Roundtable thrashes industrialists for mindless river contamination, seeks immediate actions to save waters
Industries got a whacking yesterday as experts and environmentalists maintained that rivers around Dhaka are getting polluted wholesale by industrial waste. Even industries with effluent treatment plants do not run those facilities.
The capital’s sewage is also mostly untreated and dumped into the rivers as the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) has very few waste treatment facilities. The pollution situation is even compounded as no single entity has the complete authority to deal with the pollution that has already rendered the Buriganga biologically dead and threatened the existence of three other rivers–Turag, Balu and Shitalakhya.
The experts recommended immediate setting up of a high-powered “national river authority” in the style of the Ganga Commission and Hooghly Commission in India to deal with the pollution of the four rivers that surround Dhaka. There is already the National Coordination Committee on Environment but it has not had a meeting since 1997 and become ineffective.
They also said actions must be taken immediately to stop industries from polluting rivers.
The Daily Star conference room became a buzzing place for brainstorming yesterday morning as over a dozen experts and environmentalists along with State Minister for environment Mustafizur Rahman and Industries Minister Dilip Barua met at a roundtable titled “River Pollution: How to Save Our Rivers”. The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam moderated the roundtable.
Managing Director of Dhaka Wasa Shahjahan Ali Mollah revealed how inadequate Wasa facilities are to treat sewage and said the raw waste is dumped into the rivers, which has in turn rendered the river water unusable.
He said loads of medicines are being used to treat water at the Sayedabad water treatment plant and even a newly undertaken plant would serve as a temporary solution to the problem. Another big World Bank project to build a treatment plant for industrial waste will only solve 10 percent of the problem. He admitted that unless major programmes are taken to stop industrial pollution Dhaka would face a severe water crisis in the near future.
Chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) Md Abdul Mannan Howladar mentioned that his organisation has little power to free the rivers from encroachment. And BIWTA’s dredging capability is ruefully inadequate–it only has seven dredgers that were bought about 35 years ago.
He said dredging is a must to augment flow in the rivers around Dhaka but pollution has accumulated so thick in the Buriganga that normal dredgers are ineffective and BIWTA does not have specialised dredgers.
Chief Conservancy Officer of Dhaka City Corporation Muksudur Rahman Chowdhury said the tanneries must be relocated from the city’s Hazaribagh to save the rivers. He said waste collection in the growth centres outside, which fall under union parishads, have to be strengthened to stop pollution of the rivers.
Industries Minister Dilip Barua said industries do not have social responsibility to care for environment and often they do not operate their effluent treatment plants. He affirmed that industrialisation must take care of all environmental concerns.
He said installation of effluent treatment plants will be made compulsory for industries and efforts will be taken to expedite disposal of a case that has stuck relocation of the tanneries from Hazaribagh.
Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) Syeda Rizwana Hasan said the usual threat of industries that workers would lose job should not deter the authorities from taking action against polluters.
Professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) Dr ABM Badruzzaman said he had found that most industries with effluent treatment plants do not run them. Moreover, Wasa dumps sewage just a little away from its own intake plant. He mentioned that Wasa covers only 30 percent of the city with sewage network and the treatment plant can treat only 20 percent of the sludge.
Buet Professor Mujibur Rahman said the Shitalakhya and Balu rivers must be saved first and for that industries and environment ministries have to take up a five-year plan and start working right away. He said industrialisation at the pollution control zone of Shitalakhya must be stopped.
Prof Mujibur pointed out that storm sewage lines bring solid waste to the Buriganga and these lines must be diverted to the Pagla sewage treatment plant. He said unless pollution could be stopped, funds for water treatment plants would be unavailable.
Khawaja M Minnatullah, a World Bank environment specialist, said water in the rivers around Dhaka is so polluted today that the Syedabad water treatment plant has virtually become a wastewater treatment installation. He maintained that pollution from Hazaribagh tanneries have permanently polluted the shallow aquifer of the city.
He said Dhaka city is approaching a public health crisis and even bottled water will not be safe enough for drinking because of the amount of background pathogen.
Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury, additional secretary to the information ministry and former convenor of the government instituted river pollution mitigation committee, cited the example of the Singapore river and said it was also a dead river with pollution but it was rejuvenated in 10 years. With concerted efforts the rivers around the Buriganga could also be brought to life in course of time.
Source: The Daily Star, 08 May 2009