Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh is growing fast in terms of population while facilities needed are struggling to keep up. It is hard to travel around the city and not come across exposed waste. Authorities claim that they are doing to provide their best with limited resources. Otherwise, experts believe the system must be updated with strong foundation of guiding principles and introduction of public-private-community partnerships. In these two-reports Weekend Tribune looks into the waste management system currently in place in the South and North city corporations.
In the 2017 Global Liveability Index, Dhaka retained its fourth least liveable city position among 140 cities in the world, staying ahead of Tripoli of Libya, Lagos of Nigeria and Damascus of Syria. Among the myriads of its infrastructural issues that are making the city more unlivable everyday, the piling waste problem is one of the worst.
“No matter where you go, the miasma of Dhaka’s mounting waste will follow you,” says Rubaiyat Kabir (30), a service holder living in capital’s Moghbazar, one of Dhaka’s most populous areas (110,863 people per square kilometer), according to a Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) report.
“It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that we are practically living in a dumpsite considering the amount of garbage we have to walk past and breath in everyday.”
The city of mosques is virtually also a city of garbage and waste plastic that generates more than 5000 tonnes of waste everyday. The plastic heavy waste accompanied by its sickening miasma is hard to shake off no matter where you go. The rainy season adds a new dimension to the trouble as these wastes spread all over the streets, and footpaths, worsening the odour and clogging the drainage system.
Garbage spills out onto roads as residents often ignore waste bins, a key reason why the city corporations’ initiatives for a clean city are constantly failing. In their most recent endeavour to deal with the waste problem, both DNCC and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) placed thousands of mini bins on roads and footpaths, on connecting roads, or in front of public parks, playgrounds, open spaces and educational institutions in 2017. The situation, nevertheless, remains the same as the city dwellers seem to be more comfortable throwing the waste on the roads than in trash cans. On top of that, a fair share of the newly installed bins were also stolen or scrapped within a few days.
More waste and less management resources
Waste generation in Dhaka is witnessing a steady growth with a persistent spike in migration rate. The mega city now houses an estimated 14.6 million people in just 325 square kilometers at more than 45,000 people per square kilometer, making the city nearly 75 percent more dense than Hong Kong.
With an urbanization rate of 4.19 percent in the country, compared to 2.87 percent in India, 3.41 percent in Pakistan and 0.37 percent in Sri Lanka (Human Development in South Asia, 2014), the pouring urban population has in turn rendered a proper management of the huge amount of daily waste nearly impossible.
Four types of waste streams are prevalent in the city- domestic, commercial, industrial, and hospital, among which domestic waste constitutes half of the total solid wastes of Dhaka city. According to a Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) study, the per capita waste generation in Dhaka city is 377 gm which contains about 30 percent plastic in the inorganic waste. However, DNCC contends that the amount is actually higher as it collected a per capita 0.513 kg of waste in the year 2016-17 - 0.122 kg more than the previous year.
“We are not properly resourced to manage this mounting waste. We don’t have the organizational strength to properly deal with the issue,” informed ASM Mamun, the Public Relation Officer of DNCC.
Secondary Transfer Stations
Several studies on waste management in municipal areas conclude that when waste is not properly collected, it is often illegally disposed of and this poses serious environmental and health threats to the city dwellers.
Despite being the principal responsible authority for the city’s waste management, both of the Dhaka’s city corporations’ operation starts from the Secondary Transfer Stations (STS), most of which were built recently. Waste collection from the household, ideally the first point to segregate waste, is privatized and overseen by the respective ward commissioners in the city, which many think is ineffective and costly.
The BIGD study also indicated a significant difference in households' payment within and across wards and within the same holding too; actual payment varies from Tk. 20 to 700 per month, while a quarter of the studied households consider their respective rate as excessive.
Waste collection is particularly insufficient in the slum areas, which are home to approximately half of the city’s poor and where government services are minimal.
“It would be the best if we could function starting from the household level, but given the limited workforce it is a far cry,” ASM Mamun replied when asked about the waste collection issues in the city. Construction of the STS, undoubtedly, has enabled DNCC to act more effectively by removing a large number of the previously open dumping containers/spots, which were contributing to the traffic problem in the city as well.
The city corporation authority has plans to build 2-4 such STS in each of its 36 wards. However, implementation of the plan is entirely reliant on the availability of land, which in this case is a huge impediment as a large portion of the city authority’s land is occupied by politically influential locals and land grabbers, who seized the lands allotted for the STS, also protested setting them up in their areas, further delaying the construction, sources within DNCC inform.
Due to mismatch between city corporations’ stipulated schedules and actual waste collection timing, piles of waste remain in container sites for a long time.
Landfill: The singular-environmentally unfriendly waste disposal system
Waste collected from households is often burned deliberately to reduce its volume and by accident, it contributes to a range of health and environmental impacts. For DNCC, landfill is the tertiary and final destination for the municipal waste of Dhaka. The city corporation has only one 52 acres landfill site at Boliarpur, Savar which was inaugurated back in 2005. According to the projection of JICA, the site has reached its capacity in 2017, but still in operation due to the lack of an alternative site, which, as per the city corporation’s report, is in the pipeline since February 2017.
“It will take couple of year to start the operation of the new landfill,” the report states.
Meanwhile, after analyzing the current growth of waste along with the waste from a newly added area of 113 square kilometer, DNCC estimated that they will have to manage a towering six million tonnes of waste in the next five years. To treat this huge amount of waste, one of the most pragmatic approaches that DNCC is planning to employ is incineration, a modern waste treatment technology developed in 1874 in UK, but yet to be implemented in the treatment of solid waste in Bangladesh.
Incineration can reduce the waste volume down by 80-90 percent and using the ash in the cement industry can bring it further down to 90-95 percent, according to DNCC’s report.
Two waste-based power station projects initiated by DNCC and DSCC never took off due to fund crunch. Shortly after winning the bid to build both plants, Italy-based Management Environment Finance SRL Ltd failed to provide the funds. As per the deal, construction should have begun within 130 days of the agreement. The company could not start the projects even though the deadline expired on June 28, 2013, LGD and city corporations’ officials said.
Medical waste management
As the number of inhabitants of the city rises, DNCC observed a significant increase in the amount of medical waste in the city. But DNCC neither has legal jurisdiction over the medical waste management of growing number of healthcare establishments, nor do they have the organizational capacity to undertake regulatory enforcement, the report states.
City corporation officials confirm the presence of medical waste in general municipal waste, concluding with the revelation that many of Dhaka’s health care establishments do not have proper in house medical waste management system and are not receiving any formal medical waste management services.