Seventh grader Sayra Islam was returning from school with friends in Dhaka's Agargaon area. As the kids walked by a waste transfer station on the way, they started running to sprint past it.
"The horrifying smell … I cannot breathe every time I pass by this place. I feel like the malodour haunts me up to my home and makes me want to vomit if I eat anything," Sayra said.
The malodour from the garbage transfer station is not only bothering these young people but also giving a stinky nightmare to residents of nearby buildings.
"We cannot keep the windows open," local resident Joynob Khatun told The Business Standard. She said residents' sufferings due to the odour pollution has been mounting in the last couple of weeks thanks to more than 100 trash-laden vans parked in front of the STS [secondary transfer stations] all day long.
After collecting household garbage, the vans are supposed to dump the trash inside the STSs with tall walls and a shed overhead. The trash then will be carried to the landfills for dumping. The process, ranging from household-level collection to landfill disposal, is supposed to be completed at night so that a smart waste management can keep the odour pollution and garbage nuisance at a minimum level.
Saijol Islam, a household garbage collector who had parked his van in front of Agargaon STS, said a severe shortage of dustcart drivers has prompted the latest situation.
"We keep the garbage-laden vans in front of the stations in the daytime and load the trash to bigger vehicles at night to be dumped in the landfills," said Saijol.
There are 102 transfer stations under the two Dhaka city corporations built at a cost of around Tk65 crore. Like the one in Agargaon, most of them in Dhaka north and Dhaka south are exhausted by mismanagement.
In some wards, garbage is heaped up on intersections or by the roads for the trucks to be picked up at night.
From the stations and pile-ups at intersections, dustcarts used to collect the trash during both day and night until three people were run over by the vehicles in recent months in the rush hours. Police say unauthorised and unlicensed individuals were behind the steering of the trucks in every case.
In the face of growing criticism over callousness to road safety, the two city corporations – already plagued by a driver shortage – tightened their grip over allowing only licenced drivers to run the vehicles at night.
The standardisation effort prompted serious chaos over Dhaka's waste management as garbage overflowed the transfer stations. According to officials, the city generates 5,700 tonnes of trash a day.
Md Shafiullah Siddique Bhuiyan, executive engineer at Dhaka south waste management department, told TBS that the STSs are just a secondary dumping place. Initiatives have recently been taken to add some modern features, such as waste segregation, ventilation of accumulated gas and odour, to some stations.
Md Faridul Islam, deputy assistant engineer at Dhaka north waste management department, said the department has a dedicated officer to supervise the stations. Besides, each station has 2-3 city corporation cleaners.
Merina Naznin, zonal executive of Dhaka South City Corporation, said the DSCC has had to struggle due to the driver shortage. She, however, hoped the issue would go away soon.
Commodore SM Sharif-ul Islam, chief waste management officer of Dhaka north, told TBS that the authorities have been facing some issues with garbage hauling at night-time only.
He said Dhaka north recently had a meeting with councillors to standardise waste management. He hoped the situation would ease up soon.