Pollutions leave Dhaka city in sorry state

Sadiqur Rahman and Rashad Ahamad | Published: 04:15, Oct 26,2018


Clockwise from top, dust covers an area at Jurain, a bus releases black smoke at Bangla Motors and wastes lie on the road island at Eskaton in the capital. — New Age photos

The Global Liveability Index 2018 has ranked Dhaka as the second least liveable city of the world, closely following the war-ravaged Syria’s Damascus.
Bad condition of public transport, housing, health, water-stagnation, poor drainage and waste management of the Dhaka city are among the factors taken into consideration in preparing the report.
Shrinking open spaces for recreation and environmental pollution have made life more difficult for over 20 million people living in 269 square kilometre area.
City planners and greens have said that Bangladesh needs to scale up enforcement of environmental laws and provide incentives to industries to phase out polluting practices as pollution is rapidly degrading the country’s environment, especially in the urban areas.
Pollution spread for mismanagement of solid waste at every level of its collection and disposal as the city corporations have no mechanism to dispose them in an environment-friendly way while 80 per cent of people are still out of any sewerage treatment coverage.
On September 16, the World Bank published the Country Environmental Analysis 2018 that estimates around 80,000 deaths and 2.6 million Disability Adjusted Life Years, in short DALYs, were caused in the country by air pollution, poor availability of water, sanitation and hygiene and other similar factors in 2015.
According to World Health Organisation definition, DALY is calculated as the sum of the year lost due to disability.
The World Bank report also said almost 18,000 deaths and 5,78,000 DALYs were counted in the capital alone in 2015.
The economic welfare impacts of the mortality are estimated at $6.52 billion in all urban areas of the country while the capital alone shared $1.44 billion, according to the report.
Health experts have expressed concern that heavy presence of dust in the air, due mainly to haphazard construction works and poor management, is taking huge toll on the health of dwellers, especially children and elderly people.
According to Air Quality Index reports of the Department of Environment’s Clean Air and Sustainable Environment project, air quality of Dhaka remains ‘extremely unhealthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ round the year.
Air quality experts and officials of city corporations have told New Age that haphazard construction works, huge traffic and poor maintenance of roads are polluting the air in the cities.
DoE measures ambient level pollutants at its 11 Continuous Air Monitoring Stations – including three in Dhaka.
Respiratory medicine expert Md Khairul Anam, associate professor at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, has told New Age that the number of patients suffering from bronchiolitis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was increasing because of extreme air pollution.
Additional secretary for the environment, forest and climate change ministry SM Munjurul Hannan Khan, also the CASE project director, has blamed massive urbanisation, poor dust management and lack of law enforcement by the city corporations for air pollution.
Besides mismanagement of construction materials, CASE project consultant Swapan Kumar Biswas finds re-suspension of dust in the air due to busy traffic which intensifies particulate matters’ concentration in the air.
Particulate matters are less than 2.5 and 10 micron in diameter.
‘Negligence in repairing city roads after relocation of utility services and violation of guideline for regular water sprinkle at the construction site create huge dust in the air,’ Swapan said.
In the capital people have no option but to breathe its air heavily polluted with dusts.
Although, a number of government wings deal with environment, no credible authorities shoulder the responsibility to address the capital’s serious public health issue.
Dhaka University chemistry teacher and Air Quality Research and Monitoring Centre sub-project manager Md Mominul Islam also said that ultra-fine dusts having gaseous characteristics easily penetrate deep inside the lung and get into the bloodstream causing cardiovascular complications including heart diseases.
City water bodies including canals, ponds and rivers are getting polluted every day as untreated effluents are being discharged there.
Dhaka WASA officials say that only 20 per cent of city people are under their sewerage treatment coverage.
Dhaka WASA managing director Taqsem A Khan, however, refuses to shoulder the responsibility of the pollution and says that Dhaka WASA does not collect bills against sewerage treatment.
‘It’s the responsibility of the house owner to dispose his/her sewerage with their own mechanism,’ he says.
Dhaka WASA board member and also Dhaka South City Corporation ward 26 councillor Hasibur Rahman Manik says that people used to connect their sewerage line to the city drainage network which pollutes water bodies.
He informs that Dhaka WASA has taken a project to build five more sewerage treatment plants at different locations in the city.
Sound pollution is another threat to city dwellers’ health.
Vehicle drivers create nuisances by unnecessary use of horns, which are not only affect the health of people staying on the road that time, but also affect the neighbours, especially patients, elderly people and children.
Citizens, vexed by the noisy atmosphere in the roads, have urged the government to address the problem immediately.
Bangladesh Institute of Planners general secretary Adil Mohammed Khan says that the major sources of noise pollution in urban areas are traffic and loud horns.
In Dhaka, the average sound level is 80-110dB in prime areas such as Farmgate, Karwan Bazar, Shahbagh and Gabtoli – which is almost twice the maximum allowable noise level.
Health experts warn that exposure to high sound intensifies health complications such as partial deafness, cardiac diseases and psychological disorder.
Executive member of Doctors for Health and Environment, also a preventive medicine expert, Lenin Choudhury warns that exposure to excessive noise increases secretion of stress hormone, heart rate as well as blood pressure causing cardiac problems and insomnia.
Sound Pollution (control) Rules 2006 prohibits creating sound above 45 decibel in residential areas between 9:00pm and 6:00am.
According to rules, the first time offenders of the law will face imprisonment for one month and be fined Tk 5,000 while the repeaters would be imprisoned for six months and fined Tk 10,000.
Planners believe that solid wastes pollute Dhaka much in different ways as the government agencies concerned failed to ensure waste management neither at the source nor at the disposing stage.
Jahangirnagar University urban and regional planning teacher Farhana Akther blames mismanagement of solid wastes for pollution in Dhaka city.
She says the solid wastes not only make the city ugly, it pollutes city air and water dangerously polluted.
Environmental researchers for long are expressing concern over the increasing use of plastics for packaging perishable foods as the non-biodegradable substances are frequently dumped in landfills, polluting the environment, soil and water.
Despite repeated initiatives, two Dhaka city corporations are not yet ready to adopt the strategy of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, in short the 3R strategy formulated in 2010 by the Department of Environment.
A huge quantity of plastic wastes is choking drains, canals, rivers, or littered on roads and crop fields. They are used to package food items, medicines, furniture and other goods before they are thrown away carelessly.
A study by Waste Concern, published in 2015, shows that plastic wastes rapidly increased in Bangladesh’s urban centres.
In 2014, the share of plastic wastes dumped at landfills rose to 8.45 per cent from 5.25 per cent in 2005, it shows.
Waste Concern executive director Abu Hasnat Md Maqsood Sinha tells New Age that the share of plastic wastes has increased further by 2018 as consumers love to buy food products in plastic packs.
Maqsood calls for recycling plastic wastes by separating them from biodegradable litters.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hepatology professor Mamun Al Mahtab describes plastic as a hazardous element for nature as it does not degrade even for centuries.
If plastic enters human body in any form, it may cause cancer, critical lunch diseases, food poisoning and other deadly diseases, he warns.
A Taiwan-based research associate of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association Xavier Sun recently said that Bangladesh’s popular import items of skin cleaning products contained 300,000 to 500,000 plastic microbeads, another potential source of plastic pollution.
Millions of plastic microbeads of cleaning products like face wash cream and toothpaste are spreading out in the environment through drainage systems, posing serious health threats by contaminating people’s food chain.
City corporation officials have admitted that they have no mechanism to dispose electrical and electronic wastes while a non-government organisation has been disposing medical wastes generated in the city.
City people have alleged that they daily see medical wastes in dustbins set for municipal wastes.
Medical waste floating in drain and other water bodies is a common scene in the city.
Green activists allege that city water bodies have been polluted and filled by haphazard dumping of solid wastes.
Dhaka North City Corporation chief waste management officer Air Commodore MA Razzak says that they cannot collect 20 per cent of total wastes generated in the city.
He says that with more than 3,000 cleaners and 150 vehicles they can collect 2,500 tonnes of solid wastes daily from the city and dump them at its lone Aminbazar landfill.
Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan general secretary Mohammad Abdul Matin says that solid wastes not only pollute the environment at the source but also pollute it at the level of final so-called disposal stage.
He observes that none of the city corporation disposes wastes environmentally; they just dump them.
Dhaka South City Corporation chief waste management officer Air Commodore Zahid Hossain says that a project is underway for environment-friendly disposal of city wastes at Matuail landfill.
He says once the project is implemented, they will generate power from wastes.
Posters and banners, on the other hand, all over the city’s roads and walls as signs of celebrations by different political parties make the city look ugly.
Posters, banner, festoon as well as hoardings still exist in large number even after repeated drivers against them.
At different public spaces, advertisements are illegally displayed. This trend is increasing as election is nearing and candidate hopefuls have started their publicity.
Dhaka south city mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon says that the Department of Environment is mandated to control all sorts of pollutions not only in city but also all over the country.
Dhaka South City Corporation will sprinkle water on the road to control dust from November to April as the corporation often does it, says the mayor.
The enforcement wing of the Department of Environment, till September, has charged 4,363 environment polluting industrial projects Tk 275.31 crore as compensation and realised Tk 168.60 crore since July 2010.
During the time, DoE also charged 117 industrial and construction project Tk 1.95 crore as compensation and realised Tk 1.73 crore for sound pollution, as per officials.
DoE director general Sultan Ahmed tells New Age that people are becoming aware about the hazardous consequences by environmental pollution.
The department has come to know that about 80 per cent industries in the capital and its adjacent districts have installed effluent treatment plants, he claims.
‘Monitoring on the industries whether they are using the ETPs round the clock is challenging. But the department will implement a pilot basis online-monitoring soon. After evaluation of the project, the government will expand the monitoring system,’ Sultan says.
He informs the government will launch a four-year project to campaign against sound pollution.
Commercial production of bio-degradable shopping bags made of jute fibre will reduce the use of plastic, he notes.
Planner Adil Mohammed Khan suggests that for the revival of environment and landscape of Dhaka city, urban authorities should work at ward level, engaging common people in the planning and development processes.
‘Mega projects and mega investments without integrated approach of problem solving will not solve problems of Dhaka city,’ he thinks.
He says there are adequate laws to project environment pollution but main problem is lack of implementation.

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