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haka Sitting on a Sleeping Volcano?

By Khondkar Abdus Saleque,  Shama Ishteak

April 08, 2008


Living in Dhaka is not really like living in the crater of an active volcano but it is like living on a sleeping volcano which may erupt any time and engulf everything. Dhakaites are not fully realizing what crisis is emerging for them. In 37 years of independence the capital of Bangladesh, the historic city which bears many symbols of national pride like Language Martyr monument, Monument for martyred freedom fighters, Historic relics of Mogul Dynasty unfortunately have become a concrete slum perspiring for fresh air& thirsty for pure drinking water. The dilapidated state of the city mirrors the poor state of affairs of the entire nation. The water of the rivers around the city is polluted, air is poisonous obnoxious particles, gas, electricity and water are getting scarce. At last 20%of the population is living in slums in inhuman condition. Cost of living has sky rocketed beyond normal peoples reach. This is not what the liberation war was fought. Our valiant freedom fighters did not make supreme sacrifice for a Dhaka city life like this. Many people talk of realizing the dreams of freedom fighters, many talk about ideals of liberation war. But we should all be ashamed for our failures at our respective positions to serve the nation with commitment. 

Time is fast running out. We must wake up from hibernation, mobilize our efforts and resources and do everything possible to remedy the situation. We need national consensus to meet the challenge; we need very focused and committed planners and work force. We need active participation of all citizens .If country like Thailand can do it , if Vietnam can do it , then there is no reason we can overturn the tide and make our Capital a nice and beautiful city. Quoting a PHD research paper of Jahangir Nagar

University one leading daily of Bangladesh in its main headline printed a very alarming report. Bangladesh capital Historic Dhaka is fast turning into an inhabitable city. Air & water are saturated with poisonous elements, sound pollution reaching unacceptable limits, gas electricity, and water supply crisis looming large, rapid depletion of sub surface water level making the city vulnerable to mild earth quake.

In this situation sensible citizens of Bangladesh and Bangladeshi’s abroad must not keep their fingers crossed and must pull together all the resources to make appropriate plan to save the historic city from emerging crisis. We can not let our dear city to remain in crisis for ever. We must c rise above political divide to join the fight to save Dhaka.

Report states that at peak hours Dhaka air at Motijheel Commercial Area has been found to contain 100 ppm of Carbon Monoxide, the sound level reaches 80 decibels. The report also indicates that the water of Buriganga River contains alarming amount of organochloric compound which may cause cancer like DDT or may obstruct Endocrine (causing genetic problems leading to men turning women) .A survey of the Environmental Chemistry Department of the University evidenced that the water of Buriganga at half a kilometer of Hazaribagh Tannery contains about 28ppm chromium which is extremely dangerous. Usually Buriganga water contains 6-10 ppm Chromium. The wastes of Tanneries at Hazaribagh are responsible for this menace. According to the guidelines of World Health Organization (WHO) water must not contain more than 1 ppm of Chromium. This alarming level of Chromium in River water which in many ways used for human consumption is causing serious threat for human life in the city. But unfortunately Rajuk and Dhaka City Corporation are doing nothing to mitigate this menace. We have a Department of Environment (DOE), we have a very active Civil Society but wonder why this very alarming situation is escaping every ones attention. We understand the tanneries from Hazaribagh will be relocated soon to outskirts of Dhaka but if the wastes are not treated properly and disposed off carefully these will continue to pollute another water stream.

