• Monday, Dec 06, 2021
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Effective solid waste management can alleviate the severity of waterlogging situation in Dhaka

  • Published at 01:24 pm October 26th, 2021
Photo Credit: Mehedi Hasan

The unplanned growth of Dhaka city over the years has resulted in many negative outcomes, one of which is waterlogging

Dhaka is the fifth most densely populated megacity in the world. Intense centralized urbanization has resulted in unparalleled population growth in Dhaka. As a result, the city has been losing its capacity to cope with this untenable development and increasing population density as of its resource limitation.

The consequences have made it the fourth-least livable city in recent years, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual global survey. Solid waste management, waterlogging, air and noise pollution, traffic congestion, a shrinking trend of green and blue space, and recent groundwater depletion are all severe and widespread concerns for Dhaka.

Among those, waterlogging has been severely affecting city people in recent years, causing health problems, traffic congestion, and accidents, as well as disruptions in daily life. Economic expansion, urbanization, and growing living standards in cities have resulted in an increase in the volume and complexity of waste generated, as waste is an inescapable by-product of human activity.

However, improper municipal solid waste management and disposal is another significant challenge for city planners, particularly in densely populated areas and emerging countries. BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), BRAC University, conducted a co-production workshop under the global project ‘Pathways to Equitable Healthy Cities’ among stakeholders where they mentioned that there is a lack of integration and cooperation among the stakeholders from different government and private organizations and city dwellers due to the absence of cohesion among them over effective waste management.

Improper waste management not only threatens the environment and the health of residents but may also cause waterlogging in a short period of rainfall by clogging drainage, canals, and sewerage systems. Despite Dhaka WASA's efforts to improve the storm drainage system, most drains and canals are clogged by solid waste due to irregular cleanup and a lack of civic sense. So, waste-induced waterlogging can be a worthwhile area to consider, and any initiatives integrated within these major areas can lessen the combined adverse impact.

Since the waterlogging problem has increased over the years with the destruction of natural resources and ecosystems in Dhaka city, it cannot be solved in a short period of time. The unplanned growth of Dhaka city over the years has resulted in many negative outcomes, one of which is waterlogging.

The city does not have adequate water reservoirs, canals, road networks, green spaces, unpaved areas. According to the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), it is necessary to reserve 10 to 15% of the area for water reservoirs; however, only 5% has been reserved in Dhaka, and that 5% is frequently being clogged down by garbage.

Besides, in the last nine years, Dhaka has lost around 22-24% of its water bodies and low lands, which are approximately 22,500-23,000 acres of its entire area. Although green spaces are necessary for water drainage, the majority of greeneries have been cemented for development purposes.

Besides, most of the canals are occupied illegally; as a consequence, rainwater has nowhere to go in the city. In its recent effort to reclaim the water bodies, Dhaka South City Corporation found 65 canals that have been of key importance in the drainage of water from the city to be still unknown.

Furthermore, BIP identified in their study a substantial loss of water bodies and lowlands, which contravene the Detailed Capital Area Plan (DAP), established in 2010 for Dhaka. Moreover, flood flow zones are being filled up despite the fact that these areas should be reserved to keep water flowing, according to DAP.

Also, building construction rules would require that 30 to 40 percent of the building space be kept uncovered; however, most house owners barely leave unpaved areas on their property premises to percolate water into the ground.

There are several underpinning factors that lead to waterlogging in such severe conditions. It is quite impossible to reverse some of the factors within a short span of time. The two city corporations have been struggling to reduce waterlogging problems and are now dedicating more time than ever before.

The government has transferred the responsibility of the drainage system management from Dhaka WASA to the two city corporations, due to the lack of institutional coordination and criticism against Dhaka WASA. Despite those long-standing issues, one of the major reasons behind water logging is improper solid waste management.

Due to resource constraints, limited space for landfills; in most cities, distance from a waste collection area to a landfill is quite far. In between the time taken to pick up and dump the waste, the wastes produced by households, communities, and other places end up on the roadside, nearby canals, lakes, and sometimes even in open space.

Due to these solid wastes, the water carrying capacity of canals and drainage systems has decreased significantly, resulting in the overflowing of water when heavy rainfall occurs. Rainwater also washes away these wastes, causing blockage in the surface drains. This hampers the natural flow of storm water and creates water logging in different places of the city.

To tackle this, the Dhaka South City Corporation has begun cleaning wastes from many canals. It cleared a whopping 800,000 tonnes of waste from January 2021 to June 2021. In addition, both city corporations have taken over two waste-pumping stations. Both city corporation authorities are aware of waste-induced water logging problems.

Yet, there are a lots of scope to work on waste management to ease the waterlogging problems. Regular cleaning of drainage lines, canals, and sewerage systems could help in keeping the water flowing and prevent overflows. Authorities should not only have the capability to handle the daily productions of waste produced but we must also create demand for the waste.

The government is planning to establish a waste-to-energy plant in the Aminbazar landfill, which will increase the demand for wastes as raw materials within the pipeline; this is something that the authority can consider. Several studies also found that municipal solid waste holds a dominant contribution to the overall waste generated in Dhaka.

And, the majority of residential waste is organic food and vegetable wastes (above 60%), and the calorific value obtained from the municipal waste is technically enough for incineration. Likewise, the drainage system and waste management should be modernized to ensure its long-term viability; a real-time monitoring system can be established to keep track of the situation. Another major constraint to advancement is a lack of public awareness. If necessary, laws and regulations can be introduced so prevent fly-tipping waste into water bodies and drains.

BRAC JPGSPH also conducted a key stakeholder online engagement meeting this year on translating actionable strategies into evidence-based waterlogging and waste management policies for Dhaka city. The stakeholders attending this workshop also emphasized the integration of waste-to-energy pipeline to reduce waterlogging problem.

Some of the stakeholders highlighted the need for modernizing the system from a clear perspective of waterlogging and waste management. However, the collective participatory approach of community and institution, along with the evidence-based research components, can make any initiatives more implementable.

Though waste is not the only factor contributing to the worsening of the scenario, there are opportunities to make an effort to alleviate the current severe waterlogging situation. To make Dhaka a better and more livable city, a comprehensive and uniform urban environmental solution is required, along with efficient methods.

Rafiul Alam and Hasna Hena Sara are both Senior Research Associate at BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University.

Pathways to equitable healthy cities is a global partnership that aims to improve population health, health equity and ensure environmental sustainability in cities around the world through rigorous scientific evidence with policy and civil society partners. In Bangladesh, BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), BRAC University has been leading this project as a local partner). The authors are solely responsible for the contents of this article, which do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the BRAC JPGSPH and the funders.

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