Despite strong will to maintain a healthy environment and planned development, especially after the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted, Dhaka city authorities are struggling to fulfil Target 11.6 of the UN agenda.
Former Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Annisul Huq and incumbent Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon repeatedly vowed to make Dhaka a clean city, but in vain.
Some urban health and environmental fact sheets of World Health Organization (WHO), research papers and indicators of other international organizations also attest to the poor management of Dhaka city’s solid, medical and liquid wastes.
The DNCC and DSCC waste management authorities attribute the situation to the scarcity of modern waste management equipment, saying they almost completely depend on the traditional waste management system.
Random road digging by different service providing agencies, open garbage trucks of the city corporations and a lack of civic responsibility add to the situation.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the SDGs in September, 2015 to implement the agenda by 2030, which came into effect in January 2016, with target No 11.6 aiming to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to waste management.
Though the city corporations took several measures to keep the capital free from waste, most of the footpaths within their jurisdiction remain littered with garbage.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of wall paintings, posters, banners, signboards, and billboards are also to blame for the failure in fulfilling the SDG target.
The situation becomes the worst during monsoon when medical and toxic chemical wastes spill out of trash bins and spread over the nearby roads, adding to the woes of the city people.
Disgusted city residents
Highlighting public role about cleanliness, Selina Akhter, a resident of Mirpur, recounted her visit to Singapore city, where people are very responsible about rules.
“Nobody even throws cigarette filters outside the dumpsters erected by the roads and footpaths. I hardly saw anybody throw any waste on streets,” she said.
But almost everybody in Dhaka gives little attention to any discipline as they haphazardly dump wastes, mostly household ones, on thoroughfares, walkways, drains and even in open and public places, she observed.
Lax monitoring and effective initiatives by the city regulators are encouraging the mass unawareness, Selina stated, urging the DNCC, DSCC and Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) for serious measures.
In dry season, mainly in winter, the dust pollution intensifies owing to the rampant littering of wastes, excavation of roads and construction or demolition of buildings.
Kalabagan resident Monirul Islam blamed unplanned development projects for the problem, saying: “Dust is all over the city. Where do we get fresh air?”
Projects at snail’s pace
Aiming to meet the SDG target, the DNCC and DSCC waste management departments took various projects in collaboration with the ADB, Jica and Local Government Division.
But, the projects, mainly focusing on public and environmental health development, are advancing very slowly.
Annisul, who died on November 30 last year, had taken took several measures in this regard, leading to a waste management monitoring report title “Dhaka North City Corporation Waste Report 2016-17”.
What DNCC, DSCC say
Chiefs of the waste management departments said it can neither be concluded that they have done a lot for implementing the SDG 11.6 target, nor be dubbed the situation as their failure.
Rather they said the city’s waste management was improving gradually.
DNCC Chief Waste Management Officer Commodore Abdur Razzak said: “We have to work amid limitations, including the lack of enough open spaces to temporarily dump wastes.”
Fund crunch is another issue, which appears as an obstacle to big projects such as leachate treatment plant, he said, partially blaming the city dwellers as they throw waste here and there out of their irresponsibility.
When contacted, Dhaka south city’s Chief Waste Management Officer Commodore Md Shafiqul Alam said they were trying to create and enhance public awareness in every ward, to keep the city clean.
He expressed his hope that the SDG target will be implemented gradually.
Findings, suggestions in studies
According to the State of Global Air 2017 (SG), India and Bangladesh have experienced some of the largest increases in particulate matter (PM) 2.5, leading to 122,400 deaths in Bangladesh in 2015 alone.
In 2016, Bangladesh saw 51 days of “extremely vulnerable” air quality, according to the Department of Environment (DoE).
In early 2017, the Dhaka Tribune reported that PM2.5 and PM10 levels in the capital were 8-13 times higher than what experts deem safe. In the global context, WHO says Dhaka ranks 44th in terms PM2.5 pollution, and 71st in coarse dust pollution (PM10).
A recent WHO report said health-focused urban design can roll back the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), making cities a bedrock for healthy lifestyles – as well as climate-friendly and resilient.
The WHO’s new Urban Health Initiative provides a model for the health sector to contribute to healthy urban planning and policies following the SDG 2030.