Horrors of landfills

Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo | Published: 00:00, Feb 16,2020

Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo, Aminbazar landfill, landfills, Dhaka, air pollution, Dhaka environmental pollution, Dhaka-Aricha highway, Savar, Ashulia, Turag, Buriganga, Jahangirnagar University

Landfills have impacts on the environment and the health of local people. In one of the entrances of the Dhaka city, Aminbazar landfill is standing with a complete violation of environmental laws without any necessary measures needed for a landfill, polluting the area every moment, writes Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo

THE easily identifiable green and red buses from Jahangirnagar University start their journey towards Dhaka at 3:00pm and at 5:00pm every day. There are nine round trips for students in a working day; twelve coaches, eight of them use the Dhaka-Aricha highway.

Labelled as N-5, Dhaka-Aricha highway connects Dhaka with the North Bengal and the Western part of the country. Every day thousands of people are traveling through this road. There are thousands of people who are living in Savar and who have to use this road regularly for their daily commute. Not only Jahangirnagar University, but there are also other notable educational institutions here, in the Savar-Ashulia area along with tons of garments and other industries.

These peoples keep the N-5 always busy, traveling by this road, inhaling oxygen and other materials from the surrounding areas. Aminbazar is the last point of Savar, after the Aminbazar bridge, Dhaka metropolitan area starts. You will see the high-rise buildings if you stand on that bridge and face towards Gabtali and a vast expanse of wetlands and agricultural fields, brickfields and a landfill of Aminbazar behind your back.

Dhaka is divided into nineteen Spatial Planning Zones according to the master plan of the city. There are some areas identified explicitly as flood flow zones in the SPZs, these places are marked to protect the safety, health and welfare of the citizen from negative environmental impact within channels, preserve and protect the natural drainage systems to ensure their natural functioning. Any kind of land development for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes is prohibited by the master plan.

The area covered by the landfill or the Aminbazar waste dumping depot is developed in a place that is marked as a flood flow zone under the master plan as SPZ 17.3. Konda and Boliarpur are the nearest human settlements of that area, where around 55,000 people live and earn their livelihood mostly from the activities connected to agriculture and fisheries.

Daily 3200 tons of waste from 54 wards of Dhaka North City Corporation is dumped in Aminbazar. Initially, this area was around 52 acres in 2008 and expanded in 2017. The humongous mountains of wastes are easily identifiable from the highway. People can feel it in their breath when they pass through the area. The malodour of the landfill quickly hits the nose of the passers-by.

Landfills usually cover a vast area that has impacts on the environment. Leachate can be formed when precipitations fall on open dumps; water infiltrates through the garbage and becomes contaminated with suspended and dissolved material. It can contaminate groundwater if this is not appropriately contained. In terms of Aminbazar, which is marked as a flood flow zone, can form leachate in monsoon, during the flood, destroying the habitat of fishes and other aquatic species by polluting the water of the Turag and the Buriganga.

According to the Wikipedia, about half of the volumetric concentration of landfill gas is CH4, and slightly less than half is CO2, both are culprits of the greenhouse effect and global warming. Apart from these, hydrogen sulphide and ammonia are also produced during the breakdown of waste materials, which causes strong and pungent odour.

Elevated levels of hydrogen sulphide and ammonia in air are easily detectable and can cause coughing, irritation in the eyes, nose and throat, headache, nausea and breathing difficulties in case of  short-term exposures. According to a research, those who live within five kilometres of a landfill are exposed to serious health risk.

According to the Romanian ministry of environment and forests, the development of a landfill site means the loss of approximately 30 to 300 species per hectors. Changes also occur in local species, such as rats and crows replace the existing species of the area. Rat itself is a vector, and landfills are full of them. Vectors which cause various diseases get a perfect environment to breed and thrive in a landfill.

The soil quality of the surrounding area can be degraded by the mixture of toxic substances and decaying organic material. Local vegetation may cease to grow and be permanently altered or mutated by the effects.

Reports on the Aminbazar landfill show that the impacts on local people have already started. People are now exposed to various health hazards. The land quality has degraded, the local people have objected about the fishes collected from the surroundings has an unpleasant smell and are in a bad shape to be consumed.

There are some necessary measures which should be taken before establishing a landfill. It can be seen through naked eyes that this area is a significant polluter of the Dhaka city. There was no Environmental Impact Assessment before the establishment of the plant. EIA is a mandatory assessment in any project by Environment Conservation Rules of 1997.

Whenever a bus passes by the plant, people shut the windows, put masks on or at least tries to cover their faces. Smog is all over the area. The water of the Turag has already turned black and the polluted water then mixed up with the water of the Buriganga and makes a severe impact on the freshwater ecology.

It is not a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie: one day I was traveling by a local bus, a small boy, who was visiting Dhaka for the first time was asking his mother, ‘Look mom, there is a mountain like Sylhet we visited last year!’ I can clearly feel the curiosity and fear in his eyes about the heap of the garbage, which was hazy because someone had put it on fire.

In one of the foremost entrance of the Dhaka city, Aminbazar landfill is standing with a complete violation of the environmental laws, polluting the area every single moment. It becomes the gateway sign for the Dhaka — welcome to the city of air pollution!

Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo is a freelance geographer, currently studying at Jahangirnagar University

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