After a long COP26 summit, participants from all around the world have returned to their own places. In the meantime, Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh ranked the third most polluted city of the world after Pakistan’s Lahore and India’s Delhi. While we are being concerned about the global impact of climate change and environmental pollution, our beloved capital is in bad shape. The COP26 could not provide us any specific action plans. But to save our city, we must start work with concrete action plans immediately.
On 13 Nov, the day of official closure of COP26, the Delhi government of India had shut down all offline classes in Delhi due to worsening air pollution levels in the national Capital and adjoining areas. The real-time data available on System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research showed that Delhi’s overall Air Quality Index stood at 352 or ‘very poor’. We cannot imagine the similar situation in Dhaka with educational institutes closed for pollution but that can become a reality soon.
Air pollution still remains one of the top most challenges for Bangladesh as its capital has been ranked as the second-most air-polluted city in the world recently. Dhaka has long been dealing with air pollution issues. Breathing polluted air can cause heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, lung infections and cancer, according to several studies.
Though this problem of air pollution exists throughout the year, in winter or dry season the problem goes bizarre. The dust pollution in Dhaka city is due to several reasons. The most important reason is the unplanned development works in this city. Throughout the year, roads are dug for works of gas, electricity, water and other utilities. These works take a longer period in Bangladesh than may be any other country of the world. Moreover, these works are not coordinated among different departments. Hence, a single road is dug multiple times in a year. Roads, due to low quality constructions, get damaged frequently and create dust.
There are other dust creating factors also. After cleaning the drains of the city, the waste is kept on the side of the road. Due to presence of the pathogen in the drains, it causes unhealthy air. Construction materials such as bricks, sand, cement, brick chips are transported openly from one place to another contributing to dust pollution. As per Department of Environment, brick kilns are the main source of air pollution in Dhaka. Over 4,500 bricks kilns are situated around Dhaka. Moreover, different types of chemicals like; lead in different industries also generates dust.
Water pollution is another great environmental risk for Bangladesh. We have plentiful water sources, but these sources are being polluted unceasingly with different contaminants like toxic trace metals, coliforms as well as other organic and inorganic pollutants. Death due to water-borne diseases is widespread in Bangladesh, particularly among children. Anthropogenic sources such as untreated industrial effluents, improper disposal of domestic waste, agricultural runoffs are the main contributors regarding water pollution.
During last 40 years, extreme pollution events occurred in bordering rivers adjoining Dhaka city. The pollutants flowing with water made a severe pollution in downstream areas of rivers. Metal concentrations in river water were found to be higher in dry season. Dissolve oxygen was nearly zero in Buriganga River and several points in Turag, Balu and Sitalakhya. In recent years, many developed countries like USA, Japan and South Korea developed efficient technology and national plan to ensure safe water to their citizens. However, developing and underdeveloped countries have serious water resource problem due to the lack of proper water resource management and Bangladesh is one of them.
Other than the air pollution and water pollution, sound pollution is another menace for Dhaka citizens. We suffer a lot for continuous use of loudspeakers for different political, social or religious programs. The sound should be limited to the venue of these programs only, rather than disturbing the residential and commercial citizens of adjacent areas. Excessive usage of horns by the vehicle drivers is also a great source of sound pollution in Dhaka. The authority must eliminate these sources of noise pollution.
Moreover, vehicles from all around Bangladesh come to Dhaka or passes through Dhaka as it is the centre. Many of these vehicles are unfit. These vehicles not only create air pollution but also noise pollution. Many citizens of Dhaka cannot even sleep at night properly for the sound of these vehicles. So, the authority should create by-pass immediately for these transiting vehicles as it will reduce air pollution, sound pollution and traffic jam of Dhaka city.
The city corporations especially in cities like Dhaka have great roles to play. But their actions have been dissatisfactory till now. Dhaka mayors have stated on multiple occasions that, the citizens should manage their wastes. Rather than imposing fine on citizens, city corporations should increase awareness among citizens. Moreover, the waste containers of the city corporations mostly remain open and often they dump the wastes in open space which significantly destroys the environment. The city mayors must address these issues.
Citizens are paying holding tax, income tax, cleaning tips to city corporation cleaners etc. Additionally, the City Corporations now have heavy funds and two Mayors of Dhaka holds the status and power of full ministers. Hence, if they exercise their power and capacity, they have a great opportunity to work following the concept of ‘city governance’. To reduce pollution or keep safe from pollution, few things should be done immediately. Firstly, all the citizens must be aware of the ill effects of air pollution. The government should launch educational campaign in this regard initially in Dhaka. The public should have the right information so that they can take protective measures.
Along with the existing laws, new acts should be enacted especially for adopting modern construction technique which reduces spread of dust from commercial and residential construction sites. No construction materials should be kept in open space or should be transported openly in vehicles. The brick kilns also should use modern technology. Moreover, the brick kilns should be relocated at less populated areas.
The works of mega projects like; metro rail or elevated expressway should also adopt modern construction technique. These construction areas also should be covered to prevent dusts from spreading. These projects should be completed in minimum duration. Masks and other useful materials should be supplied by the government for free to the citizens living in adjacent areas of those construction sites.
The City Corporations should arrange for watering the construction sites of mega projects as well as other roads of Dhaka with utmost importance everyday. They must also ensure that the garbage and drains wastes are immediately cleared from the streets and taken to assigned dumping places. As the city corporations are now in-charge of the canals inside Dhaka, they must clear wastes from those canals and ensure clear water flow. The illegal occupants surrounding the canals as well as the rivers must be uprooted irrespective of any sort of pressure.
The utility supplying bodies and roads management body should work in a coordinated manner so that the roads are not dug multiple times in a year. Right now, they are working in a manner which is reactive maintenance. But they should practice proactive maintenance from now with coordination among different stakeholders. The government should put extra emphasis on the industries which generate chemical wastage and drains those to open water sources like rivers or canals. The industries must adopt technology to properly process those wastes and the relevant government authority must act honestly to check on those processes.
Bangladeshi has been leading different environment related forums under the visionary leadership of premiere Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh has taken some drastic steps like creating Delta Plan 2100, eliminating several coal-based power plants, recognizing environment challenges at the coastal areas etc. But our day-to-day activities are taking away all the benefits by creating greater environment hazards, particularly in Dhaka. Hence, we hope all the relevant authority will put maximum importance in ensuring a pollution-free Bangladesh with a solid, coordinated and coherent action plan very soon as we really do not have much time to become serious.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela