Thursday, October 26, 2017

Two Environmental Activists, the ADB Office, and a Canal turned Drain

We had an interesting meeting today with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). We were at their office in Dhaka to discuss some problems that occurred following their “development” of canals in Brahmanbaria and other small cities. Following the “development” of the canal by cementing the sides, what was once a healthy natural place supporting fish and other life has now become a filthy polluted drain.

During the meeting, as is natural, they offered us refreshment. One of us asked for a glass of water. The ADB officials, among whom were two environmental experts, drank coffee and juice, and ate biscuits. The “glass of water” was a small plastic bottle. The coffee came in paper cups with disposable plastic lids and a plastic stirrer. The juice came in a large plastic cup with plastic lid and plastic straw. The biscuits, naturally, were served on single-use plastic plates.

While consuming the food, the officials explained that the problem with the Brahmanbaria canal is the lack of proper solid waste management. The residents of slums, being poor and uneducated, simply toss their waste out the door of their shacks. The local government, despite being trained by ADB, does not dispose of the waste properly. He also suggested that we, as individual activists, go talk to the local government to clean up the mess created by ADB in the first place. (If the local authorities can’t handle the project responsibly, then perhaps you shouldn’t have built it?
One of us launched into a critique of their own practices. How could they criticize slum residents when they know that the rich generate far more trash per person? What about the trash they were generating in their own office? In our office, she continued, we compost our waste and avoid using single-use plastics. We serve water in glasses. We have glass water bottles for seminars. We of course eat off of ceramic or metal plates. How hard is that?

An ADB official responded that, yes, we should separate our waste. He did not even seem to grasp the possibility of avoiding using single-use plastics, though another ADB official acknowledged that these were “good points”. In response to the idea of a surcharge on single-use plastics, they responded that public awareness is the solution. After all, why would an institution focused on economic growth as measured by GDP and on private sector development understand the possibility of reining in the corporations that profit from the use of environmentally-hazardous single-use plastics?
At another point in the meeting, one of us inquired what ADB does if their project has a negative environmental assessment. The answer was a bit hazy; we try to mitigate…but the official did not say that ADB stops the project if the environmental hazards are clear.

When we questioned the wisdom of making cement sides to the canal and thus destroying biodiversity, their response was that this is a city, not the countryside. In a city one cannot have canals and farmland as one would in the city. One may as well say that cities are by definition polluted places that are deathly to their residents, who must choke on the fumes of the cars, be subjected to mounds of plastic trash, and drink dirty water…because that is urbanization, you know, development.

We might have expected that ADB would have the sufficient resources to do a bit of research on ecological practices. Surely they have heard of ecosanitation? Surely they realize that there are ecological ways of dealing with rainwater? Oh, let’s see, has anyone ever heard of rainwater catchment, or systems for recharging groundwater, or parks that become, in part, temporary lakes during the rainy season? These are not difficult issues to research. No, the engineer responsible for the project must instead lecture us on the proper dimensions of a canal to maximize drainage, and one of the environmental experts innocently inquire where she might learn of more ecological practices.
One might also hope that ADB, which claims to wish to end poverty, would have an environmental vision for the future. Surely they understand that poverty also consists of an impoverished environment, where air, water, and soil are polluted and contribute to ill health and early mortality. Surely, then, they will wish to learn from their failures and implement more ecologically-sound projects in future. Instead, they use words like “compromise” and suggest, as above, that cities cannot be environmentally-friendly.

At the end of the meeting, we again asked whether they can unequivocally state that concrete is not environmentally-friendly and is not conducive to biodiversity. They could not. (Earlier in the meeting one official did accidentally remark that in several cases, the canals had been a disaster. When we pushed them to state in which cities, they only named two: Brahmanbaria and Manikganj. The official was obviously aware that he had mis-spoken…not that what he said was not accurate, but it was outside the bounds of what he had meant to say.

Activists will be dreamers…and we will not easily be silenced. We will continue to pursue this issue. We will push ADB to accept that concrete sides of canals are not good for the environment and that there are better solutions to dealing with rainwater. We will alert other municipalities to the possibility of such projects coming to their locale and will urge them not to just “cut and paste” ADB’s mistakes. Our country deserves a much better future than that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Let’s fight against the company’s colored water terrorism.

Bangshi River

This is ‍the story of an ‘exported’ river. People who have been living on the bank of this river for the last 30 years know all about it. They know how the river has been exported in the name of garment export to the European-American market. The exporters have not only exported the river, but they have also endangered the lives of the people whose livelihoods depend on this river. 

The picture shows the dumping of untreated water into the river by a famous garments factory that makes world famous branded garments. The factory claims that they are producing their garments in a 100 percent safe environment, and that they are cautious about both the environment and the safety of their workers. They keep saying this in all of their social events and conferences that take place in the big three star hotels, and they even state this on their website.

