Zoning for vulnerable areas in Dhaka

Consistently, following a similar trend of New York and other big cities of Europe, Dhaka, where the majority of the COVID-19 victims in Bangladesh lives, is also witnessing an indistinguishable pattern of contamination. 

Among the total 84,379 infectors in the country until June 13 of this year, 19,327 (21%) infectors alone came from Dhaka City which even does not include Narayanganj, Gazipur and other contiguous peripheral regions of the city.  

Dhaka is one of the world’s most densely populated cities having least privileges of environmental protection and sanitation facilities comparing many other cities of the world. 

While the Health and Sanitation Ranking Organisation  conducts their ‘Quality of Living: World Wide City Ranking’, Dhaka City has always been given either the second or third position among the 25 dirtiest cities of the world. 

The density of lead in the air of Dhaka City in the dry season reaches 463 nanograms, which is the highest in the world and it is much higher than some of its comparable and competitive cities of the world.  Air pollution in Dhaka City is alarming because of its highest number of population and increasing pressure of transport. 

Under such situation, Dhaka now becomes a hotspot region for coronavirus contamination as it has impenetrable density of population with multifarious groups of people living here and many of them are moving around the city in search of different work activities for their survival. 

The city is surrounded by a huge number of garments industries where the workers have lesser sense of distance maintenance and lockdown rules which as a matter of fact, threatens the city further during this stage of COVID-19 pandemic. 

While having latest data on Dhaka City, it becomes clear to us that majority of the COVID-19 victims are coming from Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur as these places are the central locations of people’s movement. Lockdown in Dhaka City does not work properly as the law enforcers often become puzzled in controlling the public movement and their careless attitude. 

If we observe very carefully, we find that many low-earning working people specially the vendors, workers, hawkers and a few other groups of people still are not using any facial mask nor are they maintaining any social distance among themselves while moving on the streets. 

Based on the case distribution of the infectors in Dhaka City, it is found that COVID-19 has now entered in all parts of Dhaka city starting from Rajabazar to Gulshan and Jatrabari to Dhanmondi; but the number of victims are not the same and consistent in all parts of the city. Out of 19,327 contamination in Dhaka City until 13 June, 864 are suspected to be coming from older part of Dhaka city, which is the most densely populated region. 

In this context, Rajarbagh and Khilgaon areas together having nearness to Kamalapur Railway station is also coming almost closer to Old Dhaka showing about 440 patients in this area until now. Mohakhali, being a busy commercial zone has 457 infectors while Mugda in contrary, is a crowded residential zone which has 487 contaminators. 

The total number of victims in Kakrail roughly stands at 300 which however, does not seem to be a crowded place as compared to old Dhaka; in this case, it is presumably suspected that a few of the victims from Kakrail might be coming from the followers relating to Tablig Jamat congregation. 

Similarly, Mohammadpur and Mirpur are also showing quite prominence in terms of infection as Mohammadpur itself has 394 infectors and this number for Mirpur is 602. 

It may be mentioned here that a particular section of people in Mirpur and Mohammadpur areas especially the Bihari communities always have a kind of notoriety to overlook the rules imposed during the coronavirus situation; they always come out of their houses very recklessly and lockdown system does never work there in true sense. 

In common saying, Japan Garden City of Ring Road is often regarded as the slum of rich people and surprisingly, having a quite dense living, there has not been any reported case of corona perhaps because of the reason that, strict rules are imposed in terms of accessibility of the outsiders in these apartments. 

Being a very sophisticated residential zone, Dhanmondi is also not spared from the contamination where we find that there are around 294 cases of infectors in this area until June 13, the reasons however, remaining unexplored. A total of 433 persons are detected in Uttara and the cases of abomination are also increasing in Dhaka Cantonment. 

By contrast, the contamination rate of Dhaka University area including BUET has remained to be at a tolerable level as it is reflected from our data that these areas until now, are not identified as red zones.  

