Environment deserves grave priority from the policymakers

Published : Tuesday, 9 October, 2018 at 12:00 AM 

Bangladesh, a developing country of the world, has changed its landscape with large flyovers, high-rise buildings, millions of motor vehicles and many things else. This development was very fast during the last decade. Bangladesh has placed itself as a role model of development and was acclaimed by the world community for its efforts. The citizens are also enjoying the benefits to some extent though it should be much more considering the sphere of these development projects. But while we are talking about these progressive works, one important thing is being ignored and that is environment about which we need to think about from this moment onwards.

According to The Economic Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index 2018, Dhaka is the second least liveable city in the world while Damascus is the worst. Unavailability of ample infrastructure is liable for the low score of Dhaka. Every city was assigned a rating of comparative soothe for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories – stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. Not only Dhaka city but all cities and suburbs of Bangladesh are being the victims of environmental pollution. And it is not very far when we might be declared an environmentally hazardous country.

Being a hugely over populated city the challenges for Dhaka city is going to increase in the future as inflow of people from all around the country is not stopping very soon. Many experts have forecasted that, with the current trend ongoing, Dhaka is going to be a dead city in a very short span. We are highly investing in developing the infrastructure of this city but this megacity is suffering a lot of environmental issues and hence, if we cannot protect the environment, Dhaka will not sustain and we might face severe natural calamities. All our investments and efforts will go in vein as we will be the spectators of this city’s death.

Not only Dhaka but the whole country is going to face several environmental issues. Climate change has emerged as the supreme risk to civilization. The long-term effects of climate change are likely to hold back the advancement towards sustainable development. Climate change will have harmful impacts on all aspects of human progress including livelihoods, food security, safe water and sanitation, health care, shelter, etc. Poor communities of the developing countries will suffer the most in the face of increased force and frequency of disasters.

Bangladesh is already experiencing the impacts of climate change through irregular rainfall patterns, floods, flash floods, cyclones, saline intrusion, drought, sea level rise, tidal surge and water logging. Coastal area inhabitants of Bangladesh are the most susceptible to the impacts of climate change. The north-western part of Bangladesh is experiencing successive drought and acute water shortage, pushing agriculture dependent communities further into poverty. In the central and north-eastern part, increased and prolonged flood, flash flood and river erosion are causing extraordinary loss of livelihood and assets.

Different types of pollution like air pollution, water pollution, sound pollution etc. are causing severe environmental degradation in Bangladesh; especially in cities like Dhaka and Chittagong. We are regularly being the victims of such pollution mostly in urban areas. 

Air pollution is a grave environmental health hazard affecting the populations of Bangladesh. Air pollution of Bangladesh is caused due to rising inhabitants and associated motorization. Indoor air pollution is mainly associated with the use of biomass fuels during cooking with poor ventilation. Industrial emissions and automobiles are the main sources of outdoor air pollution. Industries cause air pollution through smoke emission. Dhaka has been rated as one of the most polluted cities of the world. Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission reports that automobiles in Dhaka emit 100 kg lead, 3.5 tons SPM, 1.5 tons SO2, 14 tons HC and 60 tons CO in every day.

Water pollution creates serious health hazard for Bangladesh. The dumping of municipal wastes, hospital wastes and toxic environmental discharges from most industries pollute both surface and ground water sources. The most dangerous threat emanating from environmental degradation is the arsenic contamination of ground water. The indiscriminate discharge of solid waste, domestic and hospital sewage are the major source of water pollution in Bangladesh. Inadequate sanitation facilities also pose a serious environmental threat in Bangladesh. Moreover, about ninety-seven per cent of Bangladesh people have been using ground water as the main source of drinking water but the water has been threatened by arsenic contamination.

Noise pollution is also a major health hazard in Bangladesh. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 decibel (DB) sound can make a man deaf temporarily and 100 DB sound can cause complete deafness. According to the Department of Environment (DOE), the perfect sound condition for Bangladesh is 45 dB for the daytime and 35 dB for the night in peaceful areas and 50 dB for the daytime and 40 dB for the night in residential areas. At present noise level in Dhaka city are estimated ranging from 60 to 100 decibel. If present situation continues then by the year 2017, 50 per cent people of Dhaka city will loss 30 decibel of hearing power.

The government has taken several steps to fight natural degradation like; initiation of National Environmental Management Action Plan (NEMAP), Urban Transport Project, Rural Sanitation Programme, control of air pollution, control of arsenic pollution, incorporation of Knowledge Enrichment Programme in primary and secondary education; enforcing environmental acts, rules and laws; banning of polyethylene Bags and enforcing embargo on import of environmentally hazardous items etc. But all these were proved insufficient to save us from the environmental hazards.

In a highly developed country like; United Kingdom (UK), the leaders of both the ruling party and opposition party has taken environment as the utmost priority. Last week Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed their strong commitment towards the environmental improvement and protection. Later on the same week The Conservative Party’s Environment Secretary, Michael Gove expressed similar commitment. This shows their intention of including environmental welfare in their upcoming election campaign. Other developed countries also strongly committed themselves towards causes like reducing carbon emission to fight ‘Green House Effect’. 

Countries like UK with much lower population than us with much higher space are worried about the environment. Unfortunately the problem is much critical for Bangladesh or countries alike. Moreover, those countries can easily abandon a city to shift to another due to their availability of space but Bangladesh, being a small country, cannot do that. Hence, protecting the cities is more critical for us. But no political party of ours is strongly committed to save the environment as it is almost missing from their manifestos.

We need to create strong awareness about protecting the environment. Mass awareness campaign must be launched with focus on government officials, corporate officials, policymakers, and general people including children. Media campaigns including social media campaign should be initiated to make people aware.

Bangladesh consists of 12 city corporations, 64 districts, 490 upazilas and 327 pouroshavas. Everywhere it is required to use green technologies to sustain in the future. It is not possible overnight to change the condition of Dhaka city. We should select a particular district or upazila or even a pouroshava which is not yet very crowded or polluted. Then we should build a planned city there upholding the ‘Go Green’ concept which will allow us to preserve nature. That newly built city should be placed as a role model and keeping that role model in front, the top cities should be slowly reformed similarly. As the first step, no structures unfriendly to the environment should be built at large cities like Dhaka anymore.
Moreover, we can initiate pouroshava or union based implementation of green technologies all around Bangladesh. We should arrange seminars, symposiums, conferences for the city mayors, pouro mayors or union council chairmen to educate them on green technologies and later they should be evaluated based on their success in implementing ‘Go Green’ concept in the area under their jurisdiction and it can be in the form of a campaign or competition requiring strong commitment from them.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Planning Ministry recently declared Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 which is a long-term vision, united with the use of scenarios, and allows adaptive planning by frequently taking into account qualms in upcoming developments in climate change, socio-economic development, population growth and regional cooperation. This plan particularly focuses on management of water resources in phases. Though unique, this long-term environmental plan lacks specific goals along with set achievable targets.

All political parties must incorporate their commitment towards the protection of environment and their related plans in their election manifesto as the next national election will be held very soon. Along with Vision 2021 and 2041, plans like Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 should receive strong focus. They must act on those plans in the near future. We hope our politicians and policy makers are wise enough to realize the environmental threats and starts working on that now by joining hands with experts, peers and other stakeholders. If we do so, then we might be able to enjoy the benefits of all developments in Bangladesh.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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