The Riddle of Noise
Dhaka you are never far away from noise. Often it is
the deafening hydraulic horn, or the groaning of the
ancient engines of cars choking the streets, sometimes
it is the grinding machine mixing sand and cement in
a nearby construction site or the high voltage shrilly
shout in the name of band music in the ‘gaye holud’
programme from the rooftop in your neighbourhood that
torment us. Noise follow you at yours heels. Unfortunately,
many of us seem to be oblivious of the dear price we
have been and will be paying because of our prolonged
exposure to noise. As urbanites we must wake up to its
adverse effects, if not for our sake, for the sake of
p.m. is an apocalyptic time at Motijheel. Thousands
of homebound people are engaged in mutual fight to get
into whatever transports they can force themselves into.
Amid this maddening rush of passengers and transports
traffic constable Minhaz is seen patiently directing
the erratic Dhaka traffics. The high-pitched, shrilly
sound composed of all sorts horns flowing from the all
sorts of vehicles, compounded with the shouts from the
bus-helpers to attract passengers, don't seem to have
any affect on his concentration. In Dhaka, you quickly
learn to live in impossible situations.
other city in the whole world illustrates better the
fallout of urbanisation than Dhaka does. Over 10 million
people live here in unhygienic proximity, inhale profusely
polluted air, drink contaminated supply water, waste
hours getting caught in traffic jams or feed the ferocious
bloodthirsty mosquitoes sitting in the load shedding-sponsored
darkness. If we can live with all these troubles noise
pollution in comparison appears hardly threatening.
We somehow seem immune to such "commonplace difficulties".
In fact, Constable Minhaz doesn't even know what noise
pollution exactly means, not to mention the possible
health hazard he is exposing himself to. "I don't
have any problem whatsoever. Towards the beginning I
used to feel a bit disturbed, but over the years I have
got used to it," he says in an assuring note.
are thousands others like Minhaz. In fact, for a large
number of city dwellers, noise pollution signifies little.
It is at best a temporary irritant, never a grave concern.
When Ashraf Hossain, a man in his mid-thirties, who
sells cucumber in front of the Head Office of Sonali
Bank at Motijheel, was asked the same question, he needed
before he could come up with an answer: "Yes, there
is some noise here, but, people like me cannot worry
about such trifle things."
In a country where the
government doesn't do much unless and until compelled
by forceful demand from its citizenry, the ignorance
as to the effects of being exposed to noise is only
perpetuating government inaction. The Dhakaites have,
so far, failed to raise a voice of concern against noise
pollution. They have developed over the years, an awareness
as regards air pollution, but, as far as noise pollution
is concerned, Dhakaites are yet to wake up to the danger
it poses. No doubt, the prevailing general ignorance
among the ordinary people about the gravity or magnitude
of the effects of noise pollution is a cause for concern.
The response by the conscious minority too has been
feeble concerning noise and its effect on our auditory
sense, and on the physical well being as a whole. The
organisations that best represent the conscious section
of the society as well as the media, who have been leading
a combined movement of sorts for saving the environment,
somehow haven't shown the same amount of zeal in mobilising
the public against noise pollution. Banning polythene
or two-stroke three-wheelers were made possible only
when a well-directed movement against these were initiated.
One reason why noise
pollution has never come to the forefront is perhaps,
"the effect of air pollution or polythene bag is
more immediate and visible than that of noise pollution,"
believes Dr. Nasser Ejazul Huq, a professor of Geology
at Jahangirnagar University, who is also associated
with Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA).
or not, noise pollution has grave effects both on our
physical and mental health. "Continued exposure
to noise damages one's hearing. The louder the noise
the less time it takes to cause loss of hearing.
of the inner ear are damaged and hearing deteriorates
each time we are exposed to prolonged intense sound.
The most horrible thing in noise-induced hearing loss
is that it is permanent and incurable. The cells damaged
in this way don't regenerate," reveals a WHO finding.
to the same study, apart from hearing loss, noise pollution
can cause lack of sleep, irritability, heartburn, indigestion,
ulcers, high blood pressure and even heart diseases,
claims the same study done by WHO.
effect of noise pollution is proportionate to the duration
of exposure to noise pollution. One burst of noise,
as from a passing truck, may alter endocrine, and effect
neurological and cardiovascular functions in many individuals.
