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     Volume 9 Issue 3 | January 15, 2010|

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Cover Story

Cleaning the City

Each year DCC organises a weeklong 'Clean Dhaka' campaign to generate awareness amongst the citizens on waste management. It is true that although the situation is improving through such activities, it is far from being acceptable. Dhaka dwellers still have to go through streets with garbage dumps where waste is left to rot or burn, emitting suffocating odours or smoke, giving passersby a cruel punishment. Waste pickers are seen scavenging around the dustbins, dumping loaders and bulldozers to make the situation worse. Uncollected waste has been recognised as the root cause of scattered garbage, offensive odours, clogged drains, water pollution and the mosquito menace. The risks to health and environment are many and include pollution of water resources, more emission of green house gases, spreading of diseases and adding to the ugliness of the city.

Ershad Kamol
Photos: Zahedul I Khan

Open dumping is a very common practice in Dhaka, which is environmentally unsound, unsafe and unreliable. Scattered waste in the surrounding area of dustbins and containers is a common sight and justifies the citizen's right to complain about the cleaning service of Dhaka City Corporation (DCC). The reasons for the spilling over of waste are simple. The concrete garbage bins are not big enough for the amount of waste dumped, the waste is not cleaned away fast enough and frequently enough, open garbage trucks often spill waste onto the streets and the citizens themselves throw waste in an irresponsible manner, sometimes not even bothering to make sure that their garbage is being thrown into the bin properly.

The practice of throwing trash anywhere and everywhere, moreover contributes to this problem. Lack of understanding, knowledge and awareness among DCC's staff members also affect management of solid waste.

Stakeholders such as local organisations and the DCC have been making efforts to improve solid waste management by promoting the primary collection. The efforts have been successful to some extent and this way of collection of waste using rickshaw vans is quite widespread in Dhaka city. However, problems such as scattered waste around containers or dustbins and illegal dumping are still persistent polluters.

Residents of the city are responsible for bringing their waste to DCC's waste collection points where dustbins are located. But in general people are not aware of their responsibility and do not want to take any responsibility. As a result, people in the Dhaka city are dependent on DCC and primary collection service providers, which is inadequate to meet the challenge of managing the waste of this mega city.

"The current situation in Dhaka is hellish," observes Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed, creator of Biswa Shahitya Kendra, who has often spear headed cleaning drives in the city with the help of volunteers, "Everybody is dumping waste recklessly and the responsible government agency is not capable of managing such a huge volume of waste. Roads in Dhaka city are actually very unhygienic due to solid waste and human excreta."

"It is not a failure of DCC only. Actually, we don't have any experience of living in a metropolitan city, since we did not grow in any metropolitan system. Like the lifestyle of rural areas, we still throw wastes, spit, and excreta besides the busy roads. But, the city has developed very fast over the last thirty years. As a result nothing has developed in a planned way. Roads are very narrow to put the DCC dustbin in the right way or move the dustbin containers. The drainage system has not developed at all. There are not enough public toilets in the city and those that exist are not suitable to be used, especially for women. The whole picture is very painful."

The city corporation is divided into 90 wards with varying characteristics such as high-density areas of old Dhaka, new urban areas, fringe areas and slum areas, having different socio-economic conditions and therefore different waste management issues. Slum areas have no infrastructure for drains and sewerage. All of the waste including excreta is dropped into the ponds below the floors of the shanties. These slums are not covered by DCC for cleaning at all.

Garbage left on the pavements creates suffering for passersby

Waste collection in the city consists of two parts: primary collection and secondary collection. From a legal point of view, primary collection is the responsibility of residents or business entities who generate waste. And DCC is responsible for secondary waste collection i.e. to remove waste from its dustbins and transport it to the final disposal sites.

Dhaka City Corporation is mandated with the task of solid waste management by mobilising 8,500 cleaners, about 300 vehicles and only two properly developed landfill sites at Matuail and Amin Bazar. Needless to say such facilities are inadequate to tackle the over 4,000 tonnes of solid wastes generated each day by over one crore 20 lakh people in the DCC areas. Moreover, an average of 30 lakh commuters enter into the city everyday for various purposes and add wastes in the city.

To support the DCC activities, in addition to DCC cleaners Primary Collection Service Providers (PCSP) have been providing door-to-door waste with rickshaw vans to carry domestic wastes to dustbins or containers since 2002. At present, 186 PCSPs are working across the city.

