Stop killing Buriganga, stop dumping waste

Morshed Ali Khan

Toxic waste from a dying factory flows into the river Buriganga at Pagla in the city.

The river Buriganga is increasingly being polluted with the city's thousands of industrial units and sewerage lines dumping huge volumes of toxic wastes into it day and night.

Disregarded by successive governments, more than 500 tannery units at Hazaribagh are dumping 15,000 to 21,000 'meter cubes' of highly toxic liquid wastes, comprising 60 chemicals, into the lifeline of the city. Unspecified volumes of toxic waste from industries in Tejgaon,Tongi and Savar ( later two on the banks of the Turag which flows into the Buriganga) are also finding way into the river. According to Dhaka WASA experts, 60 per cent of the city's sewage is dumped into the Buriganga.

Environmentalists say that the river has already lost its aquatic life and millions of people living in the city and on its banks are exposed to various health hazards as untreated toxic industrial wastes are polluting the environment. As these wastes are flowing into the river, thousands of acres of land are also perched on its way. Once rich agricultural lands have now turned barren. Many fishermen, farmers and boatmen have been rendered jobless and have shifted to other jobs.

A Department of Environment (DoE) official said that pollution of the Buriganga is increasing everyday. Growth of industries and lack of a policy on waste management have worsened the situation. Hundreds of unauthorised industrial units are handling deadly toxic wastes and dumping those into the river.

Abu Taleb Khandakar of the DoE said studies show the river water is polluted but he could not say for sure the effects of such pollution. He said they are sure that various aspects of life are affected, including contamination of food chains. But as there was no study as yet to determine this, he mentioned.

" The tannery units should be relocated elsewhere with proper waste management policy," Khandakar said.

Despite overwhelming evidence of an environmental disaster, no government has so far come ahead with realistic measures to stop the process.

Chief Engineer of Water Development Board (WDB) Moklesuzzaman told The Daily Star they are now completing a TK 110 crore project to build flood walls, roads and walkways along the river to demarcate it clearly. This would greatly help stop encroachments on the river. He said although his office does not have a programme to deal with pollution, he has emphasised to higher officials the immediate need for "tackling the increasing menace of pollution of the Buriganga"

A UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) source and an expert said that a proposal for building a Tk 100 crore Common Influent Treatment Plant for Tannery Wastes is now at the "PCP stage" awaiting approval of the authorities concerned.

He said they are still waiting to find a donor for financing the project. A 7.5 acre site has also been selected but the proposal for land acquisition is yet to be sent. Dhaka WASA has however requested Rajuk not to approve any building plan on the site, which has been earmarked for the treatment plant. Under the project, all tannery owners would be required to bring in some changes in their internal infrastructure and they would also be required to install in-house chromium recovery plants because a large volume of chromium is lost with the tannery wastes.

Sources in the Finished Leather Association of Bangladesh said they have written to a Swiss organisation for financial help to install the recovery plants but they are yet to hear from them.

According to people of Hazaribagh, tannery owners themselves should be fined for causing grievous harm to public health. Nazim Uddin, a student of Dhaka University, living in the area said tannery owners are earning crores of taka in foreign currency at the expense of public health, agricultural land and the lifeline of the city ( the Buriganga).

" These tannery owners should be made to pay for the treatment plant and also pay compensation to the victims," he said.

While the authorities kill time over approving a project, the lifeline of the city is rapidly being choked due to pollution caused by industrialists who have so far shown no remorse for their act.

Source: The Daily Star, 29 October, 2001