Dhaka city is expanding in all direction east to west, north to south, population is increasing in geometric progression but the civic amenities can no t keep pace with the growing demand. The capacity of various utilities can no longer meet the rapidly increasing demand. Supply of pure drinking water, safe accommodation for the growing population, appropriate sanitation, municipal waste collection, supply of electricity and gas for about 150 Million city dwellers are progressively turning into serious crisis. In this serious situation the news about Dhaka city air reported to containing higher proportion of lead and CO must be considered very alarming. Serious noises, unacceptable sound level is causing hearing problem. In no modern cities these days the automobiles blow horns in the heart of the city. The water of rivers around Dhaka city is nothing but poison. Even WASA Water treatment plant in Sayedabad finding it very difficult to treat the poisonous water of Sitalakya. But the helpless shelter less people from villages and rural people are migrating to Dhaka compounding the problem still further. City dwellers are already affected with various contagious water borne disease. Dhaka has already turned into a slum of concrete.

Dhaka city is more than 400 years old. Over these years the population has increased many folds. The city did not have appropriate maser plan. DIT master plan of pre liberation days could not be appropriate for a capital city. Moreover after independence all activities were concentrated in Dhaka. The other cities like Chittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi were not given proper attention . For Higher education, Health Care, Business and Job Opportunities people from all over the country flooded the city. Very corrupt and mis manged public sector utility companies never made appropriate perspective planning. The gas, electricity, water infrastructures can not support the increasing demand. In many city suburbs which are basically meant for domestic dwelling have turned into commercial and mini industrial areas. Hundreds of Ready Made Garments and other small industries in Malibagh, Moghbazar, Mohdpoor, Meerrpoor, Mohakahlai, Bonani areas have created enormous pressure on the utility supply infrastructures. The situation in Old Dhaka areas is more pathetic. Unless the city suburbs are freed from this undesirable mushroom industrial growth this situation can not be remedied. Ready Made Garments (RMG) is our major export earner. It should be relocated in a planned manner to the outskirts of Dhaka as soon as possible. It was reported in the recent past that Meghnaghat area is possibly going to be the relocated location. Instead of concentrating in one place it may be relocated in other direction also .Another hub for RMG and other small industries can be set up in Gazipoor Area and a third one on the other side of Buriganga.also. If only the RMG and Tanneries moved out of the City about 2 million people will be relocated and Dhaka city utility services will be relieved to a great extent. Off course appropriate utility infrastructures and accommodation facilities in relocated areas must be built. The adjoining districts of Dhaka like Narayanganj, Manikganj, Munshiganj, Gazipoor, Tangail, Mymensingh, Norshingdi, and Comilla must be developed appropriately so that people get attracted to live there. The road train communication must be improved so that people can move to and fro from these districts to work in Dhaka. Head quarter of some government offices must be moved out to the divisional Head quarters like Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, and Barishal.

Serious thoughts must be given to water pollution of Turag, Buriganga and Siatalakhya rivers. The research report indicates that proportion of suspended solids, turbidity, color, total alkalinity, acidity, total hardness , dissolved oxygen , COD, BOD,CO2 , NH3,Nitrate, Coli form in the river water around the city are many times higher than the acceptable limit. The report termed the Buriganga water as silent killer. To address this situation we have no way but to be very harsh with the industries which are polluting the rivers. Government must form a task force to monitor the waste treatment of all industries. The committee may have representatives of Rajuk, DCC, DOE, University Teachers and Ministry of Environments. If any industry can not meet the environment standard that industry must be closed. All citizens around the rivers must be conscious and alert and must encourage all to keep river waters free from pollution.

Another serious problem is sound pollution. Dhaka city does not have enough roads to accommodate about 1 million mechanized transports. The transport owners have very little respect for traffic rules. Traffic jam, smoke emitting old transports, high sound blowing horns makes life of city dwellers unbearable on every working day. City desperately needs underground and overhead transportation. If we could have city circular road and rail and metro and sky train's people could have more comfortably used public transports. A poor country like Bangladesh would not have so many motor vehicles if we remained honest. Government may declare that some areas of city centre on a given radius would be out of bound of motorized vehicle from 10AM till 5 PM. The only transport will be rickshaws and bicycles. People must learn to work. The train movement with in the city areas to Kamlapoor must also be restricted from 6PM to 6AM. Beyond these hours all trains bound for Dhaka must terminate journey at Tongi, Uttara or Cantonment station. Railway must have their own NGV buses to move the commuters in to city areas from Uttara, Tongi and Cantonment stations. The sound level in residential area must not exceed 45 Decibel but in no residential area it is less than 70 decibel. For industrial area the limit is 80decibel but it is hardly less than 120 decibel in Dhaka. Sound pollution has reached alarming level .It has already become unbearable for our children, for our elderly people.

