Dog days for Delhi’s homeless | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 31.05.2012
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Dog days for Delhi’s homeless

With temperatures soaring in Delhi and other parts of northern India, many are having a tough time coping with the sweltering conditions. For the homeless in the capital the problems are even worse.

The relentless heatwave and rising mercury have made daytime conditions unbearable for Prabjyot Devi, 45, and her four children, who stay in a tin shed that houses 25 people in a corner of a dusty and grimy lane in the Indian capital.

Inside the shed, the temperatures are almost 4 degrees more than the hot winds blowing outside, which have taken temperature to a searing 45 degrees Celsius and more (113° Fahrenheit).

Homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk in New Delhi

The heat wave makes it too hot to sleep indoors

“It is like a furnace inside. The children can't stay in at all and prefer to sit outside. Even animals are provided fans and coolers at the Delhi zoo in the summer, but there is nothing for us,” laments Devi as she desperately throws water on the floor to keep the temperatures down.

“We have to think ten times before entering this shed in the scorching heat," adds Devi's daughter Rani, covering her face with a scarf for protection.

Malika Begum, a domestic help, is equally frustrated.

“In the absence of fans and any other amenities, these tin boxes turn into torture chambers when the temperatures go up. Two of my children are suffering from diarrhea for the past three days,” Begum told DW.

Homeless still wait for adequate living conditions

An unidentified person eats on the sidewalk in New Delhi

Delhi has done little to alleviate the homeless problem

With the unprecedented, and deadly, heat wave sweeping across huge swathes of northern India, the homeless, especially those living in Delhi, are having a difficult time.

Many of the capital's 56,000 homeless people prefer to live under the shade of a tree, or on the streets than to live in these shelters.

Their reasons are understandable because these porta cabins made of thin tin sheets are unlivable. The structures are in bad shape and the light inside the cabin is solar powered, but with a 12 volt battery, it's impossible to run a fan. To compound the problems, many shelters are infested with armies of mosquitoes.

An Indian homeless man on the sidewalk at night

'Even animals in the zoo have fans', one woman said

Many of those living in these such squalid conditions were displaced by the Commonwealth Games held in 2010. India spent about 6 billion US dollars to improve the infrastructure and sporting venues, including relocating the city's tens of thousands of slum dwellers.

The government promised housing and $5,000 per family. But many are still waiting for the compensation and the delay has led to an increase in homelessness.

“A tin shelter becomes a cold storage in winter and an oven in summer. So you find people sleeping around the place rather than inside. These are people who have suffered, people who fall sick and even die because of the high temperatures inside the shelter,” Indu Prakash Singh, of the Urban Rights Forum for the Homeless, told DW.

Indifferent attitudes of civic bodies

Homeless freeze in the streets in winter

The homeless freeze in winter and roast in summer

The Delhi High Court, in several orders, especially after the Commonwealth Games, has called for the construction of sufficient and adequate permanent shelters for the homeless and for the provision of basic amenities in existing shelters.

Even during winter there were directives from the Supreme Court urging civic authorities to prepare shelters before the mercury plummeted to freezing. However, to date, the municipal bodies have displayed little sense of urgency.

“The absence of water and sanitation facilities poses acute problems for homeless women and children and threatens their security. Mobile health vans, despite court orders, do not visit most of the shelters.” said rights activist Abdul Shakeel, who works with the homeless.

The city has only 64 permanent and 54 temporary shelters which can accommodate just over 14,000 people. That means there are about 40,000 homeless people on the streets, left to fend for themselves every night, trying hard to stay cool and alive.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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