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Bangladesh Pollution Threatens Millions

Bangladesh Pollution
  • Bangladesh  Pollution Threatens Millions
  • Arsenic Pollution in Bangladesh
    In Bangladesh over 18 millions people are drinking arsenic poisoned water daily
  • Air pollution choking Dhaka
    Thousands of people, in Dhaka, are dying prematurely because of air pollution


Bangladesh river pollution threatens millions

DHAKA - It was once the lifeline of the Bangladeshi capital.

But the once mighty Buriganga river, which flows by Dhaka, is now one of the most polluted rivers in Bangladesh because of rampant dumping of industrial and human waste.
"Much of the Buriganga is now gone, having fallen to ever insatiable land grabbers and industries dumping untreated effluents into the river," said Ainun Nishat, a leading environmental expert.

"The water of the Buriganga is now so polluted that all fish have died, and increasing filth and human waste have turned it like a black gel. Even rowing across the river is now difficult for it smells so badly," he told reporters.The plight of the Buriganga symbolises the general state of many rivers in Bangladesh, a large flat land criss-crossed by hundreds of rivers which faces an uphill battle to keep them navigable and their waters safe for human and aquatic lives.

Bangladesh has about 230 small and large rivers, and a large chunk of the country's 140 million people depend on them for a living and for transportation. But experts say many of them are drying up or are choked because of pollution and encroachment.

A World Bank study said four major rivers near Dhaka - the Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Turag and Balu - receive 1.5 million cubic metres of waste water every day from 7,000 industrial units in surrounding areas and another 0.5 million cubic metres from other sources. Unabated encroachment that prevents the free flow of water, dumping of medicinal waste and waste of river passengers have compounded the problem, making the water unusable for humans and livestock.

"Unfortunately, all these bad things - encroachment, dumping of industrial waste and other abuses - occur in full knowledge of the authorities," said Professor Abdullah Abu Saeed, an eminent campaigner for "Save Buriganga, Save Lives".

Among the top polluters are dozens of tanneries on the banks of the Buriganga. The government has initiated a move to relocate the tanneries outside the capital, and also asked illegal encroachers to vacate the river. But environmental groups say they defy such orders by using their political links or by bribing people.

Bangladesh river pollution threatens millions

A boy collects rubbish on the river Buriganga in Dhaka May 17, 2009. It was once the lifeline of the Bangladeshi capital. But the once mighty Buriganga river, which flows by Dhaka, is now one of the most polluted rivers in Bangladesh because of rampant dumping of industrial and human waste. [Agencies] 


Environmentalists say the Buriganga, or the "Old Ganges" once famous for a spectacular cruise, is worst affected. The river flows by the capital Dhaka, a city of 12 million people, which largely depends on the Buriganga's water for drinking, fishing and carrying merchandise.

"The pollutants have eaten up all oxygen in the Buriganga and we call it biologically dead. It is like a septic tank," said Khawaja Minnatullah, a World Bank specialist on environment and water management.

"There is no fish or aquatic life in this river apart from zero oxygen survival kind of organisms." Chemicals such as cadmium and chromium, and other elements such as mercury carried by the industrial waste are also creeping into the ground water, posing a serious threat to public health.

"If the pollution is not controlled, we will face a serious health crisis in a year or two or at best three years," said Minnatullah. Bangladesh enacted a law in 1995 making it compulsory for all industrial units to use effluent treatment plants in a bid to save river water from pollution, but industry owners often flout the rule.

"Many of them have this plant. But they don't use it as it is expensive," said M.A. Matin, general-secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon or the Bangladesh Environment Movement.

"We want the rivers fully dredged, their illegal occupation ended and the laws strictly enforced to prevent abuse of waterways," said Nishat.

Environmentalists say they are hopeful.
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Arsenic Pollution in Bangladesh
 In Bangladesh over 18 millions people are drinking arsenic poisoned water daily


For the past two decades the water from over a million tube-wells has been slowly poisoning Bangladeshi villagers with naturally occurring arsenic. Over 18 millions people are drinking this poisoned water daily.

Arsenic is naturally occurring in pyrite bedrock underlying much of West Bengal. The poisoning began to occur as millions of kiloliters of water was being pumped out from deep within underground reservoirs. As a result the water level dropped and exposed the arsenic-bearing pyrite to air leading to oxidisation, a reaction which flushed arsenic into the remaining water.

Arsenic is a slow killer that accumulates in the body resulting in nails rotting, dark spots, bleeding sores, swelling, large warts and a form of gangrene. It is carcinogen increasing the risk of skin cancer and tumors of the bladder, kidney, liver and lungs.

Villagers in Jampukkur, first noticed something was wrong in the 1970’s when dark spots spread across their bodies. They finally learned they were drinking arsenic contaminated water in 1993 when official tests showed 95% of the village wells were contaminated.

As a result of widespread water contamination domestic abuse has become just one of the social costs. There are now many reports of broken marriage, as husbands send disfigured wives back to their parents. In Jampukkur, many young men and women don’t get married at all. Some people think the poison can be passed on from parent to child so many arsenic poisoned women have problems finding husbands.


BANGLADESH: Air pollution choking Dhaka

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Thousands of people die each year as a result of air polution in the capital Dhaka
DHAKA, 3 April 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of people in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, are dying prematurely because of air pollution, say health experts.
An estimated 15,000 premature deaths, as well as several million cases of pulmonary, respiratory and neurological illness are attributed to poor air quality in Dhaka, according to the Air Quality Management Project (AQMP), funded by the government and the World Bank.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says
vehicular air pollution is a major cause of respiratory distress in urban Bangladesh.
“If pregnant mothers come across excessive pollution, it may cause premature death of their children,” said Soofia Khatun, a professor of paediatrics at the Institute of Maternal and Child Health.

According to the National Institute of Diseases of Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), nearly seven million people in Bangladesh suffer from asthma; more than half of them children. Cases of children suffering from bronchitis and chronic coughs have also shot up in recent years, it said.

“Children breathe more air relative to their lung size than adults. They spend more time outdoors, often during midday and afternoons when pollutant levels are generally highest,” said Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, chief of Kochi Kanchar Mela, a children’s welfare organisation.


According to the Department of Environment (DoE) [see:], the density of airborne particulate matter (PM) reaches 463 micrograms per cubic metre (mcm) in the city during the dry season (December-March) - the highest level in the world.

Mexico City and Mumbai follow Dhaka with 383 and 360mcm respectively, the DoE says.
WHO air quality guidelines (2005) recommend a maximum acceptable PM level of 20mcm; cities with 70mcm are considered highly polluted. Airborne lead is the worst of the harmful PMs.
“By penetrating the lungs and entering the blood stream, lead may cause irreversible neurological damage as well as renal disease, cardiovascular effects, and reproductive toxicity,” Humayun Kabir, head of the medicine department of Barisal Medical College, told IRIN, adding: “Children are especially susceptible to impaired intelligence due to lead poisoning.”

The phasing out of petrol-driven two-stroke auto-rickshaws in 2003 and their replacement with four-stroke versions which use a much cleaner burning fuel (compressed natural gas), significantly decreased the volume of air contaminants. But, according to DoE sources, a sharp increase in the number of vehicles and construction sites in 2004-2008 led to a deterioration in Dhaka’s air quality.
The density of airborne fine particulate matter 2.5 micrometers (one millionth of a metre) or smaller in diameter (PM2.5) in the city dropped from 266mcm in 2003 to 147mcm in 2004. However, AQMP statistics from 2007 show 191.83 mcm of PM2.5 (fine particular matter) in Dhaka’s air.

Airborne particulates are considered harmful when they are 10 micrometers (PM 10) or smaller in diameter. PM 2.5 is four times finer than PM10, hence more harmful.
Main pollution sources

According to the DoE, old, poorly serviced vehicles, brick kilns (there are currently about 1,000 in and around Dhaka), dust from roads and construction sites, and toxic fumes from industrial sites are major sources of air pollution.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) said some 15,000 mostly reconditioned and second hand cars were sold in Dhaka in 2008 - up 46 percent from 2007. "Even people in the middle income bracket [US$450-800 per month] can afford cars now," said Abdul Haq, owner of Haq’s Bay, a leading car seller in Dhaka.
Environmental activists are encouraged by the creation of the government’s Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project in Bangladesh which is funded by the World Bank and expected to start from 1 July 2009. The aim is to
adopt sustainable environmental initiatives in key polluting sectors.