Noise Pollution: the silent killer
By Morshed Ali Khan
About forty families in two separate apartment blocks in Dhanmondi were in a dilemma.
The entire one bigha plot next door was handed over to a developer. Soon the workers started demolishing the old two-story building manually. The hammering noise continued from early morning till late in the evening.
Billowing dust covered the entire area, forcing the residents to shut all windows. For the next three years, till the 12- story apartment block was completed, the lifestyle of these families was upside down. Shahidulla, one of the residents with two children, recalls, “ the worst phases were during the excavation and during installation of tiles, windows and bathroom fittings.”
“Unable to sleep or to do their homework, the children were very irritated and eventually one day I rang the Dhanmondi police station at around 2 am for help.”
Although reassured by the police, the deafening noise in the night never stopped. Then two days later, Shahidullah again rang the police up in the middle of the night and strongly expressed his annoyance.
The following day Shahidullah received a call from an unknown caller at his office. The caller identified himself as the representative of the famous developer and said “they” urgently needed to see him.
“I do not know how they knew my number or my office address.” Shahidullah said.
The following day four people came to see him at his office. “ When I asked them to obey the construction rules that allows construction work to start at 8 am and finish at 8 pm, they told me to bear with the noise for few more months, indirectly threatening me with bad consequences if I rang the police again.” “They were citing the current situation of the country,politely mentioning there is no guarantee of one’s life.”
“That was enough for all the families of the apartment blocks. We knew the police gave them my details. We had nothing left to do but live with hell for three years.”
The story is a reflection of our overall mindset in dealing with such violators.
Thanks to such deliberate oversights in all sectors, Dhaka and other areas of the country are probably amongst the noisiest urban areas in the world. Millions of people who live in such high decibels of noise, day and night and for years are dangerously exposed to health hazards.
Construction sites, vehicular horns, loudspeakers, small workshops in residential areas make Dhaka the least livable city in the world. Exposure to noise on a regular basis and at such a high decibel level causes deafness, memory loss, nausea, peptic ulcer, blood pressure, heart ailments and mental and physical disorders. Children remain the most vulnerable to such pollution.
“Most people living in the city for a long time suffer from one or other sort of hearing impairment due to extreme noise,” said a specialist doctor of the DMCH. “Then blood pressure, peptic ulcer, heart diseases and changes in behavioral pattern among the urban population are all related to pollution,” he added.
The owner of a driving school at Dhanmondi said that they did not have any guideline over the use of horns, the principal polluter. Most driving schools from where thousands of unemployed youths from the rural Bangladesh learn driving, follow part of a driving manual that was introduced in the 1950s, which clearly asks the driver to blow the horn at every intersection.
“We are now teaching our students to blow horn at every intersection, we are not aware of noise pollution caused by the horns,” said an instructor at a reputed driving school requesting anonymity.
The instructor blamed pedestrians and rickshaw pullers for causing hazards on the roads, which prompt the drivers to blow horns at will. “If the level of sound is reduced by removing extra horns in every vehicle the situation might improve,” said the instructor.
Thousands of vehicles plying on the streets are fitted with very powerful horns. Some are as loud as banned hydraulic horns. Moreover, thousands of buses and trucks defy the ban and use hydraulic horns indiscriminately.
As the population of Bangladesh increases phenomenally, so do the processes of industrialisation and urbanisation. The numbers of vehicles are also increasing. Manufacturing plants are multiplying to meet the growing needs of the population. The result is an increased threat of noise induced hearing loss, annoyance and other adverse effects on the health and well being of the population.
A study in the cities of Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna by DOE, sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO), reveals a dangerous situation.
Forty-five localities in Dhaka city were surveyed using the sound level metro.
Out of 45 areas surveyed in Dhaka city, 29 showed noise levels above the permissible limits accepted by DOE. The remaining 16 areas showed noise level fluctuating in and around the permissible limits accepted by DOE.
The highest dB of 100 in Dhaka city was observed at Zia International Airport take off point of plane in contrast to permissible limit of 85 dB. The lowest 50 dB was observed at National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine (NIPSOM) though the permissible limit was 45 dB.
Forty-five locations covering silent, residential, commercial industrial and mixed areas in Chittagong city were surveyed to determine the noise level. Out of 45 areas, 28 showed noise level exceeding permissible limits and 17 showed noise level fluctuating in and around the permissible noise level. In other words, 62 per cent of the surveyed areas in Chittagong city showed noise level higher than the acceptable limits. The noise level of 36 areas of Chittagong city showed a similar pattern of level compared to that of 36 areas of Dhaka.
Thirty-four areas in the Khulna city were surveyed, of which 18 showed noise level exceeding the permissible limit. The highest observed decibel in Khulna city was found to be 95.6 decibel in Shiromoni BSCIC Industrial Area, where the permissible noise limit is 75.6 decibel. The lowest noise 58.60 decibel was observed in Khalishpur Residential Area where the permissible limit is 50 decibel. The finding establishes the existence of noise pollution in an epidemic form in Khulna city.
A DoE official said, requesting anonymity, that existing laws, if enforced properly, could greatly reduce noise pollution.
“If we could set up a brigade involving several platoons in the big cities just to deal with noise pollution, things could improve drastically,” he added.
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