Pollution control and tannery relocation25 October 2002
The leather industry is an important labour-based, export-orientated industrial sector. The full flourish of this industry is significant for the country's economy. There is huge potential for foreign investment in the leather sector, particularly the shoe and leathergoods production sectors. But the tanneries are situated almost in the heart of Dhaka City and were established in the fifties in a very small and unplanned way, which hindered the expansion of the leather industry in the country. There are more than 200 small, medium and large tanneries, the majority of whom produce leather on a regular basis and process more than 180 million sq ft or 74,000 tons of raw hide and skin annually. The peak production level is 400 tons a day which takes place during the Eid-Ul-Azha period. The industry subsequently creates about 106 tons of solid waste, and 13,500 cubic meters of tannery effluent daily, which is discharged into a major river causing irreparable damage to the environment. During peak production levels, the discharge effluent increases to 21,600 cubic meters and the emission of solid waste is about 170 tons per day. The pollution emanating from the tanneries is directly affecting surface water, ground water, the soil and air of the Hazaribagh area. The wastewater discharge from the tanneries is polluting the Buriganga river water and making the water completely unsuitable for any use. Furthermore, the adjoining residential areas are also badly affected by the emission of a bad odour from Hazaribagh. During the dry season, the water quality of the Buriganga and the Turag river deteriorates tremendously due to the low dilution factor. The extent of environmental pollution by the leather industry has been publicised in the country's media as well as in many foreign media. Many foreign organisations have shown an interest in extending financial and technical assistance by carrying out surveys. But due to sluggishness, non-awareness and ignorance by the country's policy makers about tannery pollution, especially the ministry of environment and forest, environmental pollution by the tanning industry has continued since 1972. The environmental condition in the Hazaribagh tannery area is deteriorating but the government did not give the area the urgent environmental protection it needs. Out of 200 tanneries, only two (Dhaka Hide & Skins and Ruma Leather Industries) have organised a system of chrome recovery and reuse from spent chrome liquors. UNIDO environment programme The leather sector witnessed notable growth in the developing countries of south and east Asia during the 1980s. This was due to a continuing decline in the industrialised countries of the world, caused mainly by burgeoning wage bills and stringent environmental regulations. About 50% of global leather production takes place in seven south and east Asian countries. Though expansion of this sector brought in much-needed foreign currency and created new jobs in the developing countries, particularly south and east Asia, inadequate safeguards resulted in progressive environmental degradation in the tannery areas of many of these countries. Soil and ground water resources were affected, resulting in a huge public outcry. Lack of adequate technical knowledge, insufficient legal framework and unsatisfactory enforcement mechanisms and, of course, shortage of financial resources, were factors affecting efficient environmental management. The very survival of the industry was threatened, with resultant loss of jobs, if immediate measures were not taken to help the industry meet the environmental challenges. The regional office of the programme was started at Chennai in India from 1995 and the project ended on December 31, 2001. The objectives were to extend financial and technical assistance in controlling environmental pollution caused by the leather industries in the seven south Asian countries. The governments of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands financed the programmes designed by Unido. This South East Asian Tannery Pollution control project was classed as an umbrella project where donor countries jointly/independently extended financial support. For example, Germany extended financial support to the Chinese project and Switzerland supported the Indian and Indonesian projects and Austria aided Nepal. Through implementing this Unido programme, the beneficiary countries were Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Among them, India received maximum benefits and Bangladesh received minimum benefits. In fact, Bangladesh missed the boat as the country did not respond in sufficient time. The bureaucratic system existing in the government body took too many years to accept the Unido proposal. Unido first proposed a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Hazaribagh at the cost of US$11.5 million in June 1988. But there was some confusion as to whether or not the tanneries would be moved from Hazaribagh. After ten years, the Awami League government came to a decision that whatever the reasons for relocating the tanneries, Unido should take efforts towards implementing the CETP at Hazaribagh. After many years, this was the correct decision. But during this period, Unido completed many CETP projects in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, China and Indonesia and not Bangladesh. The previous Awami League government made a request to Unido in 1998 to set up a CETP at Hazaribagh and the first phase of this project started in November 1998 and ended in September 2001 at a cost of US$695,000. Work included in the first phase was: * Assessment of the environmental pollution at Hazaribagh * Cleaner technology application: such as the adoption of such measures in tannery production, so that the quantity of liquid waste decreases and contains less pollution * Chrome management in the tannery, including chrome recovery and reuse in the tanning process * Socio-economic feasibility study of the CETP project * Organising a study tour abroad to create awareness among high government officials, tannery owners and leather technologists on environmental pollution caused by the tanning sector * Financial, technical and engineering drawing and design of the proposed CETP An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study has also been carried out and a Dhaka-based consulting firm selected by Unido has submitted a report. A five-member committee formed by the Ministry of Industries has identified a 7.5 acre plot of land in a suitable location at Hazaribagh for the construction of the CETP. A Dutch consultancy firm has been engaged to prepare the engineering requirements to treat the effluent and a landfill for safe disposal of tannery sludge. Phase two The second phase was actual construction work but this could not progress due to the general elections in October 2001 which resulted in a change of government. The tender documents, specifications and drawings for all the components of the waste water collection system (WCS) and the CETP then remained at the Unido head office in Vienna and at the relevant ministries and organisations of the Bangladesh government. The Project Conception Paper (PCP) of the CETP remained at the planning commission stage for several months while the external resource division, Ministry of Planning, discussed with donor countries and agencies the possibility of financing to the tune of US$14.57 million. But the present BNP government did not approve the Unido proposal because policy makers stumbled on the same problem as twelve years before. The ministry of environment says that if the tanneries were to be relocated, a new CETP project would be included, so why is it necessary to build a CETP at Hazaribagh? But the drawings and design of the CETP project proposed by Unido was ready and the cost of the second phase, for physio-chemical treatment, was estimated at US$9.6 million and for biological treatment US$4.94 million (total US$14.54 million). If the Bangladesh government could understand the truth that tannery relocation is a long-term process, taking at least 5-8 years, then in order to control tannery effluent at this current moment in time, the Unido proposal is both justified and timely. Afterwards, if the tanneries successfully relocated, then the Dhaka WASA could use the abandoned CETP for sewerage treatment. It was agreed that when a new government comes to power, they take on the initiative of relocating the tanneries from Hazaribagh, but as the government grows older, this seems to be forgotten. Efforts to relocate the tanneries from Hazaribagh have been made three times in the past 13 years without any financial preparation. These efforts are like setting up a foundation stone of a large bridge without arranging the money. The relocation of the tanneries is not a trivial factor, because at least US$60 million would be required to construct the overall infrastructure of a new leather industrial park in a suitable area of about 700 acres near Dhaka city. As yet, there are no confirmed offers of finance from either domestic or foreign sources, but the Ministry of Industries is now preparing a tannery relocation project and this issue is often discussed at cabinet meetings - and later forgotten. The prepared project conception paper (PCP) for the relocation will be ready at any time in the future but nobody can be sure that the end result of these efforts will not be the same as before. Currently, the Bangladesh government intends to relocate the tanneries of Hazaribagh to a suitable larger area near Dhaka city, but there seems to be lack of information on the ability of the government to actually carry out a venture of such a huge magnitude.