The European Union envoys in Dhaka on Wednesday participated in a novel initiative by coming out in the open with gunny bags in their hands. The ostensible aim of the effort jointly organised by the Gulshan Society and an environment body was to clean up the Gulshan Lake from the scourge of plastic solid. However, the underlying objective could have been sending out a message for all concerned that much more effort was needed to keep the city liveable. Most of the people who came to take part in the cleanliness effort normally do their work from office desks. It was indeed satisfying to see them do the unconventional work of filling bags with European Union seals with waste like used packets of various items, water bottles and polythene items. Ambassadors from the EU, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark along with the Bangladeshi organisers were among others who participated in the unique endeavour. The gathered wastes in their gunny bags were later taken by two trucks to a waste disposal centre near the Fazle Rabbi Park in the city. One local organiser termed pollution a curse of limitless proportions. This exercise coming in the background of the European Parliament's recent resolve to ban all plastic and one-time-use items by the year 2021 carries sense in more ways than one. Besides making us alert, the Gulshan Lake exercise should also help us fix the priorities of our industrial production and packaging. The simple message is that countries would not be able to send export items to Europe with plastic and one-time-use packaging after the above-mentioned year.
As the Gulshan effort leaves its mark, we have been jolted by a report in the Financial Express last Thursday that brought to the fore the issues of the Gomti river in Cumilla being not only polluted, but also falling prey to land-grabbers. Land-grabbing in this densely populated country is undeniably a different issue and has to be faced from a completely separate legal and administrative perspective and strategy. Dumping of household and industrial wastes have made the Gomti a veritable cesspool. It seems, this river, which is the bearer of so much of history and folklore of the region, is now nearing a tipping point from which soon there might be no return to its healthy state. Gomti's demise is being hastened by both land-grabbing and environment pollution going hand in hand. Senseless allocation and leasing of government land along the riverbank for household and industrial purposes have deepened the crisis. Local environmentalists have called for the creation of amusement parks along the river on government khas land so that the river is protected, and the residents get a breath of fresh air. Although the administrators have pledged an aesthetic new lease of life to the river, a lot remains to be done.
In fact, the cleaning of the polluted Gulshan Lake and the sad state of the Gomti River are issues that dig deep into our ethos. We have hardly shown any steadfastness to uphold good things for long. The progress made in the early years of this century on plastic ban has long gone into oblivion. Air quality in our big cities pitiably falls behind international standards. Environmental issues take a back seat in a time of rather unidirectional developmental spree. Our country, its environment and its ubiquitous rivers and water bodies have to be protected by us in the first place. That underscores a big agenda. Whether we are up to it must be proven through concrete and unceasing actions.