The Financial Express

Dhaka needs all-season shelters

Dhaka needs all-season shelters

Like during the 5-month-long shutdown period, street children still continue to pass their time in leisurely abandon. The teenage vagabonds or underprivileged free-moving children are found roaming the capital, or enjoying the warmth of the winter sun --- engaged in gossiping in parks, or whatever venues they prefer. Some others may be encountered engrossed in the euphoria of glue-sniffing, a cheap drug addiction. These boys and girls do not have to worry about collecting fresh textbooks for the new academic year from school. They are least bothered about attending online classes. School attendance is aeons away from their day-to-day activities. Schools are yet to reopen. Lifestyle of these teenagers remains untouched.

The same is true with many jobless male and female youths. Some young women are seen with toddlers and babies in their laps. Old people are also found among this crowd without shelter. Their mirthless faces speak of their destitution.

These chunks of Dhaka's population turn conspicuous after dusk. As the long winter night wears out and gets deeper to approach midnight, these hapless people are found scattered throughout the city. After frantic searches, some of them find a shed, especially beside arrays of shuttered shops at a roadside shopping centre. Many fail to find one. They just roll out their makeshift bed; in fact torn sheets of paper, on plain concrete on a footpath. Those who have tattered blankets to cover them from head to toe are fortunate. But there is a matter of sheer serendipity. It occurs like a miracle when a charity group is found distributing colourful and thick blankets among people lying at unclean, filthy places in the chilly nights. Those who remain deprived of this opportunity mostly pass sleepless nights, to pass the first half of the next day dozing or idling at the secluded parts of a sunny public place.

In many Western developed countries, homeless people are found deep asleep in cardboard-made shelters beside sidewalks. But they are sufficiently dressed. In woollen undergarments, thick leather-coated jackets, hand gloves and heavy shoes, and monkey-caps covering the head and face, they are barely recognisable. These highly protected people under a blanket each are well prepared to beat the severe cold, as well as wind-swept snowflakes. A number of rich European countries have overnight summer shelters in place. Homeless people deprived of sound sleep in a comfortably cool atmosphere can spend nights there. During abnormally hot summer seasons, these shelters provide the homeless with a cool interior. The shelters are spacious and people can pass their scorching daytime and hot nights at these places. Winter hits the homeless with equal ferocity. It's amazing that the cold-hit people are mostly left out of the overnight shelter facility in these countries during wintry times.  These developed countries, with lengthy winter, are capable of building spacious warm shelters in their big cities. The homeless people are normally deprived of the central heating system in a winter-proof shelter.

In Bangladesh, winter these days is short-lived. But the scene was different in the past. The pre-winter mildly cold season of autumn would arrive in late October. It would last until the arrival of full winter in December to wreak havoc on life until the arrival of mid-February. The cold season used to dominate the villages. But three to four decades ago, winter would arrive in Dhaka with all its ferocity. Ominously, those winters are feared to stage a comeback. The capital is, increasingly, in need of all-season shelters. Apart from winter, the season of summer is also adopting a severe nature. Same is the case with monsoon, the season dreaded by the poorer people. With these realities taken as a whole, Dhaka needs dozens of all-purpose temporary charge-free shelters.

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