Last few months have seen our large Indian cities unable to control the COVID 19 pandemic despite lock downs and a general sense of caution followed by the masses. Covid19 has spread rapidly & unwittingly among the poor who tried to protect themselves in vain.
Question is how can they protect themselves in their current urban living conditions. Many live in slums with no sanitation, adequate space for fresh ventilation and sunlight, thanks to poor urban planning, absolute disregard and disinterest in proper social housing by governing and planning bodies to improve the condition of these communities. Now these cities are reeling with a huge burden of COVID 19 that is spreading fast among the marginalized communities who cannot practice social distancing even if they wanted to.
When COVID 19 broke out there were viral messages on social media on preventing the spread by washing hands regularly and social distancing. How can communities that don’t have water supply or sanitation wash their hands frequently and how can they practice social distancing, when they are cramped into poorly ventilated tin or blue sheet roof temporary structures they call homes.
Urban cities in India over the last 2 decades saw rapid growth and wealth generation. The local governments prospered with a large tax paying community. But sad to say, the divide between the “haves” and the “has nots” only grew wider and nothing was done to elevate the conditions of the migrant workers and the marginalized.
It was either death by Covid 19 in the cities or hardship by poverty in their villages and thousands choosing the latter fled by foot, walking 100s of kilometers in the hot sun with their babies and small children as trains or buses were not running. Imagine the extent of their desperation as they feared for their lives. If the living conditions were tolerable, they would not have fled to their villages in fear and would have waited during the lock downs. To make matters worse, even those laborers who were provided housing by employers were chased out as they feared the pandemic would spread rapidly in the poorly ventilated quarters that they provided that were cramped with some times 8 to 10 people in a room.
An absolute shame that as Architects, probably the only community who had an understanding about the importance of good social housing, sanitation, building regulations for communities in urban areas failed to mobilize any tangible change that would have lessened the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic and such plagues in the future. Our cities have proven to be very vulnerable and it is the marginalized who are the most impacted. This also has a cascading impact on the economy and eventually impacts all business and commerce, making our economy unsustainable and vulnerable.