Bangladesh tears down brick kilns to fight toxic smog

Authorities say tearing them down will make Dhaka’s air more breathable, although at the expense of thousands of kiln workers left without a job. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Bangladesh tears down brick kilns to fight toxic smog

  • Every autumn, brick kilns — which use coal and wood to fire bricks from clay — start up again, adding to the emissions
  • Authorities say tearing them down will make Dhaka’s air more breathable, but at the expense of thousands of kiln workers

SATURIA, Bangladesh: Excavators flanked by Bangladesh riot police are at work demolishing illegal soot-belching brick kilns around the smog-choked capital Dhaka, forcing migrant laborers out of work and back to their villages.
Every autumn, following the monsoon rains, Dhaka’s brick kilns — which use coal and wood to fire bricks from clay — start up again, adding to the emissions pumped out by other heavy industries and the thousands of vehicles on the streets of the capital.
On November 25, an independent air quality monitor pegged Dhaka’s air as the most polluted in the world. The next day, the High Court ordered the hundreds of illegal brick factories that surround the city to be closed within two weeks.
Many were built in the past five years as heavy industry and construction fueled a booming economy.
While authorities say tearing them down will make Dhaka’s air more breathable, thousands of kiln workers — who hail from poor rural regions or coastal areas hit by climate change — have been left without a job.
Standing beside an excavator as its metal teeth bit into a tall kiln chimney at Saturia, west of the city, magistrate Kazi Tamzid Ahmed ordered police to keep the workers at bay.
“It (the brick kiln) flouted environmental regulations ... It is also set up near a school,” he said.
The kiln’s owner Nazrul Islam Nabin pleaded tearfully for the excavator to be stopped, but to no avail. Some 300 workers were now without a job and would have to head home to their villages on the south coast, he said.
“We sought 15 more days from the authorities, saying we’ll pay off the dues of the workers by selling bricks. But they didn’t heed our call,” he said.
Most workers travel to urban brick kilns during the winter months, where they earn between 300-800 Taka ($3.5 — $9.5) per day, shoveling coal into furnaces or laying brick out to dry in the sun. The money they save keeps them and their families afloat for the rest of the year.
Almost half of the 7,000 kilns across the country are illegal, Bangladesh Brickfield Owners Association secretary Abu Bakar said, employing almost one million people.
The campaign so far has closed at least 25 illegal kilns, Rubina Ferdowshy, the environment department’s director said.
The demolitions have “improved Dhaka’s air quality,” she said. “We now rank much below among the worst polluted cities.”
By early December Dhaka’s air had improved, coming in at 23rd worst among major world cities according to the same monitor.
But for Bishwanath Mallick, who used to work at the Saturia kiln, the improved ranking has come at a price.
“Now, where will I find work? There are only shrimp farms in my village, but they don’t need many workers,” he said.


Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

Updated 14 August 2020

Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

  • Prime Minister Timothy Harris emphasizes ‘enduring appeal’ of Saint Kitts and Nevis amid a global pandemic
  • Dual-island nation has announced a discount in the amount needed to secure citizenship for a limited period

DUBAI: After the turmoil and tedium of the last few months, a distant island getaway is probably what tops most people’s dreams. One Caribbean destination, surrounded by sparkling sand and turquoise waters, is intent on using its natural landscapes to nurse people back to normality — and build commercial bridges to the Middle East in the process.

In an interview via Zoom with Arab News, Prime Minister Timothy Harris noted with satisfaction that his country was home to a number of individuals from the Middle East, including the GCC countries. But his ambitions are clearly much bigger than that.

Harris, who was re-elected to a second term as prime minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on June 5, says he will continue to deepen the dual-island nation’s relations with the GCC region.

“We intend to open an embassy soon in the UAE,” he told Arab News. “This will further cement our ties to the Middle East region and to the UAE specifically.”

With their relative affluence and large expatriate populations, GCC countries constitute a key part of the catchment area of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program of St. Kitts and Nevis.

“What the CBI program offers applicants is the advantage of mobility,” said Harris, adding: “In the context of St. Kitts and Nevis, it also offers citizenship in a nation that is democratic, peaceful and safe.”

(Full Arab News interview with Prime Minister Timothy Harris)

His government is also counting on efficient processing of citizenship applications to help it stand out in a crowded field.

Amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, some, particularly for those hailing from troubled countries in the Middle East, see a silver lining: A discount on the citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Harris has announced a time-limited reduction in the contribution required to secure citizenship. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis has decided to temporarily reduce the family minimum contribution by $45,000 to $150,000. However, the minimum contribution for a single applicant remains at $150,000.

Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. (Supplied)
A single applicant seeking economic citizenship normally contributes at least $150,000, while the cost for a family of up to four comes to $195,000. But from July 7 until the end of this year, families of up to four people will be able to secure citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis at the discounted rate.
The decision was influenced by the global fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of the Harris government to find creative ways to stabilize the economy and put it back on the path to the growth rates it had enjoyed over five years preceding the pandemic.

Harris is upfront about his objectives. “This limited-time offer will provide the resources to help us successfully fight COVID-19 and enhance the safety nets for those who have lost their jobs or income as a consequence," he said.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's COVID-19 response)

“The CBI program is crucial to our growth and development. The effects of COVID-19 have also destabilized our economy. Without the CBI program we would have been in serious danger.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.

Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the CBI program for the Middle East and Africa. Speaking to Arab News in May, Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said: “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.

“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.” The CBI program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's citizenship program)

During the pandemic, CBI officials say, the program has witnessed a 40 percent increase in applicants from families hailing from the Arab world. Arab News could not independently verify the figure.

What is undeniable is that while the coronavirus crisis continues to ravage countries across the globe, particularly those in North America, the Caribbean region has largely been spared high caseloads.

The total population of residents in the Caribbean is just under 45 million. As of July 27, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections stood at 91,907. The nations with the highest number of cases are the Dominican Republic with 64,156; French Guiana with 7,332; Haiti with 7,315 cases and Puerto Rico with 5,416. 

Aerial view of Black Rocks Beach on St. Kitts. (Supplied)

St. Kitts and Nevis had one of the lowest numbers. By May 19 all of the 16 cases on its two islands had recovered, although one new case was announced on July 4. There have been no deaths. The islands went into lockdown on March 31 when just eight cases had been declared. It was then extended until April 18 and then again to April 25.

“We began an aggressive public education campaign in our schools and workplaces, security forces and health-care workers early on,” Harris told Arab News. “As cases rose, we were at a high level of alertness and citizens and residents complied, so we were able to stop the spread efficiently.”

The CBI program was launched in St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984 as a way to assist the island’s economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of the sugar industry, and to stimulate foreign direct investment inflows.

FASTFACT

ETHNIC GROUPS

- 53,821 = Population of St. Kitts & Nevis

- 92.5% African

- 3% Mixed

- 2.1% White

- 1.5% East Indian

“Clearly, size does matter and being a small nation state with limited resources, we had to find unique ways of bringing in investment that would help the country thrive from year to year,” Harris told Arab News.

“While COVID-19 has placed the world under enormous strain, St. Kitts and Nevis’s record to date of zero hospitalizations and zero fatalities from the disease underlines the character and enduring appeal of our great country.”

With alluring beaches, laid back Caribbean lifestyle and faraway location, the offer is hard to refuse — if one’s pockets are deep enough.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor