Bangladeshi purge on brick kilns could create a serious job crisis

Brick kilns in Bangladesh are usually coal-fired, emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide and particulate matter. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2019

Bangladeshi purge on brick kilns could create a serious job crisis

  • Industry stakeholders have slammed the decision, arguing that under newly revised regulations many brick kilns have been declared illegal

DHAKA: Authorities in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, one of the world’s most polluted cities, have launched a purge on hundreds of illegal brick kilns identified as a major source of toxic air.

However, the clampdown by officials from the Department of Environment could result in hundreds of thousands of factory workers losing their jobs.

The move, announced on Thursday, followed a High Court ruling earlier in the week giving authorities two weeks to close down a number of brick kilns operating illegal in Dhaka.

According to the US-based Air Quality Index (AQI) project, the Bangladeshi capital’s air was the worst in the world for two consecutive days last week, figures which prompted calls from environmentalists for urgent action to tackle the problem.

Rubina Ferdousi, director of monitoring and enforcement at the Department of Environment, told Arab News: “We have targeted all illegal brick kilns in five districts — Gazipur, Manikgonj, Savar, Munshigonj and Narayangonj — surrounding Dhaka. We will continue this drive throughout the year. In 15 days, we will submit a report to the court.”

Industry stakeholders have slammed the decision, arguing that under newly revised regulations many brick kilns have been declared illegal.

According to the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kiln Establishment (Control) Act of 2013, which was revised this year, the establishment of such operations is prohibited in residential, protected, commercial and agricultural areas, and is also banned in forests, wetlands and ecologically critical areas.

Violating the law is a criminal offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of five years and/or a fine of up to $6,000.

Abu Bakar, secretary general of the Bangladesh Brick Manufacturing Owners Association (BBMOA), told Arab News that the parameter for suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the air, specified in the revised law, should be increased to 400. 

“Otherwise, most of our brick kilns will have to shut down,” he said.

He said there were about 800 operating in the vicinity of Dhaka. Data from the Department of Environment indicated that only 487 of them were legal.

But Salman Chowdhury, assistant director for enforcement at the Department of Environment, said that the SPM in the air had to be below 200 in order to be considered safe for humans.

Brick kilns in Bangladesh are usually coal-fired, emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide and particulate matter. They operate during the dry season from November through April.

Sharif Jamil, secretary-general of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), the country’s top environmental organization, told Arab News that the kilns contributed to half of Dhaka’s air pollution and also damaged soil, causing irreparable losses to agriculture.

“A good thing is that this year our government decided to replace traditional bricks with building blocks in all government constructions. Demand for bricks will gradually decrease,” he said.

While the government clampdown on kilns has been welcomed by environmentalists, it could jeopardize the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Dhaka residents.

Around 250 full-time workers are needed to run a brick factory. “We hire them on a contract basis and the remuneration depends on their productivity. The workers’ monthly wages vary from $200 to $300,” Bakar added.

Workers fear the program of closures is being implemented without a strategy to help them find alternative employment.

“I only know how to make bricks,” said Abu Alam, 37, a worker at a factory in Savar district. Another kiln employee, Miraj Ahmed, 46, said he had seven family members to provide for. “I need to survive, but now I am not sure what to do,” he said.


China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak coronavirus

Updated 26 January 2020

China bans wild animal trade until viral outbreak coronavirus

  • Raising transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden until the epidemic is over
  • The virus has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections

BEIJING: China on Sunday ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals as the country struggles to contain a deadly virus believed to have been spawned in a market that sold wild animals as food.
Raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden “from the date of the announcement until the national epidemic situation is over,” said a government directive.
The ban was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
The lethal virus, which has caused 56 confirmed deaths and nearly 2,000 total infections in China, and spread to about a dozen countries, is believed to have originated in a market in the central city of Wuhan, where a range of wildlife was reportedly sold.
Conservationists have long accused China of tolerating a shadowy trade in exotic animals for food or as ingredients in traditional medicines, including highly endangered species such as the pangolin or tiger.
Health experts say the trade poses a significant and growing public health risk as potentially dangerous animal-borne pathogens that people would normal not be exposed to make the jump to humans.
The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 also has been traced to wild animals, with scientists saying it likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
Civets, a cat-like creature, were among dozens of species listed on an exhaustive price list for one of the animal-trading businesses at the Wuhan market that emerged online last week.
Other items included various rats, snakes, giant salamanders and even live wolf pups.
Sunday’s announcement said all businesses, markets, food and beverage outlets and e-commerce platforms are “strictly prohibited from trading in wild animals in any form.”
It added that “consumers must fully understand the health risks of eating wild animals, avoid wild game, and eat healthy.”
The so-called bushmeat trade, along with broader human encroachment on wild habitats, is bringing humans into ever-closer contact with animal viruses that can spread rapidly in today’s connected world, scientists say.
A study by the Global Virome Project, a worldwide effort to increase preparedness for pandemics, estimated that there are nearly 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in the animal kingdom, nearly half of which could be harmful to humans.
Peter Daszak, a virology expert with the project, told AFP its research also indicated that we can expect around five new animal-borne pathogens to infect humanity each year.
China has launched previous crackdowns on the wildlife trade, including after SARS, but conservationists say the trade typically resumes over time.