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Pollution in the Buriganga that flows over Dhaka has been intensifying day by day. Not only the Buriganga, but also the Turag, Balu, Shitalakshya and Dhaleshwari experience the same fate.

The water quality of these rivers is much lower than the standard to support the aquatic lives. Water quality improved in some portions of the rivers during the coronavirus-induced general holidays last year. The water has polluted again.

The government agencies responsible for the pollution have not stopped the culture of blaming one another. Some of them are saying that Dhaka dwellers will have to wait for a decade to get pollutant-free river water.

Amid the situation, Bangladesh observed the World Environment Day on Saturday with the theme–‘Ecosystem restoration’. Greens and researchers demand quick implementation of the effective steps to restore the Dhaka rivers.

Pollution level at present

Measurement of the dissolved oxygen (DO) is one of the indicators to detect pollution in the river water. As per standard quality, one litre water contains minimum 5 milligram of DO.

The department of environment (DoE) water monitoring reports show that DO level at some portions of the five Dhaka rivers dropped to zero during dry seasons in last five years.

In March this year, the DO level in 1 litre water of the Buriganga near the Mirpur Bridge was measured at 0.32 milligram. The level of DO at the same point was 2.02 milligram in April last year.

During dry season last year, 1 litre water of the Turag near Gabtali Bridge contained 3.02 milligram DO. In March this year, the concentration of DO halved.

Fahmida Khanam, director (natural resource management) at DoE, said, ‘Sewage is the main source of pollutants. Dhaka WASA can only manage sewage generated from 10 per cent of the city population, covering 20 per cent of the total city area. The remaining of sewage is dumped into the rivers. We are still struggling to check disposal of industrial waste.”

Blame game

Industrial waste, sewage, solid waste from two city corporations and effluent of vessels are identified as the four major sources of pollutants for the Dhaka rivers. Several government wings are responsible for monitoring as well as controlling the pollution. But the authorities concerned are playing a blame game.

Dhaka WASA is responsible for sewerage management while the DoE is liable to control the industrial waste.

When asked about the role of the DoE to control the industrial waste, the organisation's director Fahmida Khatun said, “There are 5,000 industrials units in Narayanganj. How can DoE control the industrial waste across the district with its one deputy director and two inspectors?"

Talking about the failure in sewerage management, Dhaka WASA’s acting managing director Abul Kashem said, “We do not deny the responsibility. But the industrial waste causes 50 per cent and sewage 15 per cent of river water pollution.”

Dhaka WASA and the two city corporations of Dhaka are under the local government division. Local government, rural development and co-operatives minister Tajul Islam said, “RAJUK approves construction of city buildings. How does it approve a building without septic tank? If there were septic tanks, sewage could be managed."

Will pollution be reduced in 10 years?

Officials of several departments under three ministries informed Prothom Alo about plans and projects to reduce river pollution in Dhaka. They also stressed for more projects. Most of the initiatives are at the planning stage.

Currently five sewage treatment plants are under-construction, Dhaka WASA officials said. “The projects would be completed by 2030. After that, the Dhaka rivers would not be polluted by sewage,” Dhaka WASA acting managing director Abul Kashem told Prothom Alo.

DoE accuses many factories of not having effluent treatment plant (ETP). To evade operational costs, factories do not run their ETPs. Now the DoE is planning about a project to bring the ETPs under monitoring online.

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Local government minister Tajul Islam said the government has initiated construction of two large-scale plants to treat solid waste of three city corporations in Gazipur and Dhaka.

“Solid waste treatment plant for the Gazipur City Corporation would be built in next three years. But the second one for the Dhaka North City Corporation would take more time,” the minister said, adding that the government would implement a 10-year mega plan to protect the Dhaka rivers.

When asked whether the mega plan to be effective, Tajul Islam said, “We are optimistic.”

Researchers have expressed doubts over the future plan.

Water expert professor Mujibur Rahman said, “The Dhaka WASA project to treat the sewage was undertaken in 2013. The project was a part of a mega plan. In reality, the project wasted time and its implementing cost went up. The success rate of such a mega plan is nominal. Hence, I am not optimistic about the improvement of Dhaka rivers in the next 10 years.”

*This report appeared in online and print editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.

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