply and sanitation system. Therefore, the major portion of the households use unsafe toilets and deposit their children's excreta into road side drain and open places, which pollutes water sources, groundwater and the general environment. As a result, majority of the population suffered from water-borne diseases i.e. jaundice, diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid. Majority of the households mentioned that jaundice is the prime disease caused by contaminated water. The second most frequently mentioned disease was diarrhea. Medical attention in slum areas is rare and not of great quality. The problem with the medical care being given in slums is with the vaccines. The drugs will be administered into the patients with syringes that have been used several times on several different patients. The needles are being exposed to different illnesses from different patients and then not being cleaned before being used again to treat another ill patient.
One of the surprising things that I came across my visit to Baykah Saeeda was that; people have to wait for hour’s to get water for their basic needs. The more astonishing fact was that the respectable head of slum area commonly known as “MUNSHI” even locked the only hand pump which is merely unlocked for few hours. Isn’t it unfair to people who have to wait or even pay for public goods like water on which nature has given them open right to use?
The only reason that I found, why people are not fighting for their rights was only because they lack proper education i.e. a tool that can change their lives upside down ultimately helping them to become rich to earn a respectable living in society. According to Bill Gate’s:
“If you are born poor it’s not your fault, but if you die poor it’s definitely your fault”
This field work was an eye-opener for me to be thankful for all the blessings that I got. I anticipate exploring much more in future too with collaboration of IUCN which is taking initiative to bring such significant issues to spotlight.