City-dwellers suffer from noise pollution

ASM Nurunnabi

Although the problems of air and water pollution have received much publicity through the print media, there seems to be a lack of awareness in the case of noise pollution. Notably, environmental activists as well as journalists have not been vocal enough about the adverse effect of noise pollution, which is no longer just a minor health hazard. Despite being widespread, its long-term ill effects are somehow not obvious to the casual observer and even trained environmentalists apparently have failed to take stock of the situation. At present, its pernicious effects can be felt even in district towns, not to mention big cities. 

For lack of zoning laws governing growth activities in specific areas like residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, etc., we find an intermingling of disparate entities in a given area. For example, a predominantly residential area may have mills and factories, commercial centres, educational institutions etc. Hospitals, recreational areas such as parks, and libraries are found located within areas of heavy vehicular traffic, causing serious noise pollution as the rattling sound from two-stroke engines of auto-rickshaws and uncontrolled honking of horns by cars, trucks and buses continue all day long. 

In many cases, our lack of civic sense compounds the problem. Organisers of different functions including marriage ceremonies and other social or political events install loudspeakers to play music or to deliver speeches, even in the late hours of night. 

They do not spare a thought that the noise they create could be a source of extreme mental agony for people living around, particularly patients, students studying for exams or those trying to rest after a hard day's work. 

The intensity of sound is measured in logarithmic units known as decibels. Sounds measuring 80 decibels can cause hearing defects. Steady exposure to sounds exceeding 90 decibels, a level that is frequently reached in many common urban areas during construction work involving drilling and welding, takeoff and landing of jet planes, traffic jams, etc., can cause permanent damage to the ear. In addition to loss of hearing, noise can produce other deleterious effects on human health and work performance. 

Developed countries are much more conscious about the adverse effects of noise pollution. In Japan, stretches of noise insulation boards have been installed along the road from the Narita Airport to the Tokyo City Centre in order to protect residential areas from the onslaught of noise rising from movement of heavy motor traffic. 

In many cities, operation of drills and other noisy equipment after daylight hours is legally prohibited. Another strategy of urban planning is to locate busy city centres and heavy industries outside city limits. 

As far as we are concerned, it is not that we lack legal provisions regarding noise control in our country. Dhaka Metropolitan Police have issued codes governing the use of loudspeakers during public meetings and other functions. But enforcement of these rules is another matter. 

Our legal instruments available cannot be used for noise control due to the indifference on the part of the affected quarters. Lately, the situation has reached such proportions that some are saying that we, as a nation, are not yet fit for urban living. 

In view of the growing menace of noise pollution, the onus of convincing the people about the hazards of noise pollution and building up an effective movement to stop it lies on the doctors, scientists, environmentalists, and journalists. 

Source: The Daily Star, 22 December, 2001