Unlivable? Why is Dhaka such a mess?
If you want to lead a quality life in a city, Dhaka is not the place you should be looking for.
The air is more toxic than ever, drinking water in many areas unsafe, traffic congestion a daily nightmare, noise pollution unprecedented, and population density very high -- enough to make the capital uninhabitable.
Even Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader felt embarrassed with the fact that Dhaka is one of the most unliveable cities and the most polluted one in the world.
The capital of Bangladesh is seen as a frenzied economic engine with the city's skyline thrusting up aggressively and the sprawling markets bustling with activities.
But the city with an estimated population of over 20 million falls far behind in the crucial features essential for the quality of life.
The 2021 World Air Quality Report by IQAir ranks Dhaka as the second most polluted city while Bangladesh the most polluted country in the world.
The average PM2.5 concentration in the capital is 78.1 micrograms per cubic metre, which is 15 times higher than the limit set by the World Health Organization. Particulate matter (PM) is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air, many of which are hazardous.
The city has been listed by several other global reports as one of the cities with the worst air quality for the past several years, thanks to vehicular emissions, factory fumes, brick kiln smoke, and dust accumulations.
The issue of unsafe drinking water is no less worrying.
Water, from both surface and groundwater sources, has been contaminated with toxic metals, coliforms and other organic and inorganic pollutants.
A 2019 report by the local government and rural development (LGRD) ministry found the water supplied by four out of Wasa's 10 MODS zones, and two out of its four source points was contaminated with harmful bacteria.
The report, which was placed before the High Court, said eight out of the 34 samples -- three from each of the 10 MODS zones and one from each of the four source points -- were found contaminated with bacteria.
The same year, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority admitted that its water supplied to 57 areas was polluted because of faulty pipes.
Although the situation improved over the last few years, currently the capital is witnessing a cholera outbreak, which is partly blamed on the water supply system.
Dhaka is also experiencing fast depletion of groundwater table and pollution in the surface water sources -- mainly the rivers in and around the city.
Besides, an invisible killer is wreaking havoc: sound pollution.
The latest report of the United Nations Environment Programme found the city was the world's noisiest in the world with noise level twice the tolerable standard.
The report stated that the average noise frequency in Dhaka stood at 119 decibels, the highest among 61 major cities of the world.
According to the WHO guidelines, the permissible noise level is 55 dB (decibels) for outdoor residential areas and 70 dB for commercial areas and where there is traffic.
Sound pollution from traffic, construction sites or loudspeakers poses a serious public health risk since regular exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and other health complications.
What makes the city dwellers suffer further day in and day out is the horrendous congestions on roads.
Traffic jams at certain hours are quite common in megacities around the world but what the commuters face in Dhaka is a total chaos and mismanagement.
In the World Traffic Index 2020 of user-contributed database Numbeo, Dhaka has ranked 10th in terms of poor traffic management among 228 cities.
The major factors behind this are absolute shortage of roads and inefficient traffic management. Besides, the existing public transport system fails to address the desirable mobility needs of the people in terms of reliability, comfort, speed and safety.
The list of problems doesn't end here.
Waterlogging is acute and the drainage system is precarious. Because of unplanned urbanisation, illegal occupation and encroachment of wetland and water bodies and indiscriminate dumping of garbage, a couple of hours' rainfall inundate most of the roads.
The shortage of parks, playgrounds and green spaces have turned Dhaka into a gloomy city.
So, what can be done?
Urban experts suggest the government needs to go for simple, practical, people-oriented policy interventions to achieve sustainable urban environments.
Cutting down the pollution by switching to environment friendly and renewable resources, enforcing strict road traffic laws, increasing investment in the public transport system, discouraging the use of personal vehicles and making the stakeholders accountable could be some steps, they said.
Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon, said Dhaka has become unlivable due to the lack of political will.
"It is possible to make the city liveable. It would not take more than two to three years to cut the air and noise pollution by around 60 percent," he said, stressing the need for adopting newer approaches.
ABM Badruzzaman, civil engineering professor of Buet, said the way the city is running, it seems nobody is there to take care of the things.
"The whole Dhaka city is a mess. I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. There are a number of laws but their implementations are almost absent."
Badruzzaman, also a noise pollution researcher, said to make the city liveable, improving the public transport system should be given priority. Another crucial task that needs to be done is decentralisation, he added.
Communications expert Md Shamsul Hoque said a coordinated effort along with the determination to change is required to make the city liveable.
He noted that Dhaka is a victim of "scattered development" and the regulatory authorities should be held accountable.
"Integrated planning is required to make the city liveable. All it requires is the government's strong will alongside policymakers' good intention," he added.