Fortunately or unfortunately, I am living in an apartment that is close to a renowned educational institution. Automobiles, carrying students (sometimes accompanied by their mothers or fathers) from different corners of the city, start coming early in the morning to drop them at the gate of that school. Noise of various lengths emanated from horns of those automobiles continuously hits our ear drum. The noise comes so strongly that it becomes difficult to keep our tolerance even on the sixth floor. If this situation continues (fear it will), there is no doubt that the noise will lead us to permanent hearing impairment very soon. Though, according to the noise control regulation of Bangladesh, automobiles, running in silent areas where educational institutions, hospitals and religious places are situated, are not allowed to use horns. But the reality is just the opposite. Where there is a crowd of vehicles, there is more competition of using horns. Don’t they know that noise is detrimental to health?
You are not, at all, saved on the road from noise pollution. Not only I, anyone especially the pedestrians, can understand the severity of the situation there. The loud noise coming from the horns of hundreds of automobiles, not only shakes the surrounding environment, but also shakes the thin ear-drums of thousands of pedestrians. What can these helpless people do? Nothing, but only pass through this noise until reach to their destinations.Once I served at the Consulate General of Bangladesh in Hong Kong. That time, at a national day reception, I met the Canadian Consul General who was in Bangladesh before coming to Hong Kong. He was the High Commissioner of Canada to Bangladesh. He had to leave Dhaka much ahead of completion of his tenure due to noise pollution. There had been construction work on the plot adjacent to his house. The intolerable noise that was coming out continuously from there made their stay at their residence difficult. Unable to address the issue locally, he had to ask his government to transfer him from Dhaka. Though my wife and I were happy at the beginning to know that they were in Bangladesh, but our happiness evaporated within a second after knowing their sufferings from noise pollution in Dhaka. What to do? My own country!
A few days ago, I read an article published in a local daily on noise pollution of Bangladesh, particularly in major cities. That is a horrible scenario! According to the World Health Organisation, the normal noise level should be within 45 to 55 decibels, whereas it is 132 decibels in Dhaka city. Same pictures are found in all major cities of Bangladesh. The noise levels are 130 decibels in Rangpur; 131 in Barishal, Sylhet and Mymensingh, and 132 and 133 decibels in Khulna and Chattogram respectively. In fact, the noise level above 80 decibels is considered as a health hazard and a constant exposure to such levels would lead to permanent hearing impairment. And the decibel levels in our environment have already exceeded that level. Are we really aware of our responsibilities in this situation?
All of us, more or less, know the major sources of noise pollution, whether one lives in Dhaka city or Chattogram. Main sources of noise are automobiles and the construction works especially construction of buildings or other big structures. Apart from these, various political and non-political meetings, processions, fairs and religious programmes (such as religious sermon, Ashura procession, etc), held in open spaces, are considered as the sources of noise. The use of loud speakers in political, cultural or social programmes actually creates noise. The sound produced by bus, truck, train, etc somehow contributes to noise pollution.
People living in towns are more affected by noise pollution than the villagers. The World Health Organisation says that 11.7 per cent of the population of Bangladesh are not capable of hearing. Children and adolescents are simply the victims of noise pollution. Only the future will tell us where noise pollution will place our next generation. But we can say that it would not be very pleasant. Losing of hearing power due to noise pollution is not the only threat; noise pollution causes increasing of blood pressure and reducing the supply of oxygen in the heart and brain. In a nutshell, there will be no way to get rid of hearing impairment, if the situation is not improved.
Last month, the International Noise Awareness Day was celebrated around the world including Bangladesh. In fact, the day is commemorated on the last Wednesday of April every year to create awareness about the consequences of noises to our health. The theme of this year was – ensuring protection of hearing and health of children and the elderly. The theme was very important for obvious reason.
In our country, especially in major cities, the ways the noises are polluting the environment has crossed our tolerance level. Children and the elderly people, being vulnerable to the effects of noise pollution, actually loss their hearing power very easily. If this trend of noise pollution continues, there will be no doubt that a large number of our future generation would grow as hearing handicapped persons. So we should not focus this day only to celebration, but we should take effective measures to bring the noise pollution to a tolerable level. And to do that, raising awareness among the people would be the most important step.As noise affects us in many ways including hearing loss, we have to understand the importance of this issue at individual level also. We, as well as our drivers, should refrain from unnecessary use of horns of our personal vehicles. We need to pay attention to the noises that we are making (including construction of our houses) so that neighbour’s right to peace and quiet is respected. When we need to go to any noisy environment such as construction site, concert, nightclubs, etc, we should wear adequate hearing protection. In fact, if we are serious to reduce noise pollution existing in our city, then we will be able to make our city a ‘Quiet Home’. We should not forget that noise pollution has already been defined as ‘modern plague’ by some medical experts.
There are laws in our country as well as the means of their enforcement. But if those laws are not enforced properly then how we could expect any progress? So, our law enforcement agencies must be aware of this. I believe people’s awareness and implementation of the existing laws can together play a significant role to reduce noise pollution in the country. Let’s organise campaigns to create awareness among our people, particularly among drivers, so that we can see some positive progress in reducing the level of noise pollution before the next International Noise Awareness Day comes.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.