Trimohoni villagers at the waste-end of Dhaka toilets

About two decades ago, villagers around the Trimohoni area used to collect water from the Narai river for household use. Today, the river still flows by the villages, only they do not dare to touch its pitch-black water, poisoned by pollution.

More than 2.5 lakh people of 12 villages in Trimohoni area, hardly five kilometres from the city's zero point, are today victims of the burgeoning 'development' of the Dhaka city. Solid wastes from the 12 million population strong capital flow freely into the river, then fall into the Balu river and finally, pollute the Shitalakhya river. And no one bothers.

The Trimohoni people have protested the massive pollution to the WASA and staged numerous demonstrations against the negligence of the authorities without result.

At around noon on Thursday, the high towers of the city were visible in the horizon from Trimohini village. Abdul Halim, a former member of the Trimohini Union Parishad, pointed his finger at the towers and said, "Those city dwellers are pumping out our ground water and giving us back contaminated liquid waste."

"The WASA has set up a deep tubewell in our locality for the people of Madertek and Nandipara. It is pumping out our ground water, leaving our tubewells dry."

The authorities have on occasions promised to resolve the problems of these villages, but nothing has so far been done. And so, the water full of sludge continues to flow.

Meantime, as water crisis has peaked, the villagers now plan to take to the streets again. In fact, three canals called Norai, Debdholai and Dolai flow through the 12 villages known as Barogram, flushing out extremely toxic wastes from the Dhaka city.

Liquid and solid wastes from Malibagh, Basabo, Madertek, Kamalapur and Motijheel flow through Debdholai and Norai canals. Untreated sewage from the Tejgaon industrial area, Gulshan, Banani, Rampura, Karwanbazar, Dhanmondi finds way to the canals and the Balu river before falling into the Buriganga.

Wastes from the Syedabad area pour into the canals round the clock. Air in the 12 villages smells mucky. With the onslaught of pollution, vanished many of the traditional livelihoods of the villagers. Just 15 years ago, many eked out a living by fishing in the canals. Moqbul Hossain, a boatman, said pearl collection from shells found in the canals was a worthy job. Today, these professions no longer exist.

"We have complained several times to the environment ministry, WASA and the Dhaka City Corporation," Dr Hasan Iqbal Babul, president of the Trimohini Bazar Committee. "People have committed to do something for us. Even Environment Minister Shahjahan Siraj committed last March to set up a deep tubewell to solve our drinking water crisis. We have given WASA a piece of land free of cost for the tubewell. But nothing has happened so far.'

Meantime, villagers said typhoid, diarrhea and hepatitis are some of the diseases that plague them because of polluted water. And mosquitoes buzz around even during the day.

Abdul Halim of Laionhati and Shamim of Nasirabad run a fishery. They invested around Tk 10 lakh in the venture. But a couple of months ago, all the fishes died as polluted water from the river entered their ponds. Today, they are totally ruined. And the lands have lost fertility. Farmers used to get as much as 40 maunds of paddy from an acre of land during the boro season. But today, they get only about 10 to 15 maunds.

And the women are also suffering. They can no longer wash clothes or utensils in the river. "Our husbands bring water from Nandipara in large drums for our household chores," one of the ladies said.

President of the Barogram Unnayan Sangstha Mohammed Ali Jinnah is a veterinary surgeon. According to him, cattle mortality rate is extremely high in the area and he blames it on the pollution.

"This pollution is killing us, we want it to end. We will hold a procession on November 16 to press home our demand for an affluent treatment plant at Rampura bridge point," Mohammad Ali said.

When asked why the proposed deep tubewell has not been sunk in Trimohini although the local people donated a piece of land, Managing Director of WASA Dr Khandakar Azharul Huq said the land has to be legally WASA's before any such plan can be implemented. "Without an agreement for the proposed land, we cannot do anything. And remember that Trimmohini does not fall within our service area. We are doing a kind of special arrangement for them," Dr Huq said.

Source: The Dauily Star, Nov. 11, 2002

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