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The noise epidemic

  • Published at 05:46 pm October 4th, 2018
The Noise Epidemic
Photo: Bigstock

Blaring horns, raucous construction and a city under siege

Even in this melting hot weather in Dhaka, Ranjit Karmaker, a rank and file employee at a private company, cannot open his windows to get some (somewhat) fresh air flowing inside his oven-like top floor apartment at Farmgate, as the building he lives in is located just a few steps away from the rackety city centre.  

Be it at the crack of dawn or in the deep of the night, traffic keeps roaring through his neighbourhood round the clock, and apparently, Ranjit is more comfortable sweltering in the heat than tolerating the unbearable clamour of traffic.  On top of the traffic hubbub, construction of a new apartment tower just across the street only makes things worse for him, often forcing him to flee the apartment.  

“It’s a nightmare, to be honest,” Ranjit says, “I don’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. You will never understand the pain unless you live it. I moved here thinking that the sound would go down by the time I get back home from work, but the traffic just keeps flowing and blaring round the clock. 

And then there’s the incessant rumpus at the construction site that echoes in my head throughout the day,” the 34-year-old said, adding that he would have moved to a quieter place long ago, but unfortunately for him, it’s either too far or too expensive for his scanty wages.  

With an overwhelming 20 million residents and a consequent forest of new, under-construction buildings, Dhaka is becoming a bigger ordeal to its dwellers every day. A whopping one and a half million vehicles move around the city within a scant road network round the clock, honking and blaring their way out of the massive snarl-ups. According to the Department of Environment (DoE), some 500-1,000 vehicles honk their horns simultaneously when stuck in traffic.

There are also the customarily loud citizens vociferating on their mobile phones, deafening extravagant wedding parties, markets swarming with shoppers, religious and political processions, and a myriad of other sources of noise that relentlessly haunt the ears of the residents in this megacity. 

A study conducted by the DoE reveals a two, and sometimes, threefold escalation in the noise level beyond the permissible limits put by the Bangladesh Noise Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006. After studying 70 selected zones in the city, the study report marked Farmgate as the loudest area in Dhaka, whereas two sectors of residential Uttara, Sectors 14 and 18 scored the least. Nevertheless, even the lowest noise level recorded in Uttara is twice the acceptable noise limit for the human ear. The average sound level was found to be around 80-110dB in busy areas like Farmgate, Karwan Bazar, Shahbagh, Gabtoli and Mohakhali Bus Terminal. 

Aside from being a riling nuisance, noise pollution is also a health hazard that causes hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing), hyperacusis (an intolerance of normal sound levels) and non-auditory health effects: increases in stress hormones, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death in the worst case scenario. According to Dr Prof Dr Pran Gopal Datta, a person can endure the sound level of 90dB for only half an hour and exposure to the level of sound any longer than that will result in gradual loss of hearing.  

Noise is both a public health hazard and an environmental pollutant. Many of its effects are well known and many of its effects continue to unfold through research. The World Health Organization (WHO) has documented seven categories of adverse health effects of noise pollution on humans which are: hearing loss, speech interference, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular and physiological effects, mental health disturbance, impaired task performance, negative social behaviour and irritability. 

It is particularly dangerous for children as it can trigger an array of physiological and psychological problems such as irritability, aggression, hypertension, high levels of stress, obsession, headaches, loss of hearing, sleeplessness, heart disease and neurotic ailments. Consistently high levels of noise also affect the learning ability of children between the ages of 2 and 5, limiting their ability to learn languages and make intelligent verbal expressions.

The continuous aural assault has evidently rendered vulnerability to the public health. The DoE study evaluated the rate of aural disease among the respondents to found that 9 percent of them had to consult a doctor for aural issues. At least 5 percent of the affected cohort informed that they frequently watch television at high volumes and talk loudly over the phone for a long time.  

More worrying is that almost half of the research participants responded negatively when asked whether they are aware of the Noise Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006, while 96 percent claimed that they saw absolutely no execution of the rules whatsoever. Private vehicles including cars and motorcycles were identified as the major source of noise on the streets. 

The violators are all-inclusive and motivated by the lack of implementation of the existing rules. However, to bring an end to this rowdy culture, awareness regarding the impact of noise pollution is a must, the DoE study recommends. Because at the end of the day a quieter Dhaka won’t just make people’s lives more enjoyable, it will also make Dhaka a healthier, and most importantly, a more habitable city to live in.   

The existing laws on noise pollution

●    According to Noise Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006, the acceptable sound condition is 55dB for daytime (6am to 9pm) and 45dB for night (9pm to 6am) in residential areas. It is 50dB for daytime and 40dB for nighttime in rural areas.

●    The law stipulates that organizers must take prior permission from local authorities at least three days before the program, or at least one day before in exceptional or emergency cases. The instruments that violate the sound limit cannot be used for over five hours a day, or after 10pm.

●    If violated, people can complain verbally or via a written format to authorized officers who can either issue a fine of Tk5, 000 or hand out one-month prison sentences, or both, if the allegation is proven to be true and the offender has violated the law only once.

How to measure if the sound around you is too loud? 

As the law stipulates, you can always seek assistance from law enforcers when your neighbours are being too loud. The first step is to determine whether the level of the noise is beyond the permissible limits. Luckily, there are a bunch of Android and iOS apps to do this job for you. 

Smartphone developers now offer many sound measurement applications, including Decibel X, Sound Meter, Too Noisy Pro and NIOSH Sound Level Meter, using the devices’ built-in microphone (or through an external microphone for more sophisticated applications). 

Proper use of these smartphone sound measurement apps can have a tremendous and far-reaching impact in reducing and controlling the noise level around you as every smartphone can be potentially turned into a dosimeter or a sound level meter, and if you find the levels are higher than the permissible limits, you know who to call. Just call the cops to soothe your ears and mind.