Reviving Dhaka City's green spaces
A number of mega projects ---some of them completed, a few about to be completed and others slated for starting work soon ---are feathers in Dhaka City's cap. It has got its flyovers ready, overhead metro rail up and running half the route, elevated expressway becoming more and more visible, and even the proposed underground metro rail waiting to have its work started in December next. The capital city is likely to have a surfeit of mega infrastructure.
Despite all this, is Bangladesh's capital going to be liveable? The question's ever reinforcing urgency is inescapable. Already the city has been earning the infamy of serving the world's most polluted air to its inhabitants on a regular basis. In the air quality index, this undesirable record has its many adverse implications, including the more concerning health-related and economic, for both its residents and visitors.
Next comes the pollution of water of its lifelines---the Buriganga, the Sitalakhya, the Turag and the Balu. Notwithstanding the declaration of the river Buriganga --- and subsequently all the rivers flowing through the land--- as a living entity/ entities by the High Court, the four rivers have virtually turned into cesspools with household and industrial solid waste and effluent getting dumped into them. The colour of waters, particularly of the Buriganga is pitch-black right now. No civilised country would have allowed this to happen to its prime lifeline but the authorities here are nonchalantly making a few futile attempts to discipline the erring factories and industries and this too when the HC wants to know about the progress of enforcing the legal provisions.
Then it is the withdrawal of underground water for meeting the city's need to the extent where the water table continues to go down almost a metre annually with little refilling by rain waters mostly because of concrete surface cover and ever more receding flood plains and low retention areas around the city. Apart from subsidence of city surface, the vulnerability of structures of all kinds in the crowded area increases to powerful earthquakes several times more because of this.
All these problems facing the residents and threats hanging like a Damocles' sword over their heads dissipate the promise of a modern and smart city that Dhaka will supposedly become once the fancied infrastructures get added to its facilities. These are however more or less known to all irrespective of the social standings of people. But what is less known but no less concerning is the unrelenting depletion of the capital city's green covers.
A seminar titled, 'Dhaka City's green space and its political economy' held at the Council Building of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) recently shed light on this highly important issue of urban environment. Even the city's spatial and morphological degradation was briefly touched upon in the deliberations. Conducted by the urban and regional planning department of the BUET, the study finds that the city has less than half---8.5 per cent to be precise ---the required green cover.
Another more comprehensive study titled, 'Present status and historical changes of urban green space in Dhaka city, Bangladesh: A remote sensing driven approach' published in the US-based journal, the Environmental Challenges, a couple of years ago found that Dhaka has lost 56 per cent of its green spaces over the last three decades. From 12,745 hectares of vegetation in 1989, a sharp decline has now reduced the green space to just 5,599 hectares in 2020. To make the matter worse, 173 acres designated for the city's water retention area have been illegally occupied by land-grabbers. In total there remains only an area of 3.5 acres.
Actually the green and open spaces in any urban conundrum act as the lungs of the entire crowded human habitat. In advanced countries, no one can fell a tree even if it is within one's private compound without permission from the city corporation. In Dhaka, residents not only chop trees on their plots but also those on the footpaths with impunity. Another mindless mayhem goes on at the hands of contractors obtaining contracts under the city's needless beatification programmes. The road island or divider from Mohammadpur Bus Stand stretching up to Jhikatola has recently been demolished. Both young and seasoned trees were felled alongside. The road island was in perfect condition. What prompted the authorities to reshape the island is beyond any rational explanation.
This is exactly how the lungs of the city areas are damaged by the city corporations and government agencies. Against such acts of anarchy, the mayor of Rajshahi is doing his best to provide green covers to the denuded areas of his metropolis. People can feel the difference between having extensive tree covers along the roads and streets and those left bare for miles.
Now that the canals are being recovered under the authority of city corporations in Dhaka, there is a great opportunity to create dense green covers along their banks. Even in the city proper, streets can be given a long stretch of tree shed if the plan is properly devised. True, Nature's primordial ambience cannot be returned to the city but at least the required green space for a mega city can be developed gradually.