Dhaka is among the 6 cities of South Asia which by 2010 will be included as 2o mega cities of the world. The other cities are Kolkata, Bombay, Delhi, Karachi and Lahore. Each of these cities has population of more than 15 million. These cities other than Dhaka have already taken up massive redevelopment and infrastructure up gradation. But in Dhaka everything is moving in unplanned way. We are thinking big, talking tall but doing very little. We are having regular seminars, symposiums and making thousands of recommendations but everything for us is crisis management. When India was divided in 1947 into Pakistan and India Dhaka had a population of 2 lakhs only. In 1971 its population was 1million. Now in 37 years it has grown to 13 million. In 61 years since 1947 the population has grown 65 times. The unitary system of government has concentrated admintration, trade and commerce, industrialization in Dhaka. But the road infrastructures, utility infrastructures, sanitation etc never planned to meet the growing demand. Every other mega cities have city circular roads, sky roads, much improved sanitation and drainage system. Slums are also a curse and menace for Dhaka. Even Kolkata is developing much better than Dhaka.

Being situated at the centre of flood plain Dhaka experience devastating flood almost every year. The rivers around Dhaka are silted due to lack of drainage, city canals are filled out by grabbers. Even mild showers cause water logging. After 1988 flood 300 KM city protection dam was built. But for some reason only 18KM in the eastern part was not built. Consequently 55Sq KM area in the east remains vulnerable to flooding. Surface water treatment facility is inadequate. Massive drainage of subsurface water has caused drawdown of water table. Landslide and earth quake catastrophe may not be ruled out. We must immediately take up the following actions.

• Free the Buriganga, Siatalakhya, Turag rivers from illegal occupants.
• Move Secretariat to Shere Bangla Nagar. Various ministries may be relocated to Different areas of the city and some to other divisional head quarters. This will ease traffic congestion of Motijheel Area. 
• Free all residential areas from commercial and industrial units.
• Ban all kinds of untreated waste disposals to the rivers and water ways.
• Undertake massive dredging to increase holding capacity and maintain all season navigability of the rivers.
• Recover and regenerate the city Canals to retrieve the drainage of water to manage water logging.
• Set up recycled Water Treatment plants and pipe these for industrial use.
• Built City Circular Road and Energy Ring main around the City.
• Build Metro (Underground Rail) and sky rail whichever suits our condition.
• Take out Dhaka Cantonment military establishment out of the city at Gazipoor. The residential accommodation of army families can remain there. This will create lot of option to ease traffic congestions. Dhaka Cantonment alone creates an obstacle to free flow of traffic from Gazipoor to the City Areas.
• Gradually relocate Kamlapoor Railway outside the city towards Gazipoor. However shuttles may run from Gazipoor to future city circular rail junction.
• Allow only CNG vehicles to move within the city area.
• Introduce the method of municipal waste disposal and management well practiced in other modern cities. City dwellers have National ID cards. The domestic wastes must be disposed in identified bins that may be allocated for each property owner or those living on rent. There can be separate bins for recycles, kitchen wastes and garden refuses like any modern city. DC may allocate a particular day of the week to lift the wastes from different locations and then the wastes may be either recycled or used for power generation.

The above actions will require huge investment. If government can ensure proper regulatory mechanism and transparency in management many private sector developers may be interested.

For all these we will need very strong Metropolitan Governance under City Corporation., a 20 year Master plan for the mega city and very committed managerial capability. Can our future generation live in a modern mega Dhaka City?

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