Clean Dhaka… Smart Dhaka!!! … The Awakening..

BANGLADESH is considered the world’s most densely populated country with 2,639 people per square mile. And Dhaka city, home to over 16.62 million people according to the Bangladesh Demographics Profile 2014 has been condemned by the world as being one of the least habitable cities in the world. Mainly due its environmental pollution and less than stellar living conditions.

With some 400,000 new residents arriving each year from rural areas seeking a better life, Dhaka is straining under the pressure of its rapidly swelling population. Already, this mega city faces rising real estate prices, exponentially growing slums, poor quality housing, unreal traffic jams, stifling air pollution, poor governance in waste management, inadequate clean water supply, and poor sanitation. If population estimates hold true, Dhaka is expected to grow to 20 million by 2020, making it the world’s third largest city. As this megalopolis grows, clean water supplies and effective sewage removal will be critical to the health and success of Dhaka.

1.
OUR CAPITAL is badly in need of better waste management. Littering is a common sight, and even more serious problems are caused by garbage being dumped in rivers and water bodies. It is expected that as our economy grows, so does our waste. There is a great need to manage that waste in a proper and environment-friendly manner.

Cleaning up Dhaka has never been easy — every stake-holder needs to co-operate. Citizens must make sure that they utilize the waste bins that have been placed around the city, and littering must stop. Households need to put their garbage out on time for the collectors to pick them up, and collectors have to diligently carry out their duties of showing up daily and transferring the waste to its respective landfill.

We commend and endorse the “Clean Dhaka 2016” campaign launched by the mayors of Dhaka City Corporations who have pledged to set up multiple waste transfer stations, public toilets, remove illegal billboards, repair hundreds of roads of Dhaka, and free roads and pavements from illegal occupation, among other things. It’s a grand vision but the mission is complex and multidimensional. Will the city corporations be allowed to coordinate the function of the 50 plus departments that are responsible for the planning, development and management of Dhaka’s roads and streets? Can it mobilize enough resources to carry out the ambitious project? Does it have a well-trained staff on board? Can they free roads and pavements from vendors without providing them with an alternative livelihood? How to handle the influx of people to the capital every day? How can a sense of ownership be instilled in the residents so that everyone works together to make this city livable again?

Who will do what should be clearly defined so that there is no administrative overlap and the changes are sustainable. But most importantly, such campaigns must have adequate and proper mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation in the absence of which lofty ideas such as this, often presented with much noise and fanfare, offer minimal benefits to society.

2.
PEOPLE trapped in Dhaka’s notoriously gridlocked traffic have developed various coping strategies. Some take naps. Others work or catch up on social media.
But one thing binds all commuters together: Make sure you use the toilet before you set off, because there won’t be anywhere to go en route.

Public toilets matter to everybody. They have huge public health implications. Unfortunately, this issue remained under-focused until now in the policies and the programs. As an inevitable consequence, urinating and defecating in open have been usual in the cities and towns of the country.

Sometimes it feels like you need a book titled “Where to Pee in Bangladesh”!!! It would be a useful but very short book. It would tell you, for instance, that in our capital city, there are less than 100 public toilets for over 15 million residents. And of those, many have no running water or electricity. According to a study, only 10/15 are fully functional.

To consider urban citizen’s health and environment of city, all city corporations should ensure public toilets each of public places with free of cost for people. However, there should be safe, separate and comfortable toilet for children, women and physically challenged people. Then only state can ensure equity and dignity of women to reduce sanitation related harassment of women.

Although the lack of public toilets in Dhaka affects both sexes, men have the distinct advantage of being able to take to the streets. They can be found squatting at roadsides, in alleyways, by railroad tracks or over ditches. When it rains, you can see a line of umbrellas next to rows of men as they crouch over a drain. And walls everywhere are treated as urinals.

The ubiquitous signs in Bengali that say “Do Not Urinate Here” are ignored. Moves to impose fines for public urination have come to nothing. The anthropologist Mary Douglas famously defined dirt as “matter out of place”: What we consider polluted is merely a question of context. Now the Ministry of Religious Affairs has found a way to tackle the problem — by changing the context.
Its technique is to pepper the walls with Arabic script. Because, the logic runs, people won’t pee on what they consider holy.

The campaign, devised by the advertising agency Grey, features a video called “Language Matters.” It shows people painting over signs in Bengali and replacing them with Arabic. Almost no one knows what the words mean because few Bangladeshis understand Arabic. A patronizing voice-over explains, “Arabic is the sacred language of the people.”

The video shows men approaching the freshly painted walls, noticing the Arabic signage and slipping away guiltily. The men are shamed into feeling that if they were to urinate there, they would be committing an unholy act. The minister for Religious Affairs has urged men to use public toilets in the nearest mosque. I suppose he thinks he’s doing society two favors: getting men to stop urinating on the streets and getting more of them to go to mosques.

This may seem a reasonable form of behavior modification, a classic “nudge.” But the approach is deeply insensitive, because in Bangladesh, language has long been a matter of national identity.
Predictably, the ministry has been heavily censured. Critics argue that the government should spend its money on building toilets, not painting signs. And people comment sardonically that the walls of Dhaka may be covered in Arabic, but we still have nowhere to pee.

Even though the city corporations planning and keep on building more toilets, it’s not begin to address the real sanitation crisis in Bangladesh: the near-total lack of access for women. In Dhaka, men can commit this private act of urinating with impunity in almost any public space. And when they do so, they are expressing their absolute freedom to do as they please — on streets, where women’s basic safety is not guaranteed.

The Arabic lettering campaign focuses entirely on getting men to do their business elsewhere. Overlooked is that women can’t use the streets at all, reinforcing the social norm that public space is controlled by men and off limits to women. The invisibility of women’s needs is all too apparent in the minister’s proposal, for women are effectively barred from most mosques.

Any campaign to address the public nuisance of men urinating on the streets should also tackle the absence of facilities for women. Otherwise, we are simply saying that our streets belong to men, and our walls to Arabic.

There is no doubt that this huge population needs the service of public toilet facilities to meet their demand. Unfortunately, the issue of supply and demand of this important facility in Dhaka City has not been studied comprehensively and drawn attention of the policy makers.

3.
WHILE most of the population wants to see change, only a few are willing to do anything about it.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”-Mahatma Gandhi, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”- President John F. Kennedy. These were a couple of quotes out of countless others that our mentors used to inspire us with to be better human beings. To stand for something more and have a positive effect on our society; so that we can exemplify excellence. But did we or can we?

Remember a Facebook “Clean Up Dhaka,”?? It was a start. A group of seven students from Japan landed on Bangladeshi soil to bring change. The page soon became an overnight success much to the surprise of the founder himself. But what was more surprising to everyone was that in every single one of the initiative’s projects. Whether it was to clean Asad Avenue, or Gabtoli, Gulshan 2, Banani Road 11, or many the like; the team of Clean Up Dhaka found no scarcity of eager people hoping to lend a hand to the cleanup efforts. The news erupted on the news and social media about a group of young foreigners helping to clean up Dhaka. Their mission? To set an example of how beautiful the city may look should it be completely eradicated of waste and those plastic chip packets people like you and me liter after we finish our snacks. The sight was indeed one to remember, few teams have the tolerance to work in harsh conditions and Clean Up Dhaka happens to be a part of that “few”. Weather conditions being less than ideal and with sudden monsoon rains bashing Bangladesh with pretty strong situations, the city was impaired to say the least. Areas were water logged, and the traffic around the city was brought to a halt. Yet the team continued to work fueled by determination. Gabtoli was specially a difficult location to work at as described by the team stated in their page, “Gabtoli was harsh. The roads were packed with heavy vehicles and there was little room. On the good side, the huge number of people who showed up to help us out was simply breathtaking. It was a beautiful sight. The mayor got down with us for a straight half an hour despite the heat and the chaos. We saw strangers joining hands for a common cause they both believe in. This is why we’re here Bangladesh, so you unite. Thank you, Bangladesh.”

As if we were all waiting for a team like Clean Up Dhaka to come along and show us the way. It is important to point out that the team does not plan to just show us how the city looks when cleaned but to make sure the movement that they started is a sustainable one.

No structure is built without a good foundation and to tackle such a big issue as environmental degradation can be quite daunting for many. But the response the team got from the people of Dhaka shows how exuberant they are to see a cleaner and healthier city. If you go to the Facebook page of Clean Up Dhaka. You’ll see a short description of the group in the about section. It states: ‘’We are conspiring against Dhaka City, in order to get it off the list of least livable cities in the world.’’ We do believe that the team have done well to open our eyes regarding our beautiful city and thus have inspired us to bolster their collective dream.

Making Dhaka clean is a Himalayan task. But it has to be done. It’s not enough to know what needs to be done. The city corporations alone cannot do it. It needs participation from all. It is time to take our country’s environmental matters seriously, and join in the initiatives to make Bangladesh a greener and cleaner place.

You’d expect 16.62 million people to rise up and change the country together but that’s not the case. It’s easier to just point towards the authority and blame it for not acting against the issue.

So the answer to that questions. Did we? No. We haven’t.

But if the Question is: Can we? The answer is: We surely think so.

And … Here starts our part of the STORY!!! … Stay Tuned

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