Improving Dhaka’s environment

Publish: 3:35 PM, December 6, 2018 | Update: 3:35:PM, December 6, 2018

Only inaugurating some glittering projects like Hathirjheel cannot compensate for the lack of comprehensive policies and their timely implementation for the overall improvement of the environment of Dhaka city. While the Hathirjheel project has been a salutary addition towards improving the environment and connectivity in Dhaka city, there are noted lapses in protecting and uplifting the environment in many other places of the city. Thus, a comprehensive plan and its execution are needed on the whole that would lead to a desired upgrading in the environment of the city as a whole.
And not only creation of new environment oriented projects are enough which is starkly evident in the Hathirjheel project. Only days after its opening, the otherwise beautiful place was turning untidy from carelessly thrown away rubbish by visitors. The flower beds in the project were also reportedly raided by them. There were even reports about defecation on the pavements here. So, all newly opened projects as well as the older ones that lend positively to the environment of the city, must also be accompanied by round the clock supervision or maintenance activities.
Residents of Dhaka city with over 15 million people, are exposed to environmental hazards and this situation is worsening day by day. But unfortunately, the governmental response to the same is inadequate.In a city already overloaded with population, more people from all over the country are coming with their desperate bid to settle here. The influx of population has resulted in not only high density, but also growth of slums in a more alarming way.
The management of different kinds of wastes — solid, clinical, human, industrial and others– is poor and the issues are not being addressed properly. About 400 tons out of 3,500 tons of solid waste, generated in the city everyday, remain on the roads and in open spaces. Vehicles of Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) remove the rest solid wastes and carry those to dumping grounds, which are again located in open spaces near densely populated areas contributing to air and water pollution.
Medical waste contains highly toxic metals, toxic chemicals, pathogenic viruses and bacteria , which can lead to health problems for humans from exposure to the same. Medical waste presents a high risk to doctors, nurses, technicians, sweepers, hospital visitors and patients due to arbitrary management . It is a common observation in Dhaka City that poor scavengers, women and children collect some of the medical wastes (e.g. syringe-needles, saline bags, blood bags etc.) for reselling despite the deadly health risks. It has long been known that the re-use of syringes can cause the spread of infections such as AIDS and hepatitis . The collection of disposable medical items (particularly syringes), its re-sale and potential re-use without sterilization create a serious disease burden.
The safe disposal and subsequent destruction of medical waste is a key step in the reduction of illness or injury through contact with this potentially hazardous material, and in the prevention of environmental contamination . The transmission of blood-borne viruses and respiratory, enteric and soft tissue infections through improper medical waste disposal is well known. The management of medical waste therefore, has been of major concern due to potentially high risks to human health and the environment .
The growing number of hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic laboratories in Dhaka City exerts a tremendous adverse impact on public health and environment. All of the hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic laboratories are considered here as health care centres (HCC) . Some 600 HCC in Dhaka city generate a huge amount of wastes a day . Like ordinary household wastes, medical wastes are generally dumped into Dhaka city Corporation (DCC) bins. It is reported that even body parts are dumped on the streets by the HCC. The liquid and solid wastes containing hazardous materials are simply dumped into the nearest drain or garbage heap respectively.
Proper management of medical waste is crucial to minimise health risks. The improvement of present waste management practices for HCC in Bangladesh will have a significant long-term impact on minimising the spread of infectious diseases. Medical wastes require specialized treatment and management from its source to final disposal. Simply disposing of it into dustbins, drains, and canals or finally dumping it to the outskirts of the City poses a serious public health hazard. Thus, there is a need to initiate a concentrated effort to improve the medical waste management to reduce the negative impact of waste on: environment, public health and safety at health care facilities.
Most of the still remaining tannery industries in the city’s Hazaribagh area and some other industries at Tejgaon area leave hazardous industrial wastes untreated. Experts fear that in near future the untreated industrial wastes by seeping underground might severely pollute the underground water which is still the main source of water in the city.
Meanwhile, the inadequate and faulty sewerage network in the city is able to carry only about one third of the total sewage to the only sewage treatment plant at Pagla in Narayanganj. The city generates more than 0.1 million cubic metres of sewage everyday. A huge quantity of sewage oozing out of the city’s faulty sewerage network is severely polluting the city’s roads and lanes, canals, water bodies and the Buriganga river. Untreated sewage is also discharged into the river directly and regularly.
Two studies conducted in the last three years suggested average noise levels were almost double than permissible levels and rising fast. Sound levels in Dhaka are almost twice as loud as the law permits, creating an unhealthy environment for residents, say scientists from the Department of Environment.
Thus, only inaugurating some show case projects like Hathirjheel is no substitute for sincerely taking up a strictly time bound plan for the restoration of the environmental health of the entire city on a sustainable basis. And routine maintenance activities must accompany such projects.