Waging war against pollution in Dhaka
Unfortunately, Dhaka is being considered one of the world's most inhospitable cities - it ranks second among the world's megacities with the worst levels of air pollution. It is not by accident that 122,400 Bangladeshis annually die from air pollution in the cities. On the other hand, the gradual disappearance of the capital's surrounding rivers is adding insult to injury. Beside slowing down economic progress, Dhaka's hazardous environment may cause harm to human lives in the worst possible ways.
According to a recent report jointly published by the US-based Health Effects Institute and Institute for Health Matrix and Evaluation, 79 per cent of nitrogen dioxide exists in Dhaka's air. The city's environment also consists of Particulate Matter (PM) - human anatomy's most harmful enemy - accounting to 2.5 per cent. Obviously, such level of air pollution is a direct consequence of the unplanned constructions, excessive development projects, CO2 emissions from the suburban brick factories and Dhaka's increasing number of automobiles. The report further states that asthma, pulmonary problems, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are often caused by polluted air.
Additionally, the capital's surrounding rivers have almost died due to slow but unstoppable encroachment, dumping of pollutants by commercial entities and absence of dredging. Rivers are the lifelines of a country like Bangladesh but the government has not done enough to ensure environmental protection.
Occupying the riverbank, land-grabbers usually install there new establishments, using political connections and muscle power. Besides, they often remove critical demarcation pillars on both sides of rivers. Along with the encroachment, the city's waste disposal aggravates silt deposition in the river beds. An increasing number of construction projects have contributed to earth filling at riverbeds.
Despite the High Court directive in 2009 outlining detailed measures in the recovery of dying rivers from land-grabbers and pollution, the encroachers have reportedly selected 2,500 acres of land beside the Turag River and removed more than 1,000 pillars in a covert operation. Rivers like Balu, Shitalakhya and Buriganga may experience similar threats. A decision by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transportation Authority (BIWTA) to issue licence for an authorised use of river foreshore has encouraged environmental malpractices. Equally, the rivers are polluted with industrial waste. Dumping chemical elements and toxic waste has maximised river pollution, affecting public health.
Addressing Dhaka's environmental crisis is almost impossible. However, using alternative energy sources instead of fossil fuels, controlling dust particles at the city's construction work sites, ensuring a low-cost but eco-friendly mass transportation system like underground metro rail or rapid urban train networks, and restricting use of private vehicles are the likely solutions to toxicity in Dhaka's skies. Industrial suburbs such as Narayanganj and Gazipur have found their places in the record books of air pollution. Forested areas, rivers and other water bodies close to the capital must be restored so that the air in Dhaka regains freshness and purity.
Meanwhile, the government should limit the reckless growth of unethical commercial interests. Lastly, anything to curtail environment pollution needs a sustainable coordination strategy - one that is proposed in the national interest.