Dhaka braces for sewage mess

Shahin Akhter and Ferdous Ara
Schoolchildren make their way through water mixed with sewage overflowing a road stretch at Kuril in the capital on Sunday amid risk of serious health hazards. — Sourav Loskar

Schoolchildren make their way through water mixed with sewage overflowing a road stretch at Kuril in the capital on Sunday amid risk of serious health hazards. — Sourav Loskar

Dhaka city with its rapidly rising population and totally inadequate sewerage and drainage networks is headed for public health and environmental disasters, cautioned experts.
The sewerage system developed by Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority decades back hardly covers 25 per cent of the city area, said WASA officials.
The system in place is totally inadequate to cater to the city’s fast growing population estimated at more than 1.50 crore, they said.
The sewerage network was last upgraded from 1979 to 1985 when the city’s population was less than 50 lakh.
Dhanmondi, Lalmatia, Tejkunipara and Nakhalpara were brought under sewerage network during the upgrade exercise.
A government decision taken about 11 years to assign a single agency to look after the city’s drainage to cut down expenditure and provide better service was never implemented.
Even posh residential areas like Baridhara, Banani, Uttara, Gulshan, Mirpur and Aftabnagar are not covered by DWASA’s sewerage network, said officials.
A pilot project taken by DWASA in 1986 to bring a part of Mirpur under sewerage network ended in failure as the spot selected for sewer disposal was filled up.
A major portion of around 3.6 lakh cubic metres of excreta the city produces everyday is released into the four rivers passing by the city and the lakes and canals around it, said environmentalists.
City residents complained that the water supplied by DWASA is often laced with sewer posing threat to public health.
Lack of coordination between DWASA and the two city corporations keeps even busy city roads and several residential areas under water after moderate rains.
Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s neonatal medicine department head Abeed Hossain Mollah blamed the city’s perennial water logging for mosquito borne diseases.
He held said sewer laced water supply responsible for the city’s endemic public health issues like dysentery, diarrhoea, jaundice and hepatitis.
Water Aid country representative Khairul Islam said that Bangladesh was among the countries that would not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of providing its citizens access to Basic sanitation by 2015.
He said that the city’s sewerage network severely damaged by 1998 floods needed immediate rehabilitation.
He expressed doubts whether sewerage treatment plants could deliver in a densely populated city like Dhaka.
He blamed water pollution caused by lack of proper sewerage and drainage systems for the country’s high rate malnutrition.
About 41 per cent of the country’s children below five are stunted, according to Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2011.
Drastic steps must be taken urgently to improve and expand the city’s sewerage management to save it from an impending environmental disaster, said architect and green campaigner Iqbal Habib.
He called it unbelievable that in the current fiscal the government allocated no money for the implementation of DWASA’s sewerage master plan that seeks to bring the entire city under the coverage of sewerage network.
DWASA’s practice of connecting sewerage lines with the storm water drainage network only to release the dangerous wastes into the water bodies and the rivers is totally unacceptable, he said.
The city’s lone waste treatment plant at Pagla built decades ago is proving totally inadequate even to treat wastes from areas covered by the sewerage net work, said officials.
DWASA deputy managing director for operation and maintenance SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury told New
Age that in 2012, DWASA took a  sewerage master plan to bring the whole city under sewerage network in 23 years.
Experts said that no visible initiatives were taken under the master plan until now.
With DWASA looking after the city’s underground drainage and the two corporations running the surface drains the residents witness wastage of resources and suffer problems of  uncoordinated actions.
In 2003, the government started to discuss entrusting the city’s drainage management to a single agency.
About a decade later a government appointed committee reviewed the issue and recommended to entrust the task to the two city corporations.
Implementation of the recommendation would require more time, local government division secretary Monjur Hossian told New Age.
With its rising population, the old adage that ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’ no longer holds true for the fast growing city of Dhaka.
The city’s acute lack of drainage and sewerage facilities provide it the recipe for a health crisis.

One Comment

  1. The drainage system in Dhaka is totally in mess as the system cannot cater to any people in the city. A recent rains have flooded all most all roads of Dhaka and thus created the whole drainage system collapsed.The DWASA says that drainage system in Dhaka has not been renovated since 1986 and DWASA was going to connect the drainage system in Mirpur but that place was already filled. DWASA said that a master plan was taken after 23 years to connect Dhaka with the drainage system but that plan is still to see the light. We hope that authorities will look into the matter with due concern and get Dhaka’s drainage system alright by doing the needful else the place will not be liveable anymore.

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