Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, once the center of trade and business and a modest settlement to a provincial Mughal capital thanks to its long river routes, is now suffering due to extreme river pollution.
Dhaka, home to about 20 million people and one of the most densely populated megacities in the world, remains at the bottom in terms of livable cities and ranks 4th in terms of air pollution.
The UN's World Cities Day, to be observed on Sunday, this year focuses on adapting cities for climate resilience. The day has been observed annually on Oct. 31 each year to "promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization". An integrated climate resilience policy and action plan will greatly reduce climate-related risks for urban populations, according to the UN.
Six rivers – the Buriganga, Sitalakhya, Bangshi, Turag, Balu, and Dhaleshawri – flowing around Dhaka are currently known as the “biologically dead rivers.”
According to a study by the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) of Bangladesh, 6,000 tons of liquid waste is dumped into the main Buriganga every day.
“Inadequate sewage and inefficient waste management contribute to the water pollution. Moreover, untreated industrial waste and household sewage are discharged into the river system, leading to the extinction of aquatic life and the failure of ecosystems,” read the ESDO study.
Didar Mohammad, 31, a headteacher of a private school in south-central Faridpur district, said: “After five years in Dhaka, I experienced it as an unhealthy living mainly due to the extreme weather, huge pollution, lack of recreation, space for breathing fresh air and walking along rivers.”
“Contrarily, despite the absence of all the citizens' facilities, the living cost is so high in Dhaka. Therefore, I had decided to leave the city for a comfortable living,” Mohammad, also a cultural and social activist, told Anadolu Agency.
Dhaka this year became the 40th most expensive city globally, costlier than Washington, according to the Mercer's Cost of Living Survey.
Salauddin Mahin, 32, hails from the northern Rangpur district, with no difference doing the same thing.
He returned to his village and started his own business after pursuing his graduation at a private university in Dhaka. He had left a private company job in Dhaka that was giving him a good salary.
Both claimed that so many young people are now following in their footsteps.
Industrial pollution killing rivers, healthy living in Dhaka
Shahriar Hossain, an environment expert, told Anadolu Agency that waters of all rivers surrounding Dhaka have become unusable and cannot be purified anymore. All the city waste, industrial garbage, and toxic liquid are directly dumped into those rivers.
“The Dhaka water supply authority has to bring water from outside of the city. Not the surface water, the groundwaters in Dhaka have already been highly polluted with heavy metals.”
The supply water by the city authority is highly contaminated, so the city residents have to burn gas worth 3.32 billion Bangladeshi takas ($38.77 million) annually to make potable water, according to Transparency International Bangladesh.
The toxic level of metal like lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury have been found in the Dhaka rivers' sediments, he added, saying: “Even the deep tube well waters of the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority have already been polluted and posing a greater health risk for the city dwells.”
“River grabbing has been narrowing rivers and putting barriers to the river water flow. Death of rivers is also impacting the livelihood of people and city weather to be unbearable and forcing displacement,” Hossain, also the secretary-general of ESDO, added.
A study by Curtin University in Australia and funded by the World Bank found that even in the monsoon season, the daytime temperatures of Dhaka and Chittagong cities are as hot as in summer.
Temperatures have risen in Dhaka by 3 degrees Celsius over the past 18 years.
Gov't. helpless to protect rivers from pollution
Deputy Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Habibun Nahar shared with Anadolu Agency her ministry’s helplessness to protect rivers from industrial pollution and river grabbers.
“We managed the capital’s tannery industry to shift to Savar, the outskirt of Dhaka, but the nature of the factories of polluting rivers have not been changed. They are now polluting the Bangshi River, a major river in central Bangladesh, in Savar.”
Ready-made garment factories are among the major contributors to the Dhaka rivers’ pollution but they are not ready to be shifted to a neutral place, the minister added.
She expressed the same frustration on illegal brickfields around the city. “Insufficient manpower is making our job difficult.” She emphasized people’s awareness and responsibility equally to protect rivers and the environment.