Curing Dhaka's diseased lungs

Neil Ray | Published: September 09, 2018 21:22:37 | Updated: September 09, 2018 21:58:16

Hatirjheel was supposed to be the lungs of Dhaka City. It had all the makings of becoming so. But alas, for the horrendous civic sense of the authorities and the public! The apathy and lack of responsibility on the part of both have been administering doses of slow death to the Buriganga. Once its crystal clear water and scenic beauty used to draw both Dhaka residents and visitors here in their hundreds on the Buckland Bund in the evening. Fresh air sodden with river water or its vapour provided relief to the crowd even in the high summer. The river acted as the city's lungs then. But it was decades ago when Dhaka's population was only a fraction of today's unmanageable size.

In the heart of Dhaka, therefore, the need for a refreshingly breathing space with a decent water body was badly felt by all. Hatirjheel project was undertaken in order to meet the need. But it was a dumping ground of all kinds of rubbish from Kawran Bazaar and the storm sewerage gurgled household waste from as wide an area as Shukrabad, Green Road, Kalabagan, Kathal Bagan and Free Shool Street. Putrid effluent with obnoxious smell had long been vitiating the environment of the locality. Also the flow of the jheel was severely obstructed by structures like the BGMEA Bhaban constructed illegally by encroaching upon the water body. This is evidence enough that previously the jheel was subjected to mindless neglect.

Initially, it was given to understand that the accumulated oozing and stinking filth would be removed in order to clean the jheel-turned lake. Some attempt was even made to do so with the employment of machines at the mouth of the storm sewerage right behind the Sonargaon Hotel. But it proved too inadequate to do the job as the effluent and rejects released from households are of a huge quantity. The contraption used for the purpose surrendered without a struggle. Unless the source of the enormous waste materials can be diverted or plugged, the lake is fated to be as polluted as it was before. Today, fish traders and other traders of Kawran Bazaar may not dump their bamboo and other troughs or baskets; but the pollutants from households are relentlessly getting dumped there.  

No wonder, for the jheel to become a healthy lake it will literally have to travel light years. The water body is nothing better than a cesspool and no amount of beautification on its bank can be a replacement for the job. It is what in a Bangla adage is called 'darkness right under the lamp'. Expenditure of millions of Taka on the architectural marvel built on the jheel has really turned it into a wonderland but right underneath the tons of grime spreading revolting smell all around can deter the most enthusiasts of pleasure-loving loitering people or joggers there.

So contaminated are the lungs of Dhaka that the repulsive stench discourage people visiting there. Cannot an answer to this be found? Technology has advanced beyond imagination and if no technology is economical for this, let the storm sewerage be diverted to a different channel for carrying the waste. In some of the world's finest cities, there are rivers and lakes that have either bifurcated the land area or provided with water facilities for sports or recreation. Those water bodies are maintained with the strictest possible regulations. No one can think of throwing a piece of paper, let alone polythene bag, into the water of those rivers or lakes. They value the virtue of keeping the water as pristine as possible.

Here in Dhaka, the residents and visitors from the country's many corners have not developed the sense that by polluting the water of rivers and other water bodies indiscriminately, the nation's future is gravely harmed. Water is source of life and degradation of sources of this precious substance spells disaster for all who are responsible. It is incumbent on the nation to save Buriganga and other rivers around Dhaka to secure the capital's future. Allowing Hatirjheel to pulsate with crystal clear water can cure the diseased minds of many. Let the war on pollution be waged from this centrally located jheel.

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