Monday, January 25, 2010

Migrants’ tales – Mixed fortunes in the city: Part III

Diverging levels of poverty in the Slum
Like Monin and Ahsan, Dulal also left his village called Chadpur some time ago in the search for better income opportunities. His wife and their 5 and 9 year old sons joined him after some years in order to have access to better health facilities and to offer them the chance to go to school. In their small hut, they have a broad bed which is used by the whole family for sleeping, eating and living on. Dim light floods the room from a single bulb in their room. Besides the bed, there is a commode with dishes inside and an old TV on top. Having these facilities, Dulal's family is better off than many other people in the area who do not have the means to maintain such a lifestyle. Right beside their house I leave the slum and enter directly into a lively street. Not far from here is a school, where many of the children in the slum go. On each side of the street, I see hawkers working, tailors with their sewing machines and road side vendors selling cloth or vegetables from the fields outside of Narayanganj. A large variety of options offer work places compared to the original villages of the people.
Dulal has developed his business as a tea-vendor working at the bazaar, after starting first as a blue-collar worker in local factories and the construction business. Compared to life in his village, he and his family now have a far better standard of living. Thus, living in the slum does not always go hand in hand with deprivation and marginalization. For a significant number it really does offer a way out of poverty through access to the labor market. It is not surprising therefore that so many people risk poor living conditions and sanitation facilities to gamble for a better life.

(A tailor at the side of a street: Many slum inhabitants locate their businesses closely to the slum areas)

Migration to the capital of Bangladesh
Unlike in many other parts of Bangladesh, the people living in the Slum are not very likely to migrate further than to Narayanganj. Even though Dhaka is the fastest growing city in Asia with 600,000 people every year, joining the 14 Mio inhabitants of the capital and it appears lucrative to many who are willing to give up their homes, most do not consider it as a feasible option as the living conditions are too expensive to afford.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Migrants' tales - Mixed fortunes in the city: Part II

Family separation as a consequence of migration
With this distressing story in mind, I met another family who gave up their original livelihoods on their quest to find a better life in the slum. Ahsan Habib has lived in the slum for one year now. His wife and son have recently joined him after enduring ten months of long distance travel from Patuakhali to Narayanganj, which can often take more than ten hours by bus. Initially, he had problems in making enough money to feed his wife and one year old son. He therefore made the decision to leave his parents' house and come to the bigger city of Narayanganj, - following the example of his elder cousins and other friends - he quickly found a job as a construction worker. He often works more than 12 hours a day. Notwithstanding the physical burden Ahsan faces every day, he is content with his present situation. He says that his rent is low and his living relatively secure. He seems to be grateful to be with his wife and his son around him. While talking to us, he played with his little child on his legs. His eyes suggested ambivalent feelings; pride for his son on the one side but concern for the future of his family on the other. Still there are many unexpressed problems. Money is not a stable factor in the monthly income. His family often has to shorten the amount of meals they eat a day. Children in the area are often in poor health and face numerous health risks such as respiratory deceases from indoor cooking fires. The limited number of toilets in the slum (approx. 50 people for 1 toilet) is probably the most significant issue in explaining the very poor hygienic conditions, which are especially severe for women who cannot use facilities elsewhere during the work day. However, despite all this, going back to his village is not an option for his family as Narayanganj provides him at least with the opportunity of earning some money.

Structural changes contribute to the process of migration
In a similar position to Ahsan is Monin, who also left his family in Patuakhali to work in Narayanganj. For the last six years he has frequently made the journey to his home to see his family while investing lots of money and time. Monin is not only faced with the burden of living without his family and his three children, but also with the two lives he has to permanently lead in order to feed his family. In some periods of the year, he is still able to get a job in agriculture around his village but for the rest of the time he opts for life in Narayanganj with its comparatively better opportunities for work. Thus agriculture with its fluctuating seasons and incomes as well as the small share of land per household has apparently lost its ability to provide support to his family throughout the year and migration is the best remaining livelihood option.
Author: Carolin Braun