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Ecology problems reach crisis point for overcrowded city

Crowded Dhaka faces growing environmental crisis

Ecology problems reach crisis point for overcrowded city
Poor city management has been blamed for unsafe living conditions in the capital reporters, Dhaka

June 7, 2012

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With 15 million people packed into just 500 square kilometers, Dhaka is among the world’s most densely populated cities. None of the country’s other 625 towns and cities has a population anywhere near as large. Yet every day, more people flock to the capital. And as the city’s population grows, so do its social problems and  environmental burdens, to a point where they are becoming uncontainable. The country’s low-lying terrain is already vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In Dhaka, this is compounded by a gamut of man-made problems, such as extensive and unplanned development, industrialization, indiscriminate clearing of greenery and wetlands, and toxic levels of pollution. “It’s really hard to control,” says Dr Shah Mohammadullah, a professor of soil, water and environment studies at Dhaka University. “The population here is growing because natural disasters like river erosion, floods and cyclones force thousands of people out of their homes. They think their hope of survival lies in the capital. “So now, every day, the city produces 7,000 tons of waste, with another 700 tons from hospital disposals and industrial chemical waste. The garbage management system here is inefficient and old-fashioned. So the city is getting more and more unclean all the time.” Sobahan Talukder, a garbage management officer at Dhaka City Corporation, does not disagree. “We don’t have the staff or the resources,” he says. “Most of the trash collectors and vehicle drivers are not trained at all. They just move the dirt around in open vans; they don’t know anything about care for the environment.” Dr Mohammadullah points out that the city has no established recycling policy. “The collected waste is simply dumped on the outskirts of the city,” he claims. “Often, industrial waste gets into the water system. It’s making the place unlivable. “Because of this massive pollution, the water in the rivers that circle the city is now poisonous. It has zero milligrams of oxygen, so it’s impossible for fish and water-dwelling animals to survive.” Although it is not the only problem – the city suffers chronic air pollution too, caused mainly by its hundreds of sulphur -emitting brick kilns - water is a particularly acute challenge for Dhaka. It has also worsened at alarming speed, due to a lack of city management. With no planning or regulation to hinder it, urbanization has swallowed up as much as 80% of the city’s wetlands and green spaces in just one decade, according to a recent UN-backed survey. The government is not unaware of the problem, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina insisting that they are “working hard to create an environment-friendly economy.” She claims they have spent 21 billion taka (US$240 million) on 77 environmental projects in the last three years and will continue to invest in similar initiatives. But the stark fact is that it will probably not be enough. “The government and people need to be much more aware about saving the environment and everyone should strictly follow the environmental laws,” says Dr Mohammadullah. “Plus, there must be plans to develop other cities and towns across the country so that people simply don’t need to rush to the capital.” Related reports Exhibition offers window on Dhaka’s past Acute Dhaka gas shortage reaches boiling point
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