DHAKA’S fast growing population, the concentration of services and industries and a high consumption of natural assets and resources are primarily responsible for the degradation of its environment. The urban poor settled in unsafe areas are an additional factor contributing to environmental degradation. The conditions, allied to inadequate infrastructure and ineffective planning, and grossly insufficient enforcement are amongst the greatest threats to Dhaka’s sustainable development.
In the absence of guidelines, the impact of development on environmentally sensitive areas has not been given adequate attention, leading to degradation of the natural environment. Encroachment on and the filling of rivers, canals and lakes are a great threat to environmental condition. If the dumping of municipal and industrial wastes into canals continues, not only there will be an ecological disaster but residents will also be exposed to health hazards.
Generally, the discharge of untreated industrial effluent, urban waste water agrochemicals, sewage water, storm run-off, solid waste, oil spillage, sedimentation and concurrent encroachment are major reasons responsible for the pollution of Dhaka’s watershed. Industrial effluent discharged from and domestic sewerage from a large part of the city through storm sewers are responsible for the pollution of the Buriganga-Turag-Bangshi Dhaleshwari river system. Besides, people living on river banks throw their household wastes into the rivers.
Encroachment on watershed areas is common, which results in an increased trend of wetland degradation. Most of the natural drains in the Dhaka city disappeared or are on verge of disappearance because of illegal encroachment. Encroachment on the rivers through unauthorised construction and the dumping of solid waste is a source of river water pollution.
Management of hazardous waste is gradually becoming a threat to human health. The most adverse of them are that they can get into the food chain through cultivation on contaminated land and their impact on indigenous species.
The environmental impacts arising from air pollution are increasing with the rapid growth of the city, intense industrial activities, huge population and an increased number of motor vehicles. The major sources of air pollution in Dhaka are vehicular emissions, small industries such as brick kilns and suspended road dust. The deterioration of air quality can be a serious hazard to human healths leading to pulmonary, respiratory and neurological illness as well as a reduction in visibility. Noise pollution is adversely affecting the environment of this city and causing physical and psychological problems.
RAJUK and local governments must coordinate strategies to ensure land use compatibility in planning processes to prevent generation of new noise sources. Residential and other sensitive developments should be designed to minimise noise impact. Neighbourhoods, educational institutions and hospitals should be provided with a green buffer zone to create noise-free healthy environment.
Tanvir Ahmed is an urban planner.
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