Urgent concerns are now being raised about the state of India’s readiness for the Commonwealth Games, due to start on October 3rd. Individual athletes have said they will not be attending the games in Delhi and certain country teams are also unsure whether they will take part, though the Indian authorities insist the athletes’ village will be ready on time. But it isn’t only the accommodation for the athletes which is in question. A footbridge under construction to take pedestrians to the Games collapsed, injuring 27 workers and a section of roof at the weightlifting venue fell in. These collapses were the latest setbacks in preparations which have suffered continual delays and been plagued by bad weather in recent months. And many of the construction workers fell prey to an outbreak of dengue fever in the Indian capital.
Sites for the Games have been built alongside the Yamuna River in the east of Delhi, where a new complex of flats is meant to house 7,000 athletes and their families. Officials are accused of ignoring protests that the area was unsuitable, because it lies on a flood plain and is more prone to earthquakes than other parts of the capital. In addition, the Yamuna river becomes clogged during monsoon rains, making it a breeding ground for the mosquitoes which carry dengue fever and other diseases.
Delhi has long attracted migrants in search of work and a better life. Some families arrived in the city because of the construction jobs offered by the Asian Games in 1982. But even when new arrivals to the city find work, they rarely have the resources to afford decent accommodation. This is why so many slums have sprung up in the land around Delhi, including the Pashta slums on the banks of the Yamuna River. It is ironic that some of the building workers who settled in these slums for the earlier Asian Games, were among the 150,000 made homeless by the authorities when the area was cleared for the Commonwealth Games.
Slum areas house around 40 per cent of Delhi’s population. Here Delhi’s poor live in overcrowded conditions, without proper water, sewage or sanitation. Many health indices recorded in Delhi’s slums, such as infant mortality at 142 deaths for every 1,000 live births, are higher than for the poor living in rural areas. This is because slum dwellers are exposed to stagnant water, open drains and sewers. In addition to dysentery, cholera and diarrhoea, the contaminated water all around contains parasites such as hookworm, whipworm and roundworm, which affect children in particular. Delhi’s children suffer from a whole variety of illnesses, which also include tuberculosis and respiratory tract infections. And many have vitamin-A deficiencies which can lead to blindness.
If the Games aren’t working out as the authorities had hoped, neither are the lives of many of workers who came to Delhi to help make them a reality.