Dhaka tops the noise pollution index too

IllustrationMasuk Helal

Among 61 most populated and important cities around the world, noise pollution is the highest in Dhaka. The noise level most of the time in this city is more than twice the tolerable standard, which is causing long term damage to physical and mental health of the city dwellers.

This was stated in a report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on noise pollution. That report titled ‘Frontiers 2022: Noise, Blazes and Mismatches’ was published on UNEP’s website recently.

The report stated that the average noise frequency in Dhaka stands at 119 decibels, which is the highest among 61 major cities of the world. India’s Moradabad of Uttar Pradesh placed second in noise pollution with noise frequency at 114 decibels. And the third city on that list is Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, where the frequency is 105 decibels.

Another city of the country Rajshahi ranked fourth globally, with 103 decibels noise pollution level. The same level of noise pollution happens in the capital of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City, which is the fifth city on the list. That report also mentioned Bangladesh’s Tangail, where the noise was found to be at 75 decibels.

According to World Health Organization (WHO)’s guidelines of 1999, maximum permissible noise level for residential area is 55 decibels. For commercial area it is 70 decibels. In the 2018 revised guidelines, the noise frequency level was recommended to be limited within 53 decibels.

The same level of noise frequency has been considered as the topmost or tolerable limit in Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act and Noise Pollution (Control) Rules as well.

ABM Badruzzaman, professor at the civil engineering department of BUET and a noise pollution researcher, told Prothom Alo, “Dhaka city has now escalated to the level of sound bombs, crossing the level of sound pollution. Just as a bomb explosion causes damages to humans in many ways, noise pollution is increasing our physical and mental problems.”

He added, Dhaka has turned into a sickly city, under the negative effects of air, water and noise pollution all combined. And the legislators who are supposed to reduce the pollution, contribute even more to noise pollution themselves in different ways, by arranging political and private events. Even the government's environment department does not take any steps to reduce this pollution.

‘We will demand data’

Swiss-based organisation AQI Air in a report last week said that after the Indian capital Delhi, Dhaka is the second city in the world that has the most populated air. And Bangladesh as a whole is the country with the highest level of air pollution. Dhaka was the second most air polluted city and Bangladesh was ranked the topmost air polluted country in the 2020 report as well. Now, questions are being raised regarding environment department’s role in addressing this pollution.

Humayun Kabir, additional director general of DoE (Department of Environment) told Prothom Alo, “It is not clear to us on what basis or research they are making these statements. We will demand specific data from them.” He also said that the environment department will continue their activities to check noise and air pollution in Dhaka.

DoE activities

As per the country’s Environment Conservation Act and Noise Pollution (Control) Rules-2006 there are restrictions on many activities to control noise pollution. Brick crusher machines are not allowed to operate in open spaces. There are also guidelines on ending construction of buildings or other infrastructure that create high noise pollution. Even there are rules for cancelling the ear splitting sound of tile-cutting.

It is the environment department’s duty to monitor whether these rules are being followed or not. However, environmentalists accuse this agency of not having initiatives to restraining noise pollution other than observing Noise Pollution Control Day every year.

DoE is implementing a project to control noise pollution. The cost of the two-year project (December 2020 to December 2022) has been set at Tk 350 million (35 crore), which is being provided by the government. According to project sources, mostly leaflets, banners, festoons are being spread and awareness programmes are being carried out in schools under this project.

However, there is no one to observe whether the noise level is exceeding the tolerable limit in major cities including the capital or not. There are no preventive measures or action against people who are breaking these rules, claim concerned people.

A study carried out by the Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies, Stamford University, showed that noise pollution is the highest in Gulistan and Paltan areas of Dhaka city. It also found proof of government-banned hydraulic horns being used in 30 per cent of all vehicles plying in the capital.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), speaking to Prothom Alo said, “Everything that is being done in Dhaka in the name of development, is gradually polluting our soil, water and air. At the same time, our younger generation is falling sick with noise pollution. The government can bring noise pollution under control with an all-out programme only if they wish to do so. In this case, commitment is enough.”

UNEP’s report made several recommendations to check noise pollution. This includes, restricting the movement of vehicles producing loud noises, following rules in infrastructural construction and keeping noise under control during social or entertaining programmes.

Most of the patients that come to see us from big cities including Dhaka suffer from hearing loss, tinnitus or high blood pressure caused by noise pollution
Mani Lal Aich, ENT specialist

Lowest pollution in Melbourne

It was mentioned in that report that among the major 61 cities of the world noise pollution is the lowest in Melbourne. The average sound frequency there is only 20 decibel. Spain’s Barcelona is on the second lowest position with 22 decibel frequency. The report also stated, due to noise pollution, as much as 12,000 people are faced with an untimely death in Europe every year whereas, 48,000 people are added to the list of heart disease patients.

Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist professor Mani Lal Aich said to Prothom Alo, “Most of the patients that come to see us from big cities including Dhaka suffer from hearing loss, tinnitus or high blood pressure caused by noise pollution.”

He added that 17 per cent of Dhaka residents are currently suffering from hearing loss. If this situation continues, the number of people suffering from this ailment will rise up to one third of all city dwellers by 2025 and this is catastrophic for a city.