Every morning, as I step out of my home to go to work, I am faced with the same nuisances: the dilapidated road in front of my house which has been like this for as long as I can remember, the piled up garbage here and there, the open manholes spreading obnoxious smells, and the nonchalant vendors selling vegetables (and even fish) taking up half the space of the road.
Although the city corporation’s cleaners are supposed to sweep the road every morning, by 10:30am, when I step out, I find the road extremely dirty. While vegetable sellers dump all kinds of kitchen waste straight onto the road, pedestrians indiscriminately throw away water bottles and plastic packets wherever they wish. Sadly, I have never found a single dustbin on this road.
Household waste is also dumped on the road. Often the waste collectors who are supposed to collect waste from every house of the area, do not come to collect them. Sometimes they remain absent three/four days in a row. The situation gets worse when all kinds of waste are dumped straight into the open manholes, resulting in clogged drains with dirty water spilling all over the road.
Amid such squalor, I abandon my plan to walk and take a rickshaw instead. As I look at the only canal in the neighbourhood from the rickshaw, all I can see are polythene bags and plastic bottles floating on the black water. And piled up garbage on both banks of the canal. While with minimal maintenance the canal could have been a blessing for the area (it could help reduce waterlogging in the area during the rainy season), in reality, it has been used like an open dustbin, emitting a bad odour all the time and polluting the air. It has also been a major breeding ground of mosquitoes throughout the year.
Days before the city corporation elections, which were held on February 1, when the mayoral candidates unveiled their election manifestos, I was rather surprised to see the ambitious promises they have made to the Dhakabashis. Turning Dhaka into an “intelligent city” or a “tourist hotspot” made absolutely no sense to residents like me, because the problems for us are very basic and do not require a lot of ruminating.
Dhaka is literally drowning in a sea of problems which have made it the world’s worst city in livability ranking. The most pressing problems of the city include: lack of a proper waste management system, air pollution, mosquito menace, waterlogging, traffic congestions, and safety of women, to name a few. According to a recent study, Dhaka’s air quality is the worst in the world and the city is also one of the worst in terms of ensuring women’s safety.
Living in a neglected ward in northern Dhaka, I feel that the basic problems in my neighborhood are mosquito menace, management of household waste, waterlogging during monsoon, and of course, the polluted air from uncontrolled construction work. What I understand is that this is true for most of the wards under Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). But since the city corporations only have the legal authority to improve the city’s garbage disposal system and control mosquitoes, and since solving all the other issues will need assistance and coordination from the over four dozen government agencies concerned, the newly elected mayors should start their work in these two areas.
Developing a proper garbage disposal system is crucial for Dhaka’s survival, the absence of which has not only made the whole city a garbage dumping ground, but has also contributed to the city’s waterlogging problems and mosquito menace. Reportedly, around 6,250 tonnes of garbage are produced in both city corporations every day. Unfortunately, our city corporations do not have the capacity to collect a major portion of this waste, which eventually goes into the open drains, canals and water bodies. The daily Prothom Alo ran a report on October 13, 2019 on how the local leaders and activists of the ruling party have been running a big business centring waste collection while the city corporations literally have no control over the city’s waste collection system. Although according to the city corporation rules, workers of the city corporations are supposed to collect the household waste, at present, the work is done by the over three hundred organisations known as primary waste collection service providers (PWCSP). Although these organisations are registered with the city corporations, the latter do not have any mechanism to oversee their work.
And reportedly, DNCC and DSCC have collected over Tk 150 crore as tax from the residents for keeping the city clean in the fiscal year 2018-19. Sadly, the city dwellers did not get the service they deserved.
The other issue that needs both the city corporations’ immediate attention is containing the mosquito menace. With the dengue peak season only a few months away, the city corporations, in fact, do not have much time for preparation. If effective measures are not taken now to destroy the breeding grounds of Aedes mosquitoes, the dengue outbreak could be more severe this year. According to government statistics, more than one lakh dengue patients had been admitted to hospitals last year. And Prothom Alo reported that at least 300 people died of the disease till November 29.
A survey by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), done between July 31 and August 9 last year, found 66 percent areas of DNCC and 61 percent areas of DSCC to be perfect for Aedes mosquito to breed. Clearly, mosquito control will be the first major challenge for the soon-to-be formed city corporations under new mayors. And since mosquito menace is closely related with the city’s waterlogging problem and garbage management, all three issues will need urgent intervention.
Both the DNCC and DSCC mayors-elect have touched upon these issues in their election manifestoes. The DNCC’s Atiqul Islam has pledged to develop a sustainable and environment-friendly waste management system. He has also enlightened us about a Resources Recovery Facility that will be set up in Aminbazar for disposal of waste and turning waste into energy. Both Atiqul Islam and DSCC’s Fazle Noor Taposh have also given us assurances of taking proper measures for mosquito control in their respective areas to stop the potential outbreak of dengue.
The city corporation elections ended on a rather sour note with incidents of violence and a significantly low voter turnout that gave some indication of people’s lack of faith in the system as the city’s liveability dips even lower. Thus it remains to be seen whether the mayors will be able to fulfill their promises and change the city dwellers’ perception regarding the commitment of city corporations to solve their problems.
Naznin Tithi is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.