Prolonged or frequent exposure to noise tends to make
the physiological disturbances chronic. Besides, noise-induced
stress creates severe tension and contributes to mental
are the most vulnerable to noise pollution. In Dhaka
streets with the noise level twice and even thrice the
tolerable level is extremely harmful for the children.
Besides, the loud music children listen to on stereos,
sometimes through earphones or while watching television,
or at concerts where the volume is usually extremely
loud, impairs hearing and harms their ability to concentrate.
As a result, their learning
capacity deteriorates. "Since we don't have any
statistics about the victims of noise pollution in context
of the area they live in and the duration of their exposure
to noise, it is not possible to determine exactly how
badly noise affects, but the effect is huge without
any doubt," says Abu Naser Khan, general secretary
problem why noise pollution has grown unabated over
the years is the absolute absence of legal intervention
by the concerned government authority. Recently the
government is working on a detail policy concerning
noise pollution, informs Huq. "We, on the part
of BAPA, organised a round table discussion where experts,
environment activists, representative of civil society,
media people, spoke on the issue. Our aim was to accumulate
the suggestions and hand over the resolution to the
government in the hope that they would incorporate some
of them and make the environment policy all-embracing,"
Huq says. Laws, however, have been always there -- both
the BNP and AL made law respectively in
1992 and 1997. However, as always, there has been no
effort in applying these laws. "Though it is the
responsibility of the Environment Ministry to tackle
any environment-related issue, it doesn't have the manpower
to monitor the implementation of these laws. Therefore,
in absence of an active body that would look over noise-related
issues, laws remain ineffectual. The responsibility
to curb the violators of environment laws thus now rests
with the law-enforcing agency. The police force already
overburdened with more pressing duties cannot simply
afford to look into these problems," Huq explains.
is a way out though", Huq offers a suggestion:
"In different developed countries there are areas
where the community itself takes care its well being,
and when needed they can also seek the assistance of
the law-enforcing agency. What they do is they choose
some individuals who are respected by all in the community,
and empower them with magistracy power so that they
can act decisively in some pre-determined areas. We
can take similar initiatives to look into environment
related problems," he says.
significant aspect of the problem of noise pollution
is that it cannot be solved only through a policy decision
as was possible in the case of polythene or two-stroke
three wheelers. Banning horn is impossible, at least
not at this moment, for practical reasons. 50-plus,
stoutly-built Shahabuddin, a professional driver with
32-year of experience, explains the reason: "Well,
these stupid rickshaw pullers always run into your way.
Sometimes pedestrians get across from one side of the
road to the other so idiotically that we cannot help
honking the horn to clear them off. Besides, when we
take a turn, it is imperative to use horn so that the
vehicles coming from the opposite direction know about
my presence". He, however, concedes that horns
are often used excessively. "Most of these drivers
you see driving in Dhaka know nothing of driving,"
for, as he puts it, " they haven't passed the qualifying
tests for getting an original licence. These people
bear fake licences, which they've got in exchange of
bribe, not exams".
Horns, though the chief
culprit, are certainly not the only source of noise.
Noise pollution has a huge number and a whole variety
of sources. And what makes noise pollution an extremely
complicated problem is, very few of them can be solved
by enacting laws. The wholesale use of loudspeakers
by roadside medicine vendors or mosque committee members
asking for monetary contribution for the development
of the local mosque or the thousands of construction
sites including high-rise apartment buildings where
work often goes on day in day out, make the situation
worse, and there are many more in the list, which cannot
be stopped simply by making laws. Lot has to do with
our culture and manners. People need to be sensitive
to others' sufferings and have to have the awareness
of the kinds of physical and mental torture they often
cause by their mindless actions. Noise pollution is
often created by stereos put on high volumes on the
occasion gaye holud or birthday ceremonies;
mikes used in meetings, waz or even cultural
events arranged out in the open that go on till late
at night without caring for a moment that their might
be people whose health would be jeopardised. Without
taking into account the fact that there might be a serious
patients of heart diseases or students getting prepared
for exams or, to put plainly, people trying to sleep
after a hard day's work.
So, a larger chunk of
the solution seems to lie in creating public awareness
to achieve any real success in trying to clamp down
on noise pollution. For that, there has to be a synchronised
campaign by environment activists, representatives from
civil society and the media. The government's role is
also crucial. Whatever existing laws there are, they
will have to be implemented. Only then, we may envisage
a Dhaka without the regular auditory assaults directed
towards our eardrums.