Bangladesh's Perilous Battle with Pollution, Pesticides and Plastics

Two men with buckets in polluted water
Jamuna TV
Nairobi, Kenya

Bangladesh's Perilous Battle with Pollution, Pesticides and Plastics

The negotiations toward a global biodiversity treaty that took place in Nairobi, Kenya from June 20-June 26 offered an opportunity to highlight the several ways in which Bangladesh is threatened by pollution. The Bangladesh delegation focused on the findings from several new sources about the perilous state of the Bangladesh environment and biodiversity.

Reducing this pollution is the aim of what is now referred to at the United Nations negotiating teams as Target 7 of the upcoming global biodiversity treaty, to be finalized in Montreal, Canada in December. 

These themes included the impacts of water pollution, pesticides and the impacts of the use, and discarding, of plastics.

Water pollution

According to a report issued recently by the Asian Development Bank, Bangladesh has the highest pollution levels in river water out of 48 Asian and Pacific nations surveyed.

The survey concluded that Bangladesh's of national water security, including supplies both above and below ground, is seriously endangered by the rampant pollution. According to the report, 80% of urban and industrial wastewater in Bangladesh is discharged into the water without any treatment. As a result, chemical pollution in the rivers is increasing, getting worse day by day. Among the river basins, the Ganges flowing through Nepal, India, and Bangladesh has deteriorated the most.

The report suggests that the water challenges in Bangladesh and the region will only get more pressing as the country’s population, and the world’s population, continue to increase at a rapid rate, and demand for healthy food and water increases. By 2050, the Asian Development Bank concludes, the demand for water for domestic purposes will increase by 55% and in agriculture by 60%. As a result, sustainable use of water and conservation of water sources will be required.

A 2018 report by the Bangladesh Environment Survey came to similar conclusions. According to the report, unplanned urbanization and industrialization are causing severe damage to Bangladesh's environment. Industries based in Dhaka are pumping out groundwater , and pumping in contaminants, at an alarming rate, leading to rising pollution levels.   

The washing and dyeing of readymade garments in the city’s textile industry are one of the main sources of waste pollution. To produce one ton of cloth, 200 tons of waste goes into the river.

Plastic Pollution  

According to a World Bank report released last year , the use of plastic in the urban areas of Bangladesh has tripled over the fifteen years from 2005 to 2020. The average per capita plastic consumption in the country in 2005 was 3.1 kg., and in Dhaka, 9.2 kg. In 2014, it had increased to 3.5 kg and 16.2 kg respectively, and by 2020, the average had reached 9 kg nationwide and in Dhaka, 24 kg.

Due to the lack of waste management, the report, titled Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Sustainable Plastics Management in Bangladesh, cites the country as one of the most polluted by plastic in the world. For young people it comes with important insights: studies have shown that people between the ages of 15 and 35 are by far the major consumers of disposable plastic food and other packaging, and are responsible for a significant portion of the plastic pollution in Bangladesh and elsewhere. 

Pesticide Pollution

A study by the National Food Security Research Council (NFSL), sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, found that in 2020, 65,142 tons of pesticides were used on vegetables and crops in Bangladesh. That amounts to a quadrupling in the quantity of agri-chemicals over the previous ten years.

The Department of Agricultural Extension says the country imports more than 30,000 tons of pesticides every year. Apart from this, about 5,000  tons of pesticides are smuggled into Bangladesh every year, and thus are officially uncounted–including such pesticides as DDT and other organo-chlorine pesticides that have been banned in most western countries. 

Due to inadequate monitoring and inefficiencies in the training of farmers, many of those pesticides are spilling into the waterways, left as residues on fruits and vegetables, and entering into the bloodstream of Bangladeshis, including farmers and the consumers of their crops. 

In an interview, David Ainsworth, Head of Communications at the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat, commented that among the topics for discussion at the negotiations are establishing some kind of minimum accepted level of agri-chemical pollution. To do so, they are attempting to balance between the perceived benefits of increased crop yields from the use of pesticides and the public health impacts of poisoned water supplies and contaminant residues.

He suggested that the use of phosphorous and nitrogen fertilizers, for example, might be reduced through proper training. 

Over the week of negotiations, many countries expressed dissenting views on proposals to add certain agri-chemical contaminants to the Target-7 negotiations. The negotiations continue, Ainsworth said, and countries hope to resolve their differences  at the CBD Convention of the Parties, now scheduled for December 5-17 in Montreal, Canada. 

This story was produced as part of a reporting fellowship to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 4th Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, led by Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Bangla on 26 June 2022 by Jamuna TV. It has been translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Of the 48 countries in Asia and the Pacific, Bangladesh's rivers are the most polluted. Photo: Ahmad Wadud / Jamuna TV.

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