 However, these images prove how cautious they are about the environment, and that the reality is completely opposite to what they claim. ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) is a process that is designed for converting the industrial wastewater into an effluent that can be either reused or returned to the water cycle with minimal environmental issues, and this takes place only when the audit officer or buyer is present in the factory.

 Heavy rain still continues to fill up the river. However, that clear water of the river gets colored by the chemicals that are disposed from the factories. The huge water body gets colored by the wealth of a few rich individuals Amidst the chemical waste, the river is also carrying away the tears of thousands of people whose livelihood depends on it.

We export garments, but we obviously do not want to export our rivers, agriculture, land, water, livelihood and health in the name of garment export. Laws, rules, and policies from all over the world are in our favor. Come let's talk about this issue, and let’s fight against the company’s colored water terrorism.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The river is being tortured now.

The Buriganga is biologically dead and the Sitalakhya is dying, “Had we protected the Sitalakhya, we could have got at least half of the city’s water from it.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We want our river back.

Rakhal Dashi

After 4 years of libration , Rakhal Dashi got marrid off to Radha Rajbonshi. Father had said, “Dear, there’s blessing in  the Rajfulbaria village. And you have a nice fortune. All the big fishes get caught in theis village, you’d stay happy”

The days weren’t that bad for Rakhal Dashi by the grace of god , bread and butter along with life came through the magical water of the river it self. Sometimes fishes weighing 20/30 pounds get caught too.  But before selling it off in the market, fellow village women were summoned to witness big catch. And now the waters are filthy enough not to go near it . And bathing in the spring in this water means to get vibrant with colors along with the company.

Rakhal Dashi was happy every “Haat” day, her husband used to bring a saree for her. The fisherman villagers didn’t use to send their children in school. What would they learn there even if they did? Would it make any difference? That’s why they didn’t and the boys learnt how to catch fist like their fathers and their fathers before them. Throughout the whole year, they would fish in the river. Well, that used to be the picture at last.

The river is being tortured now. God has taken all his blessings back. And some fishes are caught in the rainy season. But what at the other times? They try to survive through loans from various NGO’s. Among the four sons only one got married. Other is still living alone. They can’t feed themselves so what would they feed their wives?

Your clothes didn’t take our clothes only: it took our right to live and not to survive. The amount of food you give to your pet dog is just the same as for six of us. And you can see the truth of that of you see the broken rice bowl of Rakhal Dashi; lying in a corner of the house.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Responses to World Bank on Footover Bridges

Responses to World Bank on Footover Bridges
The World Bank says that in order to improve air quality and safe mobility in Dhaka, one needed measure is more footover (pedestrian) bridges. On a recent visit, the World Bank explained to us that in addition to building 70 km of footpaths, an initiative for which we congratulate them, they are also building a number of footover bridges. When pedestrians cross the street they slow down cars, which makes the cars pollute more, they told us. Also, since there is little or no enforcement at zebra crossings and intersections, the only safe way to allow people to cross the street is through the use of the bridges. They explained that the project began many years ago when the World Bank had not yet spelled out a policy on universally accessible design, and in any case, with virtually no other facilities for people with disabilities in Dhaka, why not spend money building new infrastructure that is also inaccessible? They also mentioned that the directors of one hospital had requested a footover bridge because of staff being hurt or killed crossing the street. (Apparently the patients visiting that hospital are sufficiently strong and healthy to make use of the bridge. Or maybe since they’re already sick, it’s OK if they get run over.)

When we pointed out that they seemed to be saying that pedestrians are an obstacle to cars, they explained that pedestrians also slow down other traffic on the street, including buses. But they hastened to assure us that they had not said that pedestrians are the reason that buses move so slowly.

They further commented on the limited amount of road space in Dhaka, at about 7% whereas they feel that over twice that is the minimum necessary. When we commented that in a situation of limited road space, one should discourage, rather than encourage, the most space-inefficient means (the private car) they dropped that topic.

Throughout the conversation, one thing was clear: the World Bank officials only regard motorized trips as trips. They are trapped in car-based thinking. They consider all non-motorized forms as unimportant and, worse, an obstacle to all those important trips that are occurring with the use of fuel. Further, since fuel-burning vehicles pollute, they suggested that non-motorized transport including walking causes pollution by slowing down the otherwise smoothly moving motorized transport. That cars are the main reason that cars and buses are stuck in traffic does not appear to have occurred to them, nor did they seem aware of the abundant work that has been done in the past few decades on environmentally-friendly and people-focused transport policies to replace the old car-based ideas. We can only imagine two possible explanations for the World Bank’s refusal to acknowledge a more people-focused and environmentally-friendly approach to transport: either they are unbelievably ignorant that such possibilities exist, or their real interest is in selling cars and car-based infrastructure.

