Dhaka’s hygiene crises threaten public health

Rashad Ahamad | Published: 00:23, Dec 20,2019


A man on Thursday urinates at a garbage dumping station at Nayabazar in Dhaka where rubbish lies littered around. — Indrajit Kumer Ghosh

Lack of safe water, sewage treatment, safe disposal of solid wastes and unavailable and affordable sanitation facilities in public spaces continue to haunt Dhaka, for which the city is now an unhygienic urban centre, posing a public health risk for its 17 million inhabitants.

Public health experts said that for the lack of the hygiene practices and measures to maintain those, people living in Dhaka were getting exposed to different waterborne diseases including cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid and so on.

Urban planners are of the opinion that Dhaka is growing by deviating from plans, which destroyed almost all preconditions necessary for the maintenance of hygiene to make the city hygienic and safe for living.

BSMMU public health associate professor Md Atiqul Haque said that due to hygiene crisis the city people becoming more exposed to waterborne diseases.

‘Typhoid and mosquito menace are two obvious examples of the problem,’ he said, urging the government to ensure safe management of wastewater.

He said that they don’t have any data on how many people at which sources got exposed for hygiene-related diseases, but he said, it was clear that a huge number of patients were getting admitted at hospitals.

Experts said that for the lack of wastewater treatment, Dhaka WASA-supplied water lost its quality as in different studies faecal coliform and E coli were found in drinking water.

Last year in October, a World Bank in a report found that E coli bacteria were present in 80 per cent of household tap water across the country.

Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution tests also found 21 out of 38 samples of drinking water marketed in the capital in jars unsafe for consumption.

Bacterial contamination was found in a majority of the samples collected from all over the capital during laboratory tests by the BSTI for three months since February 2018.

In a study conducted in April, Transparency International Bangladesh found that 91 per cent consumers of Dhaka WASA had to boil water before drinking and that cost natural gas worth Tk 332 crore annually and nearly 62 per cent service seekers faced corruption and other irregularities while asking for services from the agency.

After the TIB report, Dhaka WASA managing director Taqsem claimed that the water that his agency supplied was directly drinkable, sparking stern criticisms from Dhakaites.

Experts said that 80 per cent of all diseases and two-thirds of deaths in developing countries like Bangladesh are attributed to consumption of poor-quality water.

Dhaka WASA managing director Taqsem A Khan said that the WASA was supplying safe water in the source but it contaminate at distribution pipelines.

He said that water quality would implement District Metered Area as DMA already has completed at different areas.

He also said that the Dhaka WASA would treat sewerage after completing the five treatment plants that were under construction.

Faecal coliform, a facultative anaerobic, rod-shaped, gram-negative, non-sporulating bacterium generally originates in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, causes many health hazards, including ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis and hepatitis.

E coli refers to a wide range of bacteria that can cause various diseases, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and diarrhoea. Most strains of E coli are harmless to humans. Some strains of E coli infection can include nausea, vomiting, and fever.

The Dhaka WASA is the lone government water-supplying agency committed to providing pure water to the residents of Dhaka city which residents should drink without any further purification.

Md Mahbubur Rahman, project coordinator of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, said that besides the survey the Icddr’b also conducted a study on 10 food items including vegetables, street food, restaurant food and water and found that the vegetables also contaminated with other items.

‘We can easily say that the vegetables get contaminated by the water that vendors use to wash them,’ he said.

Reports stated that all types of people, despite their age, sex and class, were exposed to hygiene but the poor, girls and children were more vulnerable for unavailability of facilities and lack of awareness.

National Hygiene Survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics unveiled in this December found that 33 per cent poor and 88 per cent rich people have hand washing facilities which included location, water and soap.

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology civil engineering professor Tanvir Ahmed said that in absence of sewage treatment facilities in Dhaka, the city is facing the same hazard if open defecation was the norm although bathrooms were in place.

‘Toileting under the open sky is equal to discharge of sewage without treatment after toileting in bathroom,’ he said.

Dhaka WASA officials said that for establishing a systematic sewage management system, a Sewerage Master Plan has been prepared in 2012, for the required expansion of the sewerage system up to 2035.

Officials said that 1450 million litres of faecal sludge was produced in the capital and is dumped into the water bodies daily.

Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority managing director Taqsem A Khan said that total sewerage generation in the Dhaka WASA area was 1,500 million litres per day and the lone treatment plant at Pagla have the capacity to treat only 50 million litre per day.