"On an average, two cleaners are required for the service of 1000 people. In this sense over 22,000 cleaners are required for the smooth service, however, we have less than one third of the required manpower," says Mayor Sadeq Hossain Khoka, "DCC does not get the required logistical support for proper functioning. Just for cleaning purposes we need to spend 120/125 crore taka annually, however, we get a tax of taka 30 crore from this sector. So, cutting budgets from the other sectors we are providing cleaning service for millions of people, which is increasing each day."

The Mayor also says that due to lack of knowledge on demarcation of responsibilities with other government agencies such as Rajuk, Wasa, BIWTA and Department of Environment, people unfairly accuse DCC in many cases. In most cases we are cleaning areas, where other agencies are responsible for.

Mayor Sadeq Hossain Khoka
Captain Bipan Kumar Saha

"Can you tell me about any metropolitan city in the world where a separate agency provides water and drainage service? Roads are so narrow and unplanned in the city that we cannot develop sound waste disposal system. Without following building codes people are making houses. And there is no place to install public toilets in the city. If we force them, people of the surrounding areas lodge cases against us. We are also cleaning industrial wastes, which is not under our jurisdiction. But people still accuse us sometimes, the Mayor says.

Urging the immediate empowerment of the city corporation for a better service the Mayor says, "There is no alternative but strengthening the local government system. DCC should be empowered providing the required logistic support enjoyed by any other municipality abroad. And from the Bangladesh perspective, especially considering the pressure on the capital city, the corporation should be directly under the Prime Minister's office."

People just throw waste here and there without considering the proper way of waste management.
Kitchen and non-biodegradable wastes are dumped together.

A milestone endeavour has been undertaken by DCC as part of the "Clean Dhaka Master Plan" funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for solid waste management of Dhaka city. It has formulated a master plan called the Clean Dhaka Master with a target year of 2015 after conducting a development study titled "Technical Cooperation Project" between November 2003 and March 2006.

The Study covers three types of solid wastes generated in the jurisdiction of the Dhaka City Cooperation: domestic waste, industrial waste, and medical waste. However, the master plan had been formulated for only domestic waste based on the study. The findings regarding the industrial and medical waste management had been proposed separately from domestic waste.

Following the master plan, already two landfills at Matuail and Amin Bazar have been developed as models of sanitary landfills having improved function and operation, which reduces environmental pollution. Recycling the wastes at these landfills, DCC is planning to generate power and fertiliser.

"The way the city is developing, there is no option but to develop two more landfills in the northern and southern parts of the city," asserts Captain Bipan Kumar Saha, chief waste management officer of DCC, "In April we are getting 100 modern vehicles from Japan to improve the waste carrying system."

Existing logistical support of DCC for cleaning the city is not adequate.

The situation, however, will never improve unless the Dhaka city dwellers actively participate in the process. "In general, people do not know their responsibility and do not want to take any responsibility in solid waste management. That is why we are taking campaigns involving the senior citizens of the respective areas to change their behaviour of waste discharge to well-managed primary collection," Captain Saha says.

Abdullah Abu Sayeed

Before giving the domestic wastes to the service providers, it is the responsibility of the residents to separate kitchen wastes from other non-biodegradable wastes, suggests the DCC official. If they dump the mixed wastes in the dustbins, waste pickers collect recyclable wastes such as plastic paper glass metal, compostable and others from the dustbin, which is a major problem for us. At present we are trying to develop this system. The recycling industry has developed significantly in the city and over 17,000 people are directly involved with the industry. With our limited manpower we cannot manage it properly if we don't get support from the public."

Raising public awareness amongst the people by suitable methods considering local situations, educating the young generation in order to change their behaviour from the childhood and making decision makers aware are urgently needed, says the Chief Waste Management Officer.

However, it is not easy to fully involve various members of the community in the activities of solid waste management. "We are trying to introduce it through different campaigns and by councillors and local leaders."

The encouraging news is that DCC claims that they will be able to achieve the target of providing a clean Dhaka by the year 2015 and reducing the rate of generating carbon one tonne per day overcoming the hurdles. In this connection, enhancement of supervision and control by DCC through regulations, monitoring, inspection, and community participation is required. It takes time to change the habits of an entire society. But awareness campaigns, especially those that target the younger generation, can produce dramatic changes in behaviour in the future. Teaching children about proper disposal and management of waste could be a step forward towards a clean Dhaka in the future.

DCC is planning to generate power and fertiliser by recycling wastes at the two existing landfills.
Waste pickers pick the non-biodegradable wastes to be used for the recycling industry.



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