The Financial Express – Op-Ed: Management of water pollution in Rio+20 perspective

(Written by Bipasha Dutta)

27 June 2012 - The recently concluded Rio+20 took place with a vision to ensure a better future for all by protecting the most precious natural resources like land, water, and air.

Twenty years ago, the foundation of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was set in the first ever earth summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The blueprint for the next Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) after MDG is expected to be generated from this vital reunion held again in Rio from 20-22 June last. The Rio+20 brought together government agencies, civil society organisations, researchers, and international agencies. To ensure sustainable development for all; seven areas were highlighted. They are: decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, clean water, oceans, and disaster readiness.

On the eve of the meeting, supports were committed for ensuring eight core green growth issues: climate change, sustainable cities, sustainable transport, oceans, food security, water, national capital, and large-scale ecosystems. Bangladesh took part in Rio+20 negotiations.

Against this backdrop, water situation in Bangladesh, which is grim, proves crucial. Millions of people are exposed to arsenic contamination. Besides, lack of facilities for industrial and urban waste management largely contributes to water pollution. All sewerage and industrial wastes are directly flushed into river. Consequently, the rivers have become a big garbage receptacle each in Bangladesh.

Moreover, ship-breaking has been polluting the sea water severely. When a ship is not worthy for seagoing and repairing is not cost-effective, materials which are valuable and can be reused are separated following the process of ship-breaking. Until the end of 20th century, ship-breaking took place in the port cities of industrialised countries. Due to its detrimental effect developed countries are avoiding this process. Old vessels may contain many harmful substances like Asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that are banned in developed countries. However, ship-breaking has been encouraged in developing countries like Bangladesh for low labour cost and lax environmental rules. This results in toxic water. Accordingly, contaminated water kills many marine lives leading to a loss of biodiversity. Naturally, human health is seriously affected through contact with this polluted water and consumption of sea food.

Polluted water leads to cholera and typhoid fever which are the primary cause of infant mortality. Diseases like paratyphoid fever, bacillary dysentery, viral infections, infectious hepatitis (jaundice), poliomyelitis, amoebic dysentery are caused by water pollution. Heavy metals disposed from industrial waste and ship-breaking yards results in birth defects. Even, immune suppression, reproductive failure and acute poisoning are caused by consumption of this toxic water.

To reduce the detrimental effect of ship-breaking on water, environment and health; and to ensure safe working environment at the yard, green ship recycling service that ensures safe removal and disposal of hazardous materials on board, has been designed. It requires proper planning and preparation.
To ensure safe water and control water pollution, many a policy has been formulated in Bangladesh. This includes policies for safe water supply and sanitation of 1998, National Water Policy 1999, National Water Management Plan (NWMT), National Policy for Arsenic Mitigation of 2004, Coastal Zone Policy of 2005, and Ship Breaking and Ship Recycling Rules 2011. For lack of proper implementation strategies, existing policies are not able to mitigate water pollution to the desired extent. Also, some policies lack strategic vision in relation to safe and mandatory industrial disposal system in the industrial policy, 2010.

To overcome this situation, proper and effective implementation of the existing policies should be ensured and appropriate strategic vision should be incorporated in every policy. Otherwise the aspiration with which we attended Rio+20 will remain unrealised.