In the last few years, Dhaka has consistently ranked as one of the least liveable cities in the world, and while there are many reasons behind that, there is one that does not get enough attention: noise pollution.
Honking has become part and parcel of this city of traffic chaos, and the Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue -- being one of the most high-traffic thoroughfares in the capital -- has no shortage of it.
While the high levels of sound pollution spares no one living, working and commuting in the area, the worst sufferers are patients admitted at the hospitals along this road, as this correspondent found out during recent visits.
The 600-bed Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation in Diabetes, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders -- known better by its acronym Birdem -- is one of them.
Even on the sixth floor of the hospital building, the chaotic noise from hundreds of horns ringing at once reaches the cabins of patients.
Bulbul, an attendant of a patient coming from Gazipur, said, “My brother-in-law had a neck surgery recently. He needs rest. But the noise from outside makes it hard for him to sleep.”
On-duty nurse Rabeya said, “The sound is overbearing during noon, evening and night. Healthy people like us can endure the sound, but patients bear the brunt of it. Even if we close the windows, the sound slips through.”
Just opposite the road from Birdem is Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU). Although patients’ cabins and wards are a little further in from the road compared to Birdem, they are still not beyond the reach of the cacophony.
BSMMU nurse Sima Raksam said, “Traffic noise reaches the building that are adjacent to road. Patients who just get admitted find it difficult to sleep, but after a couple of days they get used to it.”
But the situation at Al-Razi Hospital in Farmgate is quite severe. The west side of the building is close to the road, where the ongoing work of metro rail has added to the honking of passing vehicles.
Khasruzzaman, 60, came to the hospital with kidney complications. His wife Monowara Khanam said, “I have gotten used to the traffic sound inside the room, but outside, the situation is intolerable.”
World Health Organization (WHO) says any sound above 60 decibels (dB) can temporarily make a person deaf, and prolonged exposure to sound above 100 dB can cause hearing impairments.
“Pregnant women, children and aged persons are most vulnerable to noise pollution. Due to the exposure to excessive noise, a fetus could be affected, and early delivery may happen,” BSMMU’s otology (study of the ear) division head Prof Abul Hasnat Joarder said. “If someone keeps hearing sound of 80dB or more every day, they can suffer hearing loss in near future, along with headache, depression, anxiety, and heart complications.”
NO HEED TO LAW
According to Noise Pollution (Control) Rules-2006 under Environment Conservation Act, 1995, the acceptable sound condition is 50dB for daytime (6am to 9pm) and 40dB for night (9pm to 6am) in “silent zones” -- that include hospitals and schools. If the rules are violated, the punishment for noise pollution is one month of imprisonment, Tk 5,000 fine, or both -- for a first-time offense. For a second offense, the punishment is six months’ imprisonment, Tk10,000 fine, or both.
However, there is little implementation of the law.
Asked, auto-rickshaw driver Rahim Talukder at Shahbagh area said he knew of a law against honking in front of hospital. “But since the road stays jam-packed and movement of the pedestrians is irregular, there is nothing I can do but honk.”
Referring to research by Department of Environment (DoE), Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust Programme Manager Maruf Hossain said, “The sound level around Shahbagh intersection is 80-150dB, which is not acceptable at all. Rules need to be implemented properly to reduce it.”
Law enforcing agencies, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), DoE and local authorities (city corporations, pouroshava parishad) should be more responsible and prioritise it, he said, adding that mass awareness is required through campaigning.
Contacted, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Traffic Division) Additional Police Commissioner Mofizuddin Ahmed said, “If any vehicle causes sound pollution in the area where it is prohibited, we fine violators Tk 100 under section-139 of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance.”
Asked why their measures are not working, he replied, “We confiscated at least 10,000 hydraulic horns at different times. We are trying our best.”
Regarding the implementation of the law, DoE director Farid Ahmed said, “We arrange drives via mobile court with the help of BRTA, but due to shortage of manpower, we cannot arrange the drives regularly.”
Besides, DoE conducted research between 2015 and 2017 regarding the level of noise pollution in different areas, and trained 19,000 people, including officials of police, BRTA, DoE, as well as drivers, he said.
In future, they have plans to run a pilot project to reduce noise pollution with the help of locals in different areas, he added.