Visual pollution: An aesthetic distress for our cities

Published : Tuesday, 28 February, 2023 at 12:00 AM

Bangladesh has long suffered from many forms of pollution, especially in its major cities like the capital Dhaka. Dhaka, the nation’s capital, has frequently been listed as one of the least habitable cities in the world. Many deaths each year are directly related to various types of pollution, including air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, noise pollution, etc. These types of pollution have a direct impact on the citizens’ physical health. However, the problem of visual pollution affects people’s mentality more and is frequently disregarded. But, the residents of our nation are suffering greatly from visual pollution in the cities, particularly in the megacity of Dhaka. Therefore we cannot ignore it any longer.

Anything that impedes or detracts from both natural and artificial environments is referred to as visual pollution. The effects of pollution that make it difficult to enjoy a view are known as visual pollution, which is a problem from an aesthetic standpoint. Both excessive crowding and advertising are sources of visual pollution. The main causes of visual pollution include haze brought on by dust and air pollution, garbage piles and landfills, telecommunication and electric wires and poles, signboards, posters, barren lands and deforestation, urban jungle�homes built poorly, factories with smoke chimneys, graffiti, etc.

As a result, visual pollution is seen as an additional symptom of intersecting pollution sources rather than a major source of pollution. It can be challenging to assess and interact with due to its secondary origin and subjective nature. Visual pollution can appear at all levels of analysis, from micro-incidents that only affect a single person to macro-problems that have an impact on the entire society. Instances of visual pollution can take the form of plastic bags stuck in trees, advertisements with contrasting colors and content, which create an oversaturation of anthropogenic visual information within a landscape, to community-wide impacts of overcrowding, overhead power lines, or congestion. Poor urban planning and irregular built-up environments contrasting with natural spaces that creates alienating landscapes.

As air and sound pollution made Dhaka one of the worst places in the world to live in, visual pollution exacerbates the city’s people’ misery. According to a research undertaken by the Environment and Social Development Office, visual pollution causes eye fatigue, eye strain, and headaches in one out of every four people in Dhaka. According to the study, which was published on February 12, about 4.26 million individuals, or almost one-fourth of Dhaka’s population, suffer from eye tiredness as a result of the little publicized visual pollution.

The effects of visual pollution can be far-reaching. Distraction, loss of identity, traffic congestion, various sorts of health dangers, irritation and psychological disorders, eye tiredness, mental disease, loss of sense of sanitation and aesthetics, a sense of civility, and general loss of the resident community’s quality of life are among them. Children who have been subjected to visual pollution since childhood are frequently lacking of subtle aesthetics, and they develop accustomed to their bad circumstances, losing their natural drive to correct them.

Children are more affected by visual pollution generated by billboards, cables, wires, power poles, garbage or rubbish dumps, neon signs, excessive traffic signs, crumbling structures, stacked-high construction materials, roadside waste, and graffiti. According to the report, an estimated 2,70,000 children in Dhaka suffer from eye fatigue and severe headaches. An alarming increase in the number of billboards, both static and digital, is reported to have significantly contributed to Dhaka’s visual pollution. In the last four years, the number of billboards in the city has increased by 51%, from 9,270 in 2019 to 13,997 in 2022.

The problem of visual pollution is especially significant in the megacity’s commercial sections. People have a tough time navigating the streets due to the tall billboards, highly lighted neon signs, and flashing LED displays. Pedestrians and drivers alike are assaulted with distracting visual cues on a regular basis, which can contribute to accidents and traffic congestion. Additionally, the cityscape has become a haphazard and chaotic jumble of colors, images, and messages that overload the senses and generate a sensation of visual weariness due to the excessive use of outdoor advertising.

Visual pollution has important environmental impacts in addition to aesthetic and safety problems. Billboards and other outdoor advertising materials generate a huge quantity of waste and consume a large amount of energy during their manufacture, installation, and maintenance. The use of non-biodegradable materials and harmful chemicals in manufacturing compounds the environmental impact.

It is critical that the city authorities take quick measures to solve this developing problem. The city administration should create and implement tight restrictions governing the use of outdoor advertising. The regulations should limit the quantity, size, and position of billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising. The authorities should also impose penalties for noncompliance and collaborate closely with marketers to encourage environmentally friendly and sustainable advertising practices. It is also critical to educate the public about the negative effects of visual pollution on the urban environment. People must be taught on the necessity of preserving the city’s natural beauty and reducing the visual clutter that impedes our daily life.

Together with visual pollution, light pollution has a negative impact on the mental and even physical health of Bangladeshi city dwellers. Specialists emphasized the importance of spreading awareness about the harmful effects of excessive artificial lighting at night in Dhaka on the biological clocks of humans and other species such as birds, beetles, and insects that rely on light to travel. Despite light pollution is a new concern in the country, some big cities around the world have begun to take action against excessive evening lighting since it harms the mental and physical health of humans as well as the lives of other creatures, they claim.

Along with controlling air, noise, and other environmental pollution, authorities should now include nocturnal light pollution to preserve human health and ecosystems while also saving power by reducing excessive outdoor lights, according to experts. Nighttime artificial lighting has had such an impact on nocturnal creatures that they are unable to consume food owing to light pollution. Even at night, lighting has a negative impact on plants. As a result, light pollution has an impact on the entire ecosystem. Excessive indoor lighting, despite sufficient daylight, is also considered light pollution.

Former Bangladesh President Late H M Ershad once commanded that no unpainted structures be built alongside major roadways to protect the city’s attractiveness. Former Dhaka mayor Late Sadeque Hossain Khoka made the initiative to incorporate the private sector in the city’s beautification. The city corporations rent out billboards and collect fascia fees, which are the most visible sources of pollution. It is unfortunate that, the city mayors hence are the greatest patrons of visual pollution.

While our beautiful city has degraded significantly due to many types of pollution, as well as extensive construction and uncontrolled urbanization, we do not see much effort from the current two mayors of Dhaka to maintain the city’s aesthetics. The situation is very similar in the municipalities of Chittagong, Gazipur, and Narayanganj. Other municipalities are also far behind from the standard in this aspect. Even the rural areas today are facing the curse of visual pollution to an extent.

City Corporations must proactively engage the citizens through awareness campaign to reduce and eventually eliminate visual and light pollution. Rather than only maintaining a city, the city fathers must focus on smartness and aesthetics of a city. If they devote themselves to this cause, then very soon every city of Bangladesh can gain back its aesthetic values.

For Bangladesh’s future generations to have the right mental upbringing, it is crucial to maintain the aesthetics of the city. If visual pollution is not reduced, the future generation will be intellectually handicapped and unable to move our nation forward. We are not realizing the curse today but many countries, who ignored the aesthetics portion, are already suffering critically. We thus hope that our government will act quickly to address this threat and will adopt the appropriate strategy to eradicate visual pollution from our nation.

–    The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla

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