He said that sewerage was being dumped through drainage system that ends into the rivers as there in this urban jungle where houses lack septic tanks.

Though, experts said that the amount of sewerage generation in Dhaka was much higher than the estimate given by the WASA since the official number of population in the WASA area stood at 17 million.

A dilapidated public toilet stands under the Buriganga Bridge in a dirty area at Babubazar in Dhaka. The photo was snapped on Thursday.
— Indrajit Kumer Ghosh


The locations of the proposed treatment plants are Uttara, Rayer Bazar and Mirpur area.

Dhaka’s lifeline — Buriganga, Turag, Balu, Shitalakkha and other water bodies — were getting polluted as the faecal sledge is regularly dumped into the rivers through pipelines, they added.

Urban planners said that not only wastewater, solid waste management also in a severe condition in city as roughly 40 per cent wastes littering in city while the collected wastes were not disposed properly.

The process people keep all types of waste, collected by the authority and managed totally unhygienic which exposed the persons who deal with the waste and the city people too.

Waste Concern country director AH Maqsood Sinha said that both the Dhaka South and Dhaka North City corporations were dumping all types of solid wastes at Aminbazar and Matuail landfills in the name of waste management.

City people complained that littering of waste in city created public nuisance and acute sufferings for them.

Rights activists expressed concern over the dismal reality and said it would make achievement of Sustainable Development Goal-6 ‘quite impossible’ unless the government took some pragmatic steps immediately to reverse the situation.

Experts said that food hygiene became a serious issue for Bangladesh as contaminated food items were served by restaurants and street vendors.

Restaurants and food vendors hardly followed hygiene codes while foods were prepared there next to open toilets. And many of the ingredients in the foods had gone stale.

BBS survey also found that 63 service staff and 68 per cent kooks in restaurant don’t wash their hands during duty hours.

Studies have revealed widespread contamination in and adulteration of a wide range of foods from powdered baby milk to drinking water.

Pigments used in dyeing were found in foods. These colours are being used in candies and chewing gums. Restaurants were found using textile grade colours in biriyani.

Fertiliser ingredients like ammonium nitrate were found in sweets and bakery items to increase its shelf life and make it crispy. Industrial grade ethephon and carbide were used for ripening fruits, especially mangoes.

The vendors are using unsafe water to prepare street foods and they are also reusing water in serving consumers, forcing them to be affected in many diseases.

A 2010 Food and Agriculture Organisation study shows that 100 per cent of street food vendors have no training on food safety and food serving or handling. About 58 per cent of the vendors do not cover their food while selling.

About 63 per cent of them use supply water for drinking purpose and almost 100 per cent of the vendors did not use hand gloves while preparing and serving food, the study says.

An Icddr,b study released in February 2015 found that about 50 per cent of the street food tested was contaminated with various diarrhoea-causing bacteria, and over 40 per cent contained traces of the faecal pathogen. Bacteria can cause bloody diarrhoea and, in extreme cases, kidney failure or even death, it says.

Dhaka South City Corporation chief health officer Brigadier General Md Sharif Ahmed said that the city corporation continued regular monitoring on food hygiene.

‘We conduct mobile courts and collect samples on regular basis to ensure safe food for residents,’ he said.

He also added that two slaughter houses were under construction in the city for ensuring meat for residents in hygienic environment.

Before the latest BBS survey, the Icddr’b conducted a baseline survey in 2014 and found more vulnerable scenario.

Mahbubur Rahman said that hand washing facility in 2014 was 40 per cent and it improved to 61 per cent according to the reports.

Water, sanitation and hygiene campaigners said that crisis of decent toilets were another problem to make the city hygienic.

WaterAid Bangladesh head of policy and advocacy Abdullah Al-Muyeed observed that there was an acute crisis of public toilets in Dhaka and of the few that it has some cannot be used for the poor maintenance of the facilities.

He demanded to cancel the leasing method of operation of the public toilets for better management in the future.

‘The city corporation may follow the model introduced by WaterAid to operate public toilet,’ he said.

WaterAid Bangladesh set 31 public toilets in the city and in cooperation with the city corporation and local community operating them for years.

He said that in school curriculum menstrual hygiene education was included but hardly taught in the classrooms across Bangladesh due to social taboo and shyness that exists in our society.

Quoting a government study he said that only 36 per cent school students know about hygiene and in only 23 per cent schools have facility for menstrual hygiene.

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email