Neglect By Authorities Could Turn Islamabad’s Katchi Abadis Into Covid-19 Hotspot
On Thursday, Pakistan’s tally of Covid-19 patients hit 2,373 including 33 deaths and 62 confirmed cases reported in the federal capital Islamabad. Thousands of residents of the Kachi Abadis are living in miserable conditions in the federal capital, finding it difficult to maintain cleanliness and hygiene, which are key to defeating the virus.
The F-6 Kachi Abadi is located in F-6/2, with more than 400 houses and a population of more than 10,000 people. But government health watchdogs and the capital administration have neither visited the Katchi Abadis nor run any awareness campaign here, residents told Naya Daur.
The capital administration is busy with chemical sprays in a number of locations but no spray was used in the Kachi Abadis.
Saima, a school teacher who is running a campaign on her own resources, adds that a Kachi Abadi is located in the posh sector F-6 in Islamabad, but the government’s health watchdogs and the capital administration are not concentrating on these settlements, which are more vulnerable to the crippling virus. She says: “We approached both the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the administration of Islamabad repeatedly but no one is listening to us.”
A local volunteer of the Church can be seen in the streets announcing awareness messages via a handheld megaphone to the residents, asking them to restrict movements including to churches and mosques.
According to CDA figures, there are around 52 katchi abadis in Islamabad, out of which it recognises only 10. The population of these informal settlements exceeds 100,000. The biggest demographic category among Katchi Abadis is that of Punjabi Christians, who comprise roughly 35 percent of the population living in informal settlements. Other Punjabi/Potohari groups are around 26 per cent, Pakhtuns are around 20 per cent, and Kashmiri/Hazaras around 10 per cent of the population respectively. It should be noted, however, that these figures were compiled by the Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Centre about seven years ago. The vast majority of Katchi Abadi residents are labourers, sanitary workers, domestic workers, or lower-staff government servants.
Chand Ilyas, a resident of the Kachi Abbadi who runs a small shop, says that the people nearby are poor, having no proper jobs in government or private sector. They are only associated with cleaning and sanitary work. That is why the community is more vulnerable to Covid-19. Moreover, this could turn residents into unknowing carriers of the virus because more than 2,000 people from here are working in houses, offices and on roads. He adds that in his own assessment the Kachi Abadi residents could become a significant source of the virus spreading in federal capital, due to this neglect by the authorities.
Katchi Abadis have existed in Islamabad for three to four decades. Mostly populated by the city’s working classes, they are a direct consequence of unplanned growth, poverty, urban development needs and the displacement caused by conflict or natural disasters. Above all, they are caused by the housing shortfall in the country, which is currently estimated at over 10 million units countrywide.
In Islamabad, Katchi Abadis first emerged when labour was required for the construction of the city in the 1960s. There were two main labour settlements at first, one in G-8/3 and the other in Muslim Colony near Bari Imam. Once the initial development needs subsided, in the mid-1970s, CDA started to evict these settlements, resulting in resistance, particularly in G-8.
For his part, Deputy Commissioner of Islamabad Muhammad Hamza Shafqat says that very soon the administration will arrange chemical sprays for the community to safeguard them from the outbreak of the virus.
Roshan Jan, 62, tells Naya Daur that she is living in the settlement since 40 years. According to her, the residents are living in a despondent condition, having no business or respectable jobs – in the government or the private sector. She adds that she is praying that all human beings regardless of their religious affiliation should remain safe from the virus.
When contacted, CDA spokesman Syed Safdar Shah said that on the issue of precautionary measures against the spread of the Coronavirus in Kachi Abadis, he had conveyed the message to the DG Health of the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI).
The author is a reporter based in Islamabad.