The Bank officials also mentioned that they are not in a position to tell the government what to do; rather, they must respond to the government’s request. Which is fine up to a point. But obviously funders have policies about what they will and will not fund. Under a Clean Air and Sustainable Environment initiative, they obviously could agree to fund footpaths and refuse to fund footover bridges. Conversations with officials at the World Health Organization and the Asian Development Bank have also made clear that while they cannot dictate what governments do, they do have significant scope to engage in persuasion to adopt (or not) more enlightened approaches. Finally, the holder of the purse strings is obviously not without influence on the recipient.

The Bank officials also said that they must listen to different perspectives and that there are different views on this matter. We could not agree more. There are people who have worked for years on transport and urban planning issues and who have done research on successful and failed policies in cities around the world. There are people who simply approach the issue with blind prejudice that the car is the only means of transport. There are people who care about the environment, about safety, about access for those with disabilities (special needs), and about the poor, and there are people who only care about selling cars. We personally do not feel that all opinions should be accorded equal value.
And now to have a little fun with what they said...

According to the World Bank: Cars pollute. Cars main and kill. Let’s treat cars as the kings of the road!

According to the World Bank: There is not enough road space in Dhaka, so let’s prioritize the most inefficient users, the car, while making life difficult for the more efficient users, including pedestrians, bicycles, and rickshaws.

According to the World Bank: People in cars are making trips. People on foot are creating obstacles.

According to the World Bank: Enforcement of road rules in Dhaka is poor. It is obviously impossible to improve enforcement, so let’s just reward those causing the problem and punish the victims. (More simply put: Drivers behave badly, so let’s punish pedestrians.)

According to the World Bank: We must listen to different sides and then ensure that those being hurt are kept safe. Let’s say we had a problem with sexual harassment (eve teasing) on the streets. We will invite men and women to discuss the problem, in order to involve different stakeholders. The women complain that they can’t move about the city without being subjected to rude remarks. The men say that they are just being men. Hmm...it is difficult to make men behave and respect women. Hmm...ah, I know! Let’s ban women from moving about the city!!

According to the World Bank: Simple logic works. For example: cars pollute; pedestrians slow cars; pedestrians pollute. This is akin to saying that tobacco creates jobs; we need jobs; so let’s promote tobacco use. Just because a few statements seem to lead to a logical conclusion does not mean that those statements are in fact logical!

According to the World Bank: It is difficult to create universally accessible design in Dhaka so let’s start by adding more infrastructure that is obviously not accessible!

According to the World Bank: The long term is far away so let’s forget about it and focus on the short term.

According to the World Bank logic: If the thief is breaking your windows, hand him a key to the door.

According to the World Bank: Cars do not stop at intersections. Cars do not have to stop to allow other cars to go. Too many cars in limited road space does not create congestion. The main obstacle to the smooth movement of cars is pedestrians.

According to the World Bank: If you’re only traveling a short distance and doing it without the use of fuel, you may as well just stay home and make space for all those important people moving about while using fuel, e.g. creating pollution, congestion, and danger for everyone else.

According to the World Bank: Pedestrians should not be on any road that is arbitrarily labelled a highway, but it is OK for cars to enter the narrow lanes of Dhaka even if that causes a long line of rickshaws to become stuck in traffic.
According to the World Bank logic: If people surrendered their wallets to thieves, then thieves wouldn’t need to carry a gun. So victims of crime make thieves dangerous. (While this is possibly true, it is obviously utterly irrelevant!)

According to the World Bank logic: If small kids can’t play on the playground because a big bully keeps beating them up, and if you’ve repeatedly asked the bully to stop but he has ignored you, then you should tell the children to stop playing there...and declare the problem solved.

And a final suggestion: If the real objective of your project is to promote the smooth movement of cars in Dhaka, then change the name of the project to “Promotion of Cars for a Polluted, Congested, & Unsafe Dhaka (PCPCUD).” After all, if you accept, or worse, promote the idea that facilitating the movement of cars is good for safety and the environment, you are damaging not only the situation in the present, but for many years to come. This may be news for you, but whether on foot, bicycle, rickshaw, or by motorized means, a trip is a trip. The main difference is that some non-motorized modes do not pollute, do not hurt or kill others, are good for the environment, and require little road space, in direct contrast to motorized transport and especially to the car. Treating the car as the king of the road will simply encourage more people to drive and thus make all the problems caused by the car worse, not better.

#Footover_Bridges, #World_bank

Footover Bridges   
World Bank