Waterbodies like lakes in a city are blessings, but for Dhaka dwellers, its eight prominent lakes have become sources of miseries in the absence of coordination among the authorities which are to maintain them.
The lakes are mostly polluted and add nothing to a comfortable city life.
Hatirjheel has become a dumping ground of garbage and sewage that has discoloured its water even in this full monsoon. The lake's water stinks.
Though a large amount of money has been spent on lake development projects over the years, the condition of the lakes in Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, and Uttara remains bad.
City planners, architects, and government entities think the absence of a complete sewage treatment system in Dhaka is the main reason behind the sorry state of these water bodies.
"Ideally, there should be two networks – one for stormwater and the other for sewerage. But only 19% of the Dhaka city areas, mostly in older parts, have been covered by the sewerage line under the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa)," said architect Iqbal Habib, who heads the consultancy firm in charge of the Hatirjheel-Begunbari integrated development project.
"So, the system in most areas has become a mixture of storm and sewer networks where waste and sewage are mixing with the storm line. Finally, this water flows into lakes and canals through drains and storm lines," he added.
Water purification was one of the top priorities in the Hatirjheel-Begunbari canal project, which covers 311.79 acres of area and was inaugurated in 2013, but the goal has not been fulfilled yet for not having inclusive management.
Iqbal Habib said Tk59 crore was spent to free the water of Hatirjheel from bad smell and pollution.
"But the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) was bound to open the sluice gate of Hatirjheel to let the stormwater flow away amid this rainy season. This caused the water to mix with sewerage and wastage. Now, we have to wait for the monsoon to pass until water quality recovers."
Meanwhile, a gap in coordination is one of the key reasons behind these lakes not being maintained properly as there is no single authority for the task.
Experts say the lakes should be handed over to the city corporation authorities as Dhaka Wasa has already handed over 26 canals to Dhaka North and Dhaka South city corporations to prevent waterlogging.
Rajuk now maintains Hatirjheel, Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, and Uttara lakes.
The Public Works Department formally owns Dhanmondi and Ramna lakes.
Five different government entities are looking after Dhanmondi lake's various aspects. The fisheries department looks after fishery development and the Dhaka South City Corporation undertakes development work and maintenance. The Department of Environment takes care of the environmental aspects and protection of aquatic resources.
AM Mostafa Tareq, spokesman for Dhaka Wasa, told The Business Standard, "We have a master plan to bring the entire city under a sewerage network and treatment plants within 2030."
Now, the only sewage treatment plant is located in Pagla. As part of the plan, four other plants will be installed in Dasherkandi, Uttara, Mirpur, and Rayerbazar. Greater Dhaka will get six more plants in phases.
However, city planners are disappointed with Dhaka Wasa's work progress as the Dasherkandi plant's installation began in 2013 and has not finished yet.
Aesthetic, economic potential of lakes mostly unutilised
According to the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), a metropolitan city should have 10-15% of wetlands. However, Dhaka has only 4-5% of wetlands considering its total area.
Even the existing water bodies have been illegally occupied and polluted, said Dr Adil Mohammed Khan, general secretary of the BIP.
City planners and limnologists said city lakes have a huge potential to be used for entertainment purposes.
Besides, the planned water transport operations in these lakes can decrease Dhaka's huge traffic jams.
Dr Rafiqun Nabi, an eminent limnologist and a professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said lakes are important for people and the ecosystem because they provide critical habitats for fish, wildlife, and tiny water critters.
They provide a place for sediments to settle and spread out, control floods, recharge the groundwater, and serve as a place of beauty and inspiration for residents and visitors, he said.
"But you would not get these features in Dhaka's lakes because of pollution," he said.
During a recent visit to the Dhanmondi lake, children were seen swimming and some people were fishing using fish hooks. But this is not a very common scenario in the city lakes throughout the year.
"Now, the lake is not under a commercial lease. So, we can fish as we wish. But after leasing it for fish farming, you have to buy a ticket for fishing," said Abdul Jalil, a resident of Modhu Bazaar area who came to the lake for fishing.
Garbage in lakes
Waste has been dumped in most of the Dhaka lakes. The water quality in Dhanmondi and Ramna lakes is a bit better, but a foul smell spreads from the water in Hatirjheel, Gulshan, and Banani lakes.
The situation is the same in the lake behind Hotel Sonargaon in Karwan Bazar area. A machine has been installed in one corner of the lake to separate water from plastic and other waste, but the water quality has not improved much.
Different types of waste from nearby houses mix with Hatirjheel lake water, which worsens the water quality. Drains and canals in nearby areas, including Gulshan, Rampura, Badda, and Baridhara, are connected with Hatirjheel.
ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, chairman of Rajuk, told The Business Standard, "We opened the Hatirjheel sluice gate during this rainy season to avoid waterlogging in surrounding areas. After all, there was no alternative to this."
He said there is now more waste as this is the rainy season, but they are trying to keep the water clean in different ways, including cleaning the waste.
There is less waste in Gulshan and Banani lakes, but a bad smell spreads from its water as well. The lake is connected with nearby drains. Locals said septic tank lines from more than 100 nearby houses are connected with the two lakes.
Rashedur Rahman, a resident of Uttara 12, told The Business Standard, "The part of the Uttara lake in sectors 11 and 12 is in the worst condition. However, the situation is quite good in other areas."
Asharaful Islam, project director of Rajuk's Detailed Area Plan, said, "We discovered that people discharge kitchen and toilet water in lakes through using hidden pipes. Sometimes, we operate drives against these illegal connections."
Development work at the lake inside the Ramna park has been going on for around two years. Stuff harmful to the environment, including polythene bags and plastic bottles, has piled up in different parts of the lake. Trees around the lake have been cut down and some of those have been kept in the water.
Huge budget for lake development projects
Rajuk initiated the Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara lake development project in 298.15 acres of area in July 2010.
The project has been extended until June 2022 in several phases with a revised allocation of more than Tk4,886 crore, according to Rajuk data.
More than Tk2,083 crore was invested in the Hatirjheel-Begunbari canal project. The lead executing agency is Rajuk while the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, the Local Government Engineering Department, and the Special Works Organisation (SWO-West) of the Bangladesh Army are other implementation agencies.
The army had been in charge of the project's maintenance until 30 June.
The Rajuk chairman said the army was gradually handing over maintenance to a Rajuk team.
Around Tk11.88 crore was spent on the Uttara lake development, according to the 2018 Rajuk annual report. The project was initiated in 2013.
Besides, Dhaka South City Corporation allocated Tk10 crore for the development of the Dhanmondi lake in the 2019-20 budget.