It may however be noted here that the students residing in the residential accommodation of these two universities had already vacated their halls; had the students been present, the situation in these areas might have been different. Yet, it seems clear to us that if the lockdown procedure is strictly maintained, there is lesser possibility of having contamination. 

Like other surrounding areas of the city, Rampura has 197 cases of infectors, while the count for such victims in Gulshan is 163 which clearly say that the pattern of contamination in Dhaka City is not always very consistent. 

As Bashabo has 122 cases of contaminators, Badda on the other hand, has 195 infectors and since Bashudhara Housing Complex is located in this region, a substantial number of affecters are also identified in these residential blocs. 

In providing an overall statistical distribution of contamination, it is evident that COVID-19 has affected at least one hundred places and streets of Dhaka city which is very much alarming for all of us as the number is proportionately increasing every day with a consistent rise of victims at the national level. 

Many people complain that being a capital city, Dhaka has not been properly guarded since the very beginning of the pandemic and law enforcers often failed to keep people at home and ensuring physical distance while people are coming out. 

Police high officials now report that many people often come out of the houses with such excuses that they often cannot turn them away. Many responsible persons think that it might be possible to minimize the outbreak of the disease if the authorities could stop the exodus to and from Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur. 

Thus a rapid upsurge of COVID-19 in Bangladesh during the last one month finally has accentuated the Government to form a national committee for intercepting the coronavirus outbreak throughout the country earmarking at least 45 areas of North and South City Corporations of Dhaka City as high risk areas or red zones. 

The committee is marking an area as red in Dhaka which has recorded minimum 60 COVID cases among 100,000 people in one close-packed neighborhood in the last 14 days and this ratio for red zone outside Dhaka and Chittagong is however, 10 cases to 100,000 people. 

If this number ranges from 3 to 59, it will then be treated as yellow zone while on the contrary, three or lesser number of patients being the infectors among 100000 people will be regarded as green zone.  Although these criteria are useful for classification, yet there are many flaws which might affect the principal assessment situation especially in the green zone as we should not be very liberal for those few specific houses in this zone which are infected. 

Although the number of contaminators are quite less in the green zone, yet these specific houses having been identified in this zone should be sealed very strictly so that they do not allow spreading the disease further. 

Besides East and West Rajabazar, the red zones in Dhaka North now includes Gulshan, Badda, Cantonment, Mohakhali Tejgaon, Rampura, Aftabnagar, Mohammadpur, Kalyanpur, Moghbazar, Airport, Banasree, Uttara and Mirpur. And similarly, Dhaka South red zones are Jatrabari, Demra, Mugda, Gendaria, Dhanmondi, Jigatola, Lalbagh, Azimpur, Basabo, Shantinagar, Paltan, Kolabagan, Ramna, Sutrapur, Malibagh, Kotwali, Tikatuli, Mitford, Shahjahanpur, Motijheel, Wari, Khilgaon, Paribagh, Kadamtali, Siddheshwari, Laxmibazar, Elephant Road and Segunbagicha. 

Since the lockdown has now been proposed and approved by our Prime Minister to be extended with zoning strategy, we urge the Health Ministry this time, to be very serious and uncompromising in implementing the WHO prescribed rules everywhere including Dhaka, so that it does not go on swelling any further. 

We also suggest that the Local Government Ministry may simultaneously engage the elected local councilors to be vigilant in assisting the Government for proper implementation of the rules. It is very much appreciating that the Government has decided to deploy troops in the areas flagged as red zones thus assisting the civic authorities and police forces in enforcing a strict lockdown in the area; please remember that regular army patrolling in the red zones is a necessity and also, it is the pat of social control. 

On behalf of the residents of Dhaka City, we earnestly request our Mayors of the city immediately to go for implementing the lockdown right away very strictly without any further delay anymore; otherwise, the whole situation in Dhaka will be horrendous, being irremediable.

Prof AHM Zehadul Karim is a former Vice Chancellor of a public university in Bangladesh, now teaches at Jagannath University