Although Dhaka is fast evolving into a modern capital in tandem with the country's economic advancement, this megacity continues to struggle with cleaning up its waste, despite annual investments of hundreds of crores.
Dhaka's two city corporations have spent over Tk3,323 crore for waste management in the last seven years. Yet the city has roughly 250 unregulated open garbage dumping locations, posing a severe pollution hazard and adversely affecting public health.
Then there are city corporations' garbage sheds, known as secondary transfer stations (STS), which are often located in the most incongruous places imaginable, including near hospitals, parks, schools and on busy roads.
These stations are a nuisance for people who live or work in the vicinity. Waste accumulates throughout the day, emitting unpleasant odours that permeate the area, while waste vans (rickshaw vans) parked there further exacerbate traffic congestion.
One such station is near Kalabagan ground. There is often more garbage in the vans parked in front of garbage sheds than inside.
These vans block a large part of the road from the afternoon till late at night. The watery part of waste accumulates on the road and its stench spreads around the area.
Only at night do the city corporation's waste trucks come and move them to landfills.
Shimul Miah, who travels regularly on this road, told The Business Standard that he faces traffic jams every day due to the vans.
"But the overpowering stench of waste surpasses even the inconvenience of traffic in this area. Sometimes, it becomes nearly impossible not to throw up," he added.
Akter Mahmud, advisor at the Institute for Planning and Development (IPD) told TBS, "We must revamp every facet of our waste management process, as issues persist across all three stages: collection, segregation and landfill storage."
"Monitoring is lacking in waste collection, worker compliance with proper attire for segregation at STS, and pollution during waste transportation. Neither city corporation adheres to these protocols," he added.
According to information from the two city corporations, the 129 wards under them generate about 6,800 tonnes of waste daily. Thirty wards have no garbage sheds.
Waste collectors in most instances use their vans to collect trash directly from households, depositing it at garbage sheds. Later, city corporation waste trucks transport this garbage to landfills.
These door-to-door waste collection services are initiated by the community. The collectors are approved by the city corporation but are not their staff. They have no proper training in collecting and managing waste.
The two city corporations have 10,000 employees and 473 different types of vehicles for waste management.
Dhaka South's Chief Waste Management Officer Md Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury blamed trash collectors for the city's haphazard waste management, saying they [collectors] do not follow rules properly.
"We are thinking of piloting a ward to collect waste from households in closed vehicles and collect solid and wet waste separately," he added.
However, Younus Khan, a waste collector in Mirpur, said there is no initiative to train them.
"I lack formal training. Sometimes the city corporation conducts programmes, but we aren't allowed to participate in them. These programs are exclusively for city corporation employees. We receive minimal pay and have no training in safety and security," Younus said.
SM Shafiqur Rahman, executive engineer, Waste Management Department of Dhaka North, told TBS that the corporation is transitioning to waste-to-energy generation, which will streamline management.
"We've also reached an agreement with a Chinese company on providing only mixed waste, eliminating the need for waste segregation," he said.
Hazards of waste mismanagement
According to a recent World Bank report, about one lakh people die every year due to environmental pollution in Bangladesh. Among them, 18,000 people have died in the capital alone.
Due to the lack of a proper disposal of solid and liquid waste, at least 5.2 million people die worldwide, including 4 million children.
A study, titled "Urban Waste Management in Bangladesh: An Overview with a Focus on Dhaka", published in October 2021, observed the situation over the last three decades and said that an average of 55% of solid waste in urban areas remains uncollected