Brick fields flout rules

Brick kiln owners in Subarnachar upazila of Noakhali district are flouting government rules, especially regarding burning of firewood, setting up of chimneys and use of land, as there is very lax vigilance by authorities concerned. As per rule, the brickfield owners can set up their kilns on 1.5 acres of land but they are often using three to five acres of land for the purpose.

Although government rule makes it mandatory to set up 120-feet permanent chimney in the brickfields, only 25-feet tin chimneys are being used and it causes emitted smoke to pollute environment in a much larger scale around the brickfields. Locals alleged that almost all the brick fields in the area are violating government rules under the very nose of the law enforcers.

During a visit to Aman Brick Field at Halim Bazar, some 200 yards away from Char Jabbar police station and Subarnachar upazila administrative building, this correspondent found that smoke billowing out of the chimneys was seriously polluting the environment. People living near the brickfields, especially children and elderly people, are often affected with various diseases including bronchitis and asthma, according to local doctors.

Claiming that he does not use 'local wood' in the brickfield, Haji Abdul Kashem, owner of Aman Brick Field, said, "I have been running the brick field in compliance with government rules for the last eight years." Local people, on the other hand, said the brick field has never used coal since its setting up although some coal has been kept in front of the kiln for a long time. The

law provides for up to 10 years jail and some fine for flouting the rules but it sees hardly any implementation in the district. People of Subarnachar upazila have demanded immediate intervention by the local administration for safety of people and environment in the area.

According to a UNDP survey, these brick-fields produced nearly 14.70 crore bricks in 2010-11, causing air pollution, land degradation and deforestation in the district. Some of the brick-fields have been using the topsoil for producing bricks turning vast tracts of land infertile. Once topsoil is taken away from a land, no crop can be grown there for several years, said farmers.

People living close to brick-fields complained of health hazards. “Children are the worst sufferers from harmful black fumes emitted by kilns,” said Neyamot Ali, an elderly resident in Rupulia village.

According to Bangladesh Brick Makers Owners' Association, nearly 8,000 brick-fields -- over half of them illegal -- are in operation in the country. They produce about 8.66 billion bricks with an estimated value of $450 million a year. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says these brick-fields still use 150-year-old method, which causes huge carbon emission and is highly energy intensive.

About 33 percent of the fuel used for the kilns comes from trees. The ratio is 100 percent in some areas in Cox's Bazar that face serious environmental and health hazards, and destruction of farmland and forest. The UNDP launched a $14 million project in August last year to find an energy-efficient technology for the brick industry, help update laws and rules on brick production, and create awareness among people about the adverse impact of conventional brick kilns.

Global Environment Facility is contributing $3 million to the project and the rest will come from the private sector. As part of the project, the UNDP on December 13 organised a views-exchange meeting on brick-fields and their impact in Cox's Bazar. Amanullah bin Mahmud, monitoring official of Green Brick Project, presented a keynote paper.

Fifteen demonstration projects will be implemented across the country with the use of energy-efficient Hybrid Hoffman Kiln method, Project Manager Khondker Neaz Rahman said in his introductory speech. “Apart from creating awareness, we will inspire financial institutions to fund energy-efficient brick-fields,” said Amanullah.

He said an institution will be set up under the project for giving technical assistance to workers to make them familiar with the new technology.

Students, teachers, environmentalists and brick-field owners were also present there. “We will adopt the new technology for producing bricks but we need financial incentives for that,” said Gias Uddin, a brick-field owner (Daily star, December 27, 2011).

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