Political vow needed to fight environmental insecurity

Published : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1637
Bangladesh being a developing country is going through different challenges especially with its huge population and limited resources. But similarly as the whole world, environmental insecurity is becoming one of the major threats for our country. Though we cannot control some of it, there are many human misdeeds that are driving faster environmental degradations in Bangladesh. The government has taken many steps to fight this phenomenon; the most recent is introducing a long term plan named Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.
But the implementation has been a challenge till now. Hence we are still under severe environmental threats. While the developed countries of the world are fully focusing on fighting such threats, Bangladesh still have so many other problems which often diverts our focus from the environmental issues. Nevertheless, it is now a burning issue to get out of this environmental insecurity so that we can actually move towards sustainable development.
Environmental degradation and exhaustion of natural resources are often observed in Bangladesh due to poverty, over-population and lack of awareness on the subject. It is marked by deforestation, destruction of wetlands, depletion of soil nutrients etc. Along with natural calamities, all these actually contribute to severe socio-economic and environmental damage. As Bangladesh is trying to initiate so many development works with set targets for achievement like; Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Vision 2021, Vision 2041, Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 etc., this environmental issues can critically influence our achievements negatively. Hence, prioritizing the policies to protect nature has become very important right now.
Bangladesh government adopted and enacted The National Environmental Management and Action Plan (NEMAP) in 1995 which summarizes the major environmental issues of Bangladesh under four broad categories — Institutional Issues, Sectoral Issues, Local Issues and Long-term Issues. Among them the sectoral issues are divided into few sectors — Health and Sanitation, Forest, Biodiversity, Natural Hazards, Education and Awareness, Industry, Water, Agriculture, Energy, Fisheries, Land, Housing and Transport. Though all these sectors are very important to protect environment but one of the major areas is missing here — ‘Pollution and Waste Management’. Pollution has become the greatest environmental issue of our country in recent times as it is turning out to be uncontrollable along with rapid urbanization.
According to experts, to achieve the upper-middle income status Bangladesh must act now to tackle environmental degradation and pollution, especially in its major cities as Bangladesh is one of the countries that are most affected by pollution and environmental risks globally. Pollution had reached an alarming level and it caused about 80,000 deaths in cities in 2015. Across Bangladesh, 28 per cent of all deaths are from diseases caused by pollution, compared to a 16 per cent global average.
Bangladesh pays a high price from environment degradation and pollution in its urban areas. This puts its strong growth at risk. Pollution and environmental degradation, including wetland encroachment and unregulated disposal of hazardous wastes, especially harm women, children and the poor. Nearly one million people in Bangladesh, mostly poor, are at risk of lead contamination.
The deadliest form, responsible for more than two-thirds of deaths, was air pollution. Of the total economic losses, the ambient air pollution cost around USD 2.42 billion while household air pollution cost USD1.27 billion every year. This includes outdoor pollution from factory and car emissions, and indoor pollution from wood, charcoal, coal, dung or crop waste being burnt for heating and cooking. Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene have a direct impact of around USD 0.43 billion while the indirect impact is USD 0.08 billion, arsenic in drinking water cost USD0.80 billion while occupational pollution costs USD 1.52 billion in the economy, according to reports.
The World Bank observed that unplanned urbanization and industrialization are affecting both big and small cities. In the last 40 years, Dhaka lost about 75 per cent of its wetlands. Due to filling of wetlands and creation of high-rise buildings on sand-filled areas, many parts of the city are more prone to flood deluge. Smaller cities are also facing the similar situation and greenery is being lost making the inhabitants extremely vulnerable to environmental extremes. Hence, Dhaka and other cities must pay proper attention to prevent contravention as well as should invest in environmental measures while sustainably managing their wetlands and canals.
There are 12 city corporations and 327 pouroshavas in Bangladesh. Considering an average of 100 square kilometres area for each city corporations and 20 square kilometres area per pouroshava, the total land area comes to 7,740 square kilometres, around 5 per cent of the whole size of Bangladesh. This city corporation and pouroshava areas are the bleeding points of Bangladesh in terms of pollutions of Bangladesh. At these areas, rapid urbanization and industrialization has taken place. Hence, huge pollution is occurring at these places. All types of pollution creators mentioned above are existent in these areas from where pollution spreads throughout the country. 
Experts speculated that, within next few decades, most of the human diseases will be caused by the pollution from urbanization. Unplanned urbanization in the city corporation and pouroshava areas is a major concern in Bangladesh. Thousands of commercial and non-commercial buildings are being built every year without any proper plan. The waste management plan is almost missing and mostly the wastes are dumped in the adjacent canals or wetlands or vacant places in open. There is none to actually monitor such acts. The authority by waste management mostly understands taking the wastes from one place to dump those in another place. But if these wastes are not recycled or destroyed, then it clearly fastens environmental degradation.  
The scenarios of the industries are far more alarming. Many factories do not use any industrial wastewater treatment plant and dumps the wastewater containing industrial pollutant in adjacent canals. From there the pollutants are spread on lands and other water sources. It contaminates the ground water also. Through that ground water, we consume those pollutants as we drink water. The industrial pollutants spreads to the crops, vegetables, fruits, fishes etc. and we eat all of those. Due to this much exposure to the pollutants, we are actually facing a lot of health hazards in today’s Bangladesh. From the urban and semi-urban areas, these pollutants usually spread at every corner of the country. 
We are trying to take our country to a higher place on the globe. Approaching all set targets with so many ongoing development works, Bangladesh is improving fast and that is something every citizens want. But there is no benefit of such development if the citizens are exposed to continuous health hazards and environmental insecurity. We must act to control and protect different environmental factors. We have some good laws and rules but nobody really cares to follow them. It is highly possible to contribute in preserving nature if we follow those rules.
The city mayors, pouroshava mayors, union council chairmen — they all remain close to the people but unfortunately, they have very limited knowledge about the environmental security. Protection of environment is their least priority but that problem is going to hurt them the most. So, these leaders should be made aware on the different environmental threats and the measures to take through participative seminars, conferences and symposiums. They should later spread that awareness throughout their constituencies. They must be proactive rather than reactive. The government must invest in their education in a planned way. 
The government must take some drastic steps to recover the lost canals and wetlands throughout the country by demolishing illegal establishments. They should also make the waters of those canals clean and should stop any further waste disposal without proper treatment at those canals. Along with that the rivers of the country should be brought under management. There is no way we can stop flood or water-logging without recovering these canals and rivers. Though Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 has adopted a broad plan to protect these rivers and canals, breakdown of broad plans and pinpoint actions must be mentioned.
Proper waste management plant both for the households and industries must be adopted and for that the citizens must be made aware calling for mass awareness campaigns and implementation of existing environmental protection laws. Moreover, implementation of laws is required to stop air pollution also.
All these plans require political commitment. The 11th National election is going to be held very soon and the political parties must include their plans to address environmental issues in their election manifesto. The political party workers and activists must participate in securing environment. Without specific focus of the political parties, it is not possible to take any major step as they will play the roles as policymakers. Till now, environment has always missed their main agenda but it must be included this time onwards. 
It is true that we are too weak to fight the nature but we must be careful that we do nothing to make her angry. If we, as citizens, along with the government do not act to protect the environment, the fate of the next generation will be uncertain. Rather than creating wealth for the next generation, we should create a great environment for them. Otherwise, we will turn into an unhealthy nation and will often face the wrath of the nature. We hope, we all realize that today to build a greener tomorrow.

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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