- In Dharavi, nearly 10,00,000 people live in an area of about 2.5 sq/kms
- Dharavi is Mumbai’s one of the 19 badly-hit localities by the coronavirus
- Dharavi has shown significant improvement and emerged as a success story
New Delhi: Mumbai’s Dharavi, is considered to be Asia’s largest and most crowded slum, with nearly 10,00,000 people living (Census 2011) in an area of just over 2.5 square kilometres. With a population density of over 277,136 per square kilometre, Dharavi is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and naturally an emerging hotspot for the novel coronavirus. The area is India’s worst-hit city, Mumbai’s one of the 19 badly-hit localities by the virus, with over 2,000 total cases. In the last two weeks, however, this coronavirus hotspot has shown significant improvement and emerged as a potential success story, offering a model for developing nations struggling to contain the pandemic.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) says that Dharavi’s focus on chasing the virus has provided results. Dharavi has reported a decline in the spread of COVID-19 infections from an average of 43 cases per day in the month of May to 19 cases daily in the second week of June. Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, G North Ward BMC told NDTV,
80 per cent of people living in Dharavi depend upon the community toilets. Moreover, all the people who live here are ‘hand to mouth workers’ which means they are daily wage workers, migrant labours and skilled workers. If you see their houses, they’re mostly 10×15 feet houses where on an average 10 people live. So anyway, in such a condition, social distancing was not practically possible for them, even if they’re sitting at home.
The BMC was prepared for the possibility of a spike in cases here. The administration realised that in the case of Dharavi, screening and quarantining was the only option since one positive patient could become a super spreader. All suspects were moved to dedicated quarantine centres, which were set up in schools and parks.
In the month of May, Dharavi reported a total of 1,216 cases, with a death rate of 4 per cent and a recovery rate of 43 per cent. On the other hand, with the help of BMC’s strategy, in the first two weeks of June, there had been 274 confirmed cases; the death rate too, improved slightly to 3.7 per cent while the recovery rate is now up to 49 per cent.
What has also helped is the exodus of migrant labours from Dharavi. But Mr Dighavkar, says fever clinics, aggressive door to door screening among other measures have worked too.
According to our estimates, close to 2 lakh people have left from Dharavi to their respective hometowns. But this still leaves a huge number of people that are still living here. Dharavi is still not empty, it’s only a small fraction of people who have gone back. Sure it has contributed in the improvement, but it is not the sole reason. The major contributors to the improvement are the frequent monitoring, fever camps, screening, isolation of people, testing the isolated people, and getting them the treatment immediately.
Mr Dighavkar and his team, has worked tirelessly to fight COVID-19 but huge challenges are feared as monsoon approaches. Officials are worried that the monsoon could lead to a second spike in the cases.
Nandkishore More, Assistant Commissioner of Mumbai Police told NDTV,
As the monsoon is coming, there are many slums in Dharavi that have gutters and waterlogging in these areas becomes an issue. With such problems, we fear the COVID cases might spike once again. But we, the Mumbai police, BMC, and people of Dharavi have faced COVID-19 till date, and will definitely find a way to deal with these struggles too.
While Mr Dighavkar says that the same strategy applied more rigorously and people becoming more attentive and aware can help them avoid a spike amid the monsoon. He says,
Continuous monitoring, screening has developed a sense of awareness among the people living here, and it’s important. When it comes to cleaning of the gutters and other things related to the monsoon, we are taking care of all of that in advance. Now it’s up to the residents to be attentive, and communicate with BMC, that would be our focus to deal with monsoon and I’m positive it will be fine.
Dharavi has shown an improvement in terms of management due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, authorities are not letting their guard down yet because they know, the ‘invisible enemy’, the coronavirus, can return even through the slightest cracks.