Unplanned urbanism and industrialisation in absence of proper coordination among the different utility services have forced millions of city dwellers to face a nightmarish experience during the month long flood that they will try to forget as early as possible.
Filthy and sewage materials contaminated with stagnant floodwater in the city have made the life of city people miserable. About 40 per cent of the city areas were affected with the condition of the vast area inside Dhaka flood protection embankment was worst.
The area known as Hazaribagh had been reeled under stagnant rainwater contaminated with huge quantities of liquid waste from the country's main tannery industries, exposing residents there to serious health hazards. Intoxicated air and bad odor made it impossible to take breath.
According to a survey of UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, tanneries all over the country generate 8.47 million litter liquid wastes and 98 MT solid wastes everyday. Out of these, tanneries in Hazaribagh alone generate 7.70 million litter liquid wastes and 88 MT solid wastes everyday. An official at the Environment Department said, the country has about 950 industries that cause most of the pollution. Of them, more than 250 are tanneries that has been disregarding directive to treat wastes.
The condition deteriorates during monsoon when the entire area become dumping grounds of the wastes.
Residents of the areas say the tannery water gets into the river through sluice gates. But the authorities concerned closed all the sluice gates following the rise of water above the danger level in Buriganga and Turag during the recent flood.
At least 10 pumps were set to pump out polluted water to the other side of the embankment. But those were not enough to pump out huge amount of stagnant water, they said.
Besides the pump-out-polluted water also posed a health hazard to about 2.0 million people of Kamrangirchar, Jaulahati, Rasulpur, Munshihat, Basila, Hasan Nagar, Matbar Bazar, Khola Mura, Jhauchar, Tekerhat, Sultanganj and the adjacent areas.
The industries that spread over 16 kilometers areas use around 60 chemicals, many of which pose greater health risk.
According to a leather expert, the tannery wastes contain more than 300 harmful chemical compounds with a rate of up to 13 per cent, whereas a rate of six per cent can be fatal for humans. The wastes are also harmful to fish and other marine resources.
A World Bank report said the incidence of illness in this area is 16 per cent higher than the average rate in the metropolis. It also suggests that the chemicals lead to 'either death or increased probabilities of death and suffering by illness including skin diseases, fever, headaches, respiratory diseases etc'.
According to another leather expert, most tanneries in Bangladesh use some deadly chemicals, which are banned in many other countries. He claims that chromium-based chemicals are widely used in wet blue hides and this and other chemicals are harmful to humans and can cause cancer.
A study by Institute of Flood and Water Management at BUET has found more than acceptable amount of chromium in groundwater in Hazaribagh and its adjoining areas up to 4 milligram as against the acceptable rate of 0.5 milligram.
The tannery industry in the capital is expanding, despite the social problem created due to environmental pollution. Like many other cities of the developing countries the population of Dhaka city increased by almost 200 per cent in seven years (1974-81) due to the increasing developments of landless peasants.
The development of leather processing industry was started in Bangladesh in the late 1940s. Until mid 1960s, the leather was dominated by vegetable-tan for supply to West Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. There was a rapid growth of tanning industry in Bangladesh during 1970s and by the end of 70s. Until 1980-81, the export from leather sector was almost 100 per cent in the form of wet blue, the chrome tanned semi-processed leather. Bangladesh has entered into second phase -conversion of finished leather into further value added leather products to earn more foreign exchange- with the ban on wet blue export from July 1999.
Annual turnover from leather industries is now stands at nearly US$25 billion providing employment for around half a million workers worldwide. Bangladesh earns more than seven billion taka - 11 per cent of all the export earnings - by exporting leather and leather goods.
The water of Buriganga has become black and mucky due to continuous inflow of untreated tannery effluents. There is no vegetation in the area. There are no trees, no grass and no moss on the damp walls. Everything at Hazaribagh is concrete, brick and as lifeless, environmentalists said.
Finally, the government decided to shift the industries to Saver under a project of Tk 1.75 billion last year. The project will complete in 2005. But this is sure that the vast areas and thousand of people will carry the wounds of unplanned urbanism and industrialisation for many years even after shifting of the tanneries.