Last year a science-fiction action film named ‘2.0’ was released in India where the film depicts the conflict between Chitti, a dismantled humanoid robot, and Pakshi Rajan, a former ornithologist who seeks vengeance upon cell phone users to prevent avian population decline. In the film it is shown that Pakshi Rajan used to be an ornithologist who owned the now abandoned house where birds would come and live with him. Gradually, high-frequency radiation from the newly installed cell phone towers starts killing the birds. Unable to make people aware of the impacts of mobile tower radiation on avian population, Pakshi Rajan commits suicide and then seeks revenge in the form of a spirit. However the focus is not on the suicide rather on the issue of declining number of birds owing to radiation emitting from the mobile towers. Though the film is a work of fiction, the concern depicted in the film is absolutely true. There was a time when people used to wake up in the morning hearing the twittering sounds of the birds. Do you hear it now, especially in the urban areas? The answer is a simple ‘no’ and the fact is that people do not know that the valuable gadget that they are using for communication is one of the major factors alongside lack of habitats that is contributing to the decreasing number of birds.
There is no denying that mobile technology has revolutionized the communication system around the world over the last couple of decades and people are being benefitted by this. Bangladesh is no exception in this regard. Due to its several advantages, cell phone technology has grown exponentially. As a result total number of mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh has reached about 15.7 crore at the end of December, 2018. To meet the demand for uninterrupted services telecommunication companies have installed more than 30,000 towers which even sometimes seem not enough. Therefore when the companies fail to mitigate the demand, they use more powerful electromagnetic radiation to recover their limitations. But all of these processes are operating without giving due respect to its disadvantage: the consequences of emitting powerful electromagnetic radiation. While we make any call, both the mobile phone and the towers emit two types of radiations, menacing the health of living beings. While their frequency (non-ionizing which means low-level radiation) is generally perceived as harmless to humