Asia-Pacific, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT-BANGLADESH: Polybags Add To Flood Woes

Tabibul Islam

DHAKA, Sep 25 1998 (IPS) - Although the recent floods have receded, carelessly discarded polybags have so clogged up the drains in this city that water-logging continues over a vast area.

So vexatious has waterlogging and its consequeses been that there is now a growing deamand for a total ban on the manufacture of polybags already under attack for being environmentally hazardous.

Said City Mayor, Mohammed Hanif, “Indiscriminate dumping of polythene bags has been creating serious environmental hazards and water logging because this insoluble object is choking the drainage system and causing overflow of filthy sewerage water.”

Although floods have been receding steadily for the last one week, water-logging persists over a 70 sq km area in the eastern and southern parts of dhaka city.

Nearly eight million people are affected by dirty stagnant water fouling up their environment and directly threatening the health of over two million residents.

There are fears of a fresh outbreak of water-borne diseases because dirty water has been found to be contaminating supplies of drinking water.

The recent prolonged flood, worst in living memory, has already led to the outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases on a large scale in many areas of Dhaka city, two-thirds of which was inundated.

Some 32,000 children were hit by different water borne diseases in Dhaka city during the spell of high flooding, according to news reports quoting UNICEF and other sources.

The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Reasearch here treated more than 40,000 patients for diarrhoeal diseases during the last two months starting from July 15.

According to officials of the environment department, nearly 3000 tons of garbage are generated in Dhaka city every day, the bulk of it comprising household wastes and commercial and industrial refuse.

Disposal of waste in Dhaka is primitive and consists largely of bundling it into polybags and chucking it into the streets for collection by poor street children who are said to lift upto 600 tons of garbage every day.

It has been estimated that 4.5 million polythene bags are discarded daily in Dhaka to be picked up for recycling by street children. But not all of them are salvaged and many end up in the drains as is now so painfully obvious.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest plans to convene an inter-ministerial meeting early next month for taking effective measures immediately to control the use of polybags that have proved so disastrous for draingage in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.

“We are seriously planning to take punitivite measures against those throwing garbage particularly polybags indiscriminately on the streets,” Hanif said.

“We made repeated appeals to the city dwellers not to dump domestic garbage packed up in polybags haphazardly. But all our appeals have gone in vain. We have no alternative but to enforce fines especially in the light of the floods,” he added.

Under municipal laws, offenders may be fined the equivalent a little over USD four for a single instance of creating public nuisance by disposing of garbage indiscriminately.

Hanif said a “wheat-for-polybags” scheme would be extended through the city to induce people keep plastic off the streets. Under the system, a certain quantity of wheat will be given as reward for those depositing used polybags.

At the initiative of the junior Minister for Shipping, Saber Hossain Chowdhury a system of providing three kgs of wheat for depositing one kg of used polybags has already been introduced in his city constituency comprising Motijheel and Sabujbag areas.

The response of the poor people specially street children to this innovative system has been quite encouraging, he said.

Some experts have expressed the view that garbage and polybags are only part of the problem. Unplanned construction of houses, roads and growth of slums have filled up natural canals.

About three decades ago, at least fifty canals existed in Dhaka through which rain water and household wastewater passed into the rivers. Many of these canals have disappeared.

In October, 1993 the the The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry argued that the government had not banned thousands of defective and old automobiles responsible for dangerous emissions. “Why single out polybags?” a member demanded to know.

Replacing polythene with paper would put tremendous pressure on scarce forest resources, they said in answer to the suggestion that polybags could be switched for paper bags.

All eyes are now on the outcome of the inter-ministerial meeting on the issue to be presided over by the Environment and Forest Minister Begum Sajeda Chowdhury.

Meanwhile, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has pressed 79 pumps into service and hope that this will finally help drain out stagnant water from water-logged areas.

 
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