The Financial Express

Alarming plastic pollution of Bangladesh rivers

Tanvir Chowdhury | Published: December 25, 2019 20:41:28

Alarming plastic pollution of Bangladesh rivers

Any conscious citizen who would travel to Barishal from Dhaka via river (approximately 215 kilometres), should be horrified to see how passengers including launch company employees pollute our rivers. It's now a fact that we have failed to create awareness and to educate the general public about consequences of water pollution.

Bangladesh has 5,150-8,046 km of navigable waterways, including 2,575-3,058 km of major cargo routes. It's hard  to ascertain how much trash we are dumping in our vast water ways and what we can do to stop this self-destructive behaviour.

Once water is contaminated, it is difficult, costly, and often impossible to remove the pollutants. We all know that it takes up to 1,000 years for a single plastic bottle to decompose in water, not to mention the chemical factors of the plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic cups and the cigarette butts we are dumping in our rivers that are contributing to bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases. Water-borne diseases such as Dysentery, Arsenicosis, Polio (Infantile Paralysis), Trachoma (Eye Infection), Typhoid fever, Schistosomiasis, Cholera, Diarrhea, Malaria and Lead poisoning are to name few. The UNCEF estimates that 80 per cent of all diseases and more than one-third of deaths in developing countries are water associated.

We have produced 300 million tonnes of plastic wastes between 1950 and 2015. That is a huge amount of wastes as plastic products mostly are of one time use only. These plastics have to go somewhere after usages. Unfortunately, at times it ends up in the river and eventually gets carried into the ocean (Bay of Bengal in our case). If the current trend continues, we will wind up with more plastics in the sea than fish by the year 2050. Developed countries have better recycle programmes although they produce and consume more plastic products.

About eight million tonnes wind up in oceans every year, and it is critical to find out how it gets there. A recent study estimates that more than a quarter of all that wastes could be pouring into oceans from just 10 rivers, eight of them in Asia. The Meghna and the Brahmaputra flowing across India and Bangladesh are on the list. The Ganges, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra produce 72,845 tonnes of plastic every year. Our rivers are choking in plastics.

Bangladesh is in the top 20 list of countries that contributes to the plastic pollution.

However, there are laws that prevent river pollution. But, we don't see anybody giving much of a thought as people break it, nor has there been proper enforcement by anyone. "Plastic isn't the problem. It's what we do with it," says Erik Solheim, former head of UN Environment.

So, here are some suggestions let me make to minimise the detrimental effects to our rivers subsequently the oceans:

1) The launch companies should provide trash containers in key points of the launch including in the first class sections;

2) Putting up visible signs for the passengers to see about using trash containers and not to throw trash in the river;

3) Launch companies should make announcement over intercom for the passengers not to throw trash of any kind in the river and to use trash containers as they do about other things;

4) Introduction of fine for passengers &launch companies if trash is not disposed of properly.

5) Creating public awareness using mass media - television, radio and newspapers.

A UN report on environment states that "most plastic items never fully disappear; they just get smaller and smaller. Many of these tiny plastic particles are swallowed by farm animals or fish that mistake them for food, and thus can find their way onto our dinner plates.

Everyone, from the government to individuals of all ages and abilities, can play an important role as stewards of the environment.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century American essayist and poet, said it this way: "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." We are killing the environment ourselves and we are leaving this world to our next generation polluted.





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