Friday, April 23, 2010

Noise Pollution: Time for us to act

Published in The Independent, 22nd. April, 2010

The Independent’s headline story in a recent issue was about alarming rise of noise pollution. The report went on to say that people of Dhaka run serious risk of heart attack and stroke as a consequence. But then in is second worst city in the world in terms of living conditions, the question is who cares? In fact, with the serious deterioration of the power, gas and water situation, the more appropriate question to ask would be who is there to care for noise pollution? But then noise pollution is a killer and threat of death under no circumstances should be taken lightly. Unfortunately, this government would need a magic wand to solve the power/gas/water crisis and now with noise pollution tagged to it in the long list of crisis people of Dhaka and the rest of the country are facing now, even a magic wand may not do the trick

Realistically, respite on none of the crisis we are facing is in the offing, not at any time soon. The Government seems to be busy blaming the opposition that is making people more frustrated because it is now well over 3 years since those that the present government is blaming have left the scene. It is time that those who live in Dhaka start fending for themselves looking into the future. Dhaka has become the worst livable city in the world as much as for the inability of the government, that includes all parties who have been in power since 1971, as it is for the people living in the city themselves. While we will legitimately expect the Government to play its role in mitigating these problems, we often overlook our own role both individually and collectively in giving ourselves some relief.

The issue of noise pollution is one that is almost 100% in the hands of us the sufferers. The Independent report has very clearly pinpointed not just the locations but also the culprits who contribute to such life threatening noise pollution. Hydraulic horns of buses, trucks and taxi cabs are the main source of noise pollution. Of course the law enforcing agencies have the primary responsibility of taking action against these culprits. But then these offending vehicles are owned by a very small number of people who are well do people in society who, unlike the bus/truck/taxi cab drivers, understand the threat of noise pollution. If these people just want that in vehicles they own, horns would not be blown at random, then the war against noise pollution would be half won even without any assistance from the law enforcing authorities.

In Dhaka city, traffic movement is incredibly slow. Blowing the horn serves no purpose at all. The drivers blow the horn just to release their tension and frustration. Little do they know that the horn in the vehicle is for emergency use only and one can drive for hours in any modern city of the world without hearing the noise of a horn. In fact, prohibiting these drivers from blowing the horn could even have a positive effect on road accidents in which these drivers make the maximum contribution. They believe that just by blowing the horn, the road would open up for them like magic so that they can speed in any manner they like and it is by driving in any manner they like, that many innocent people are killed in our riads every day.

The generators merrily buzzing all around us these days is of course a new source of noise pollution. Recently, I want to a friend’s house in Gulshan where noise pollution in Dhaka came up for discussion. He took me out and what I saw struck was unbelievable. His house is exposed three ways to apartments, only free towards the road. From the three sides, the generator exhausts are turned towards my friend’s house. People living in theses apartments are all the cream of society; yet they do not have the minimum civic sense to refrain from causing such misery to an innocent neighbour. Although Dhaka may be deteriorating as a city; its construction boom however gives us a different signal. With the construction boom, there is a different kind of noise pollution that goes around the clock. Recently, I had to file a FIR in Gulshan Thana because my next door neighbours were bringing construction materials at dead of night and making such horrible noise that would make anybody’s sleep impossible. Just imagine waking up at 2am in the morning with noise of labourers downloading stone pebbles with shovels and piling them up on the footpath! The screeching sound is so unbearable that one could be driven to do anything crazy to stop the noise. This type of noise pollution happens in all parts of Dhaka city.

On noise pollution, the offenders are thus both the rich and the poor; the educated as well as the uneducated. Even the barest minimum of civic sense would allow us to escape from the dangers of noise pollution to which The Independent story has referred. Can’t the truck/bus/taxi cab owners show this bare minimum of civic sense by asking their drivers not to blow horns like desperados running away from a crime scene? Can’t they do away completely with the hydraulic horns? Can’t those developers in the construction business take special care that people’s sleep is not disturbed at night? Can’t the generator owners ensure that the discomfort of noise from the generators is not passed on to neighbours?

I share with everybody, their frustration with the shortage of power/gas/water. Even in these daily necessities, if we showed greater civic sense, our predicament could have been somewhat better than what it is at present. With noise pollution, the matter is in our hands. Can’t we do something about it? Charity, they say, begins at home. It is time we see what we can do ourselves while also expecting the Government to do its bit. At the moment, neither is doing much and Dhaka is sliding into an abyss.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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