We were walking deep within a maze of narrow, muddy pathways that separated the simple homes of the Bola slum in Dhaka. The structures around us were created of sheets of tin, held together with bamboo sticks and rope that somehow managed to rise up into two-story buildings. Open sewage drains ran between the houses, along which women crouched to stir pots of rice and dahl on electrical cookers. A representative of this informal settlement later described the people of the Bola slum to have become like spiders in their webs – if a fire broke out, they would have no means of escaping this deep maze, and would perish within the tin structures, like a spider dies within its web.
This visit was part of a field trip taken during ICCCAD’s fourth Urban Climate Change course, which took place from 3rd to 9th May, 2014. Twenty-one local government officials, urban planners, engineers and researchers from Africa and Asia attended, to learn how their cities capacity for adapting to environmental change can be built.
The fieldtrip played a central role in giving the members of the course a practical understanding of the urban challenges being exacerbated by climate change. It complemented the more theoretical focus of the workshop’s lectures and group work. The participants gained a first-hand experience of the risks faced by residents of the slum – witnessing, for example, how the open sewer could flood during the rainy season. In a visit to Dhaka City Corporation North, the course attendees learnt how Bangladesh is dealing with these slum problems by, amongst other things, providing waste collectors with two separate carts, so garbage can be sorted and the pressure on landfills reduced. One participant, Ngo Thilan Phoung, could relate this problem to her own city in Vietnam, where efforts to encourage people to sort their waste have been in vain because garbage is ultimately collected in one truck.
With the skills and knowledge gained from this course, the participants have committed themselves to updating government policies on climate change and implementing their own plans in this area. As Denny Eko Prisanto, from Indonesia, summarised, this field visit has given him the concrete understanding he has needed to achieve these goals. Hopefully, with the work of these government officials, researchers and engineers, living conditions like those in the Bola slum will be improved across the developing world.