Bangladesh is losing 2.7 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) each year due to environmental degradation in urban areas, reveal the preliminary findings of a recent World Bank (WB) study.
Simultaneously, the WB analysis has also found that 5.3 million people in the country will be vulnerable to the effects of climate change by 2050, while this will also lead to reduction in agricultural productivity, increase in malnutrition and decrease of water availability.
Such projections were shared during a workshop in the capital on Sunday. It was organised to disseminate the preliminary findings of the 'Country Environment Assessment for Bangladesh' being carried out by WB.
The detailed analysis found that ambient air pollution alone is causing 1.0 percent GDP loss for the country each year, while indoor air pollution is causing a further 0.6 per cent GDP reduction.
In addition, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facility is costing the country 0.4 per cent of its GDP. Another 0.5 per cent GDP loss is due to workplace environment risks, the WB study found.
"In Dhaka, around six hundred thousand residents are exposed to lead contamination, which can lead to IQ loss and neurological damage, especially among children," the WB experts said while highlighting the gravity of pollution in the capital.
"Again, for just one metric tonne of fabric, the dyeing and finishing factories discharge 200 tonnes of wastewater to rivers, leading to health hazards in the capital's poorer neighbourhood," they added. The experts also pointed out that the cities in Bangladesh are also highly vulnerable to water-logging and floods due to wetland encroachments and lack of waste management systems.
"For instance, Pabna lost nearly half of its wetland since 1990. Now, it faces prolonged water-logging."
When it comes to Dhaka, the portion of permanent wetland in the capital has decreased from 14 per cent back in 1996 to 4.0 per cent in 2009, as per the WB findings.
Reflecting on the prevailing policy or regulatory framework for tackling the environment pollution in the country, the WB analysts observed that although total manpower of the Department of Environment (DoE) has increased, the pace has not kept up with the massive and growing workload.
"Although, DoE's budget notably increased 25 per cent last year, from Tk 1.02 billion to Tk 1.36 billion, the amount is still only 10 per cent of the total budget of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and about 0.06 per cent of the national budget."
"Enough money has been allocated from the top for digging ponds or canals across the country. But when that money flows to the grass-root level, we find that almost 50 per cent of the canals have not been dug or 17 per cent of the ponds have not been excavated," said Minister of Environment and Forests Anwar Hossain Manju, who was the chief guest of the event.
"The common perception is that politicians are corrupt. But the politicians cannot do anything without the cooperation of the administration," he added.
WB Acting Country Director Zahid Hussain in his speech observed that development in the country often comes at the cost of environment, which ultimately affects the long-term sustainability of growth and progress.
"However, experience around the world shows that it is possible to develop greener and cleaner without growing slower," he noted.
As a remedy, the WB experts have called for creating a National Environmental Protection Agency or Authority with a mandate for pollution management, including countrywide industrial wastewater management.
They also called for establishing a separate 'environment cadre' in the civil service to attract and retain talented and competent individuals in the environment sector.
The WB analysts also recommended establishing a training centre to build awareness and capacity on environment management across the government, private sector and consultants.
They also asked for carrying out a functional review of DoE and increasing its staff members according to international norms, and called for strengthening the capacity of division and district DoE offices based on prioritization analysis.
In addition, the WB experts also underlined the need for further scaling up Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) initiatives, noting that this may lead to efficiency gain, lower resource use and reduced pollution discharge.
Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests Istiaque Ahmad and Director General of Department of Environment Md. Raisul Alam Mondal also spoke on the occasion.
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