Over the past decade, Bangladesh economy has been thriving. According to the government, Bangladesh’s growth rate is to reach to 8% by the year 2020. But the important question here is, at the cost of what? Bangladesh tanning industry is one of the largest and fast growing sectors in Bangladesh and has been playing a significant role in the country’s economy since many decades. Based on its growth and potential, Bangladesh government has declared this as a priority sector providing these industries with numerous incentives. Processed leather goods from Bangladesh are now displayed with pride in luxury shops of Europe and America.
But the story is totally opposite when it turns to the processing site. Growth of the industry and export rate is fast growing but due to the absence of proper waste management and lack of proper technology, these industries have been contributing to a large number of environmental problems, ecological imbalances, severe health issues and other negative aspects including air, water and soil pollution.
Bangladesh’s first tannery was located in Narayanganj during the 1940s named ‘Dhaka Tannery’ which was then relocated to the capital’s Hazaribag, a densely populated residential area in Dhaka in around 1950 where the waste from the tannery could be easily dumped in the nearby Buriganga river.
Since then, the number of tanneries has increased to around 270 small and large scale industries. As the sector expanded with industries that do not have any effluent treatment plants or any other environmental measures, the amount of untreated waste being dumped into the river Buriganga had also increased very rapidly which contributed towards the death of the mighty river and caused numerous other environmental difficulties.
Following the orders received from the Supreme Court, the era of Hazaribagh tannery finally came to an end on 6th of April 2017. Majority of the sector has now transferred to Savar.
But was relocating the industry really a solution to all the environmental problems? Changing the area of the source is not the answer to the problem. What about the damage it has already done to the environment? The tannery was situated in Hazaribagh for almost 30-40 years so it was bound to have some irreversible impacts on Hazaribagh’s environment.
Even though the water quality of the Buriganga river is seen to be improving after the relocation. But due to existing high toxicity in the soil, it’s challenging to extract pure drinking water. About 14-15 feet soil is still contaminated by chemicals.
According to the workers and worker union’s office secretary Shekh Akram Hossen, they still need to extract drinking water by pumping from a depth of 1400ft, whereas normally drinking water is extracted in Dhaka from a depth of 700-800 feet. Even after the relocation, some tanning industries are still present in the Hazaribag area, the abandoned buildings where the leather was processed are now used as the finishing centers and warehouse.
Even though the industry has supposedly relocated, these
warehouses are still causing
environmental degradation because of improper solid waste management.
Savar Tannery Estate has a central effluent treatment plant but there are still reports of untreated wastes being dumped into Dhaleshwari river. Will we have to sacrifice the river Dhaleshwari in the name of development as we did with Buriganga as well? Bangladesh cannot develop at the cost of the environment. Economic growth is important but we need to take into consideration the externalities. The growth of this or any other industries needs to be planned and sustainable so we do not have to face such dire consequences yet again.
Fairuz Ebnat Karim is a student of Environmental Science and Management Department,
North South University