|Volume 5 Issue 09| September 2011|
Why save rivers and wetlands?
The feature story of The Daily Star of August 2, 2011, using a very persuasive writing portrayed the river pollution and encroachment scenario of Dhaka city with valid information based on true stories. The opportunity of being an environmental science student has enabled me to be knowledgeable about this issue. Profound study has helped me see the significance of rivers and wetlands on the landscape and what happens when they are gone. The hazardous situations of these natural treasures of our country have now become a wound on our bodies which require rapid conservative measures that are more tangible, rather than being confined to discussion and writing. At this stage of my life, I consider sharing knowledge with everyone about this issue as a tool to commence our combat against this malady.
Rivers in Dhaka have become extremely polluted with toxic wastes of tanneries and untreated and some undertreated industrial effluent and sewerage. Canals and flood plains are mostly obliterated. Most shockingly, encroachment of the river bodies through earth filling, unplanned dredging by the crooked private housing companies, developers and some influential local grabbers are making our environment vulnerable to an ensuing grievous catastrophe.
The anthropogenic activities influence not only the long-term average flows of the river, but also alter the magnitude and frequency of droughts and floods on the yearly and seasonal flow variations. This adversely affects the availability of water supplies for in-stream and withdrawal uses. Moreover, this also results in the alteration of geomorphic features which can then change in the geometry and sedimentary characteristics of river channels, flood plains and deltas.
River banks play crucial role in constructing city landscapes. It works as the skeleton of a city laying its foundation and diversifying the landscape type. Rivers house numerous living creatures which create a unique freshwater ecosystem. The shallow water area is where the vegetation (the producers upon which the consumers are fed) survives.
Industrial pollutants such as lead, cadmium, iron, copper and organic wastes from leaking sewage systems can accumulate in rivers. Referred as bioaccumulation, this process can ruthlessly affect water quality and species survival. More importantly, bioaccumulation of metals in fish, crabs and other edible aquatic species, may cause health problems to enter the food chain. Also, this can destroy the water aeration system, the self-purifying process of rivers. Additionally, encroachment of freshwater bodies can result in eeutrophication, a process of absorbing excessive nutrients (especially N and P) beyond their buffering capacity. Eutrophication of water bodies leads to the loss of species diversity through increased species mortality, changes in species collection and loss of aquatic flora and fauna diversity.
Integrated land and water management approaches towards effective river restoration policy should be implemented without delay. Also, strict enforcement of the existing environmental policy should be ensured.
Shabnam Sifat Ara Khan (Dola)
ZAHEDUL I KHAN
Road accidents: We need a social movement
Road accidents have become a common feature of our everyday lives. We find them in the news every day, including the recent deaths of filmmaker Tareque Masud and journalist Mishuk Munier and politician Saifur Rahman some time ago. Statistics reveal that it is high in the northern region compared to other parts of the country and road safety in general has been deteriorating with an increasing number of road accidents and deaths resulting from them, largely as a direct consequence of rapid population growth, modernisation, urbanisation and lack of investment in road safety and lack of initiatives to prevent traffic accidents.
Different means of transportation and vehicles play a significant role in accidents. With the growth in population, the number of vehicles has also increased to a large extent because of the mobility of mass people which has increased due to their economic, social and business needs. With the rise in the number of vehicles, the rate of accidents has also increased.
Statistics show that in Bangladesh the number of fatalities has increased 2.5 times over 10 years between 1994 and 2003. Road accident rates are high in Bangladesh compared to other developing countries, at over 100 deaths per 10,000 motor vehicles. It has also other social effects on the affected families. Between 70-80% occur on highways and rural roads. Most (85%) accidents happen through hitting pedestrians, rear and end collision, head on collision and over turning.
The principal contributing factors for accidents are adverse roadside environment, poor detailed design of junctions and road sections, excessive speeding, overloading, dangerous overtaking, reckless driving, carelessness of road users, failure to obey mandatory traffic regulations, variety of vehicle characteristics and defects in vehicles. Others include a low level of awareness of the safety problem, inadequate and unsatisfactory education of safety rules and regulations and inadequate and unsatisfactory traffic law enforcement and sanction. The distribution of accidents on road network is characterised by 'clustering' at few sites, demonstrating that accidents are amenable to site specific countermeasures. Thus bus and truck together account for majority of traffic accidents in Bangladesh and have a disproportionately larger role in reported accidents.
Non-motorised vehicles in large numbers ply on the same road alongside buses and trucks, increasing the risk of collision. There is no demarcated space for any type of vehicles and usually roads have no dividers to separate incoming from outgoing vehicles. Roads often do not have footpaths and those that do exist are mostly occupied by unauthorised shops and at times even by vehicles. Buses and trucks and other vehicles do not usually have demarcated parking spots and quite often they stop on the road to drop off and pick up passengers and goods from any point they find convenient. Roads spaces get narrower as roadside shops and markets spill over and occupy road space. There is a clear lack of enforcement of traffic rules and laws relating to driver licenses, vehicle registration, fitness, etc.
The fatality rates', i.e. the estimated number of road traffic accident fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles of Bangladesh (over 100) is very high by international standards, as the fatality rates for motorized countries is usually less than 2. The 'fatality index' (deaths divided by total casualties as a percentage) in Bangladesh is over 75%, which is the highest among developing countries. This signifies probably two important characteristics, viz. the widespread under reporting of less serious accidents and the lower level of emergency medical services available to accident victims.
This is a major challenge for the development of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, 20,000 people die every year due to road accidents. The United Nations has declared '2011-2020' as the Decade of Road Safety. To prevent road accidents and save lives, Light House, a voluntary organisation in Bogra initiated 'Road Safety Project' in August 2010 and focuses on youth involvement.
We can save lives with such social movements. It is high time to fight against road accident through social movements for the development of Bangladesh and people of all sectors including the government, NGOs, corporate houses, politicians, journalists, teachers, students, religious leaders, community people and civil society members should come forward to reduce road accidents through awareness campaigns at the community level and by assisting organisations which work toward this.
The opinions expressed in Readers' Forum are those of the writers' and in no way reflect the opinion of the publication.
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