In a hot summer in Dhaka, we long for some cool breeze. When we get to feel it, it is with plentiful dust particles, which gets into our eyes, and makes us inhale particulate matter (PM) which, upon entering the respiratory system, causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, reproductive and central nervous system dysfunctions and cancer.
Particulate Matter (PM) can be found in the polluted air, which is one of our era's greatest menaces that are known to cause climate degradation. Surface dust is an ever present element, as most of the time there is some construction work going on around, along with exhaust fumes from unfit vehicles. However, brick kilns are to be blamed mostly as they contribute highly to the air pollution.
There are more than 7,700 brick manufacturing kilns in Bangladesh according to the data from the Department of Environment (DoE), releasing sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, which harm our health.
As we know, trees provide us with oxygen, the most essential element for survival. But unfortunately 25% of the total firewood is consumed by brick kilns. Can it be said that these are thus "construction for destruction"?
How many of us have heard that people can slip into coma because of drinking water? The frightening truth is, people can suffer through various diseases such as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, breathing difficulties and coma as a result of drinking water mixed with pesticides which are often found in the agricultural areas, villages and hence, it plays a major role in water pollution.
Other diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis B and A, polio, scabies, dermatitis are caused due to drinking and using contaminated water. This pollution also has an impact on the animals, aquatic organisms and plants along with agriculture and soil i.e., the whole ecosystem.
Pollution of water hinders marine fishing and navigation and also the development of river-based tourism and recreational activities, resulting in economic loss. Despite the apparent destruction, most people seemingly are not bothered about them. The time when matters are taken seriously is when such a situation affects the present monetary and economic interests.
Dhaka's Hazaribagh was infamous for tanneries, which played a great role in polluting the river Buriganga and contributing to climate change through the outpouring of toxic waste, heavy metals, dyes and acids since the early sixties.
In 2017, the High Court ordered tanneries to relocate to Savar in order to save the Buriganga river. And now the relocated tanneries are polluting the Dhaleswari river due to capacity issues of the central ETP set up at the new location.
Another reason for atmospheric deterioration is "noise" pollution. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), sound levels that are above 70 decibels (dB) are harmful; whereas in Dhaka city 120-129 dB sounds are recorded.
If a person is exposed to 100 dB to 120 dB sound for 15 minutes, it could result in temporary to permanent hearing loss along with high blood pressure, headache, mental, physical illness. Vehicles with loud hydraulic horns, stone crusher machines in the residential areas etc., are some major tormentors.
Over the years, numerous legislations have been enacted which worked as an instruction to further policy-making and rules with guidelines for regulating social and environmental behaviour of corporations - for instance, Factories Act, 1965; Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969; Bangladesh Environment Conservation Rules, 1997; and more importantly, the Bangladesh Environmental Conservation Act, 1995.
The Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act, 2013 was enacted for prohibiting the use of raw materials from sources such as agricultural land and hills and the use of wood as fuel has also been outlined in this Act.
According to the guidelines introduced by the government - Bangladesh Sound Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006, it will be considered a punishable offence if the maximum noise level is exceeded in a certain area. The Bangladesh Water Act, 2013 was introduced to regulate waste load and ineffective discharge from factories which are diminishing and harming the water sources.
Actually nothing is functioning to reduce such pollution, primarily due to infrequent application of the laws and inconsistent implementation of financial penalties upon brick kilns, tanneries, factories, construction companies and many others.
Media can play a huge role by creating awareness of the laws, by reporting on environmental violations and by producing news and adverts about climate degradation. Only strict implementation and adherence to environmental laws can safeguard the livelihood of everyone affected by it.
Radowa Alam is an LLB student at the University of London with an avid interest in writing on social issues.
Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA) in partnership with The Business Standard arranged an op-ed writing competition this year. This article is one of the winning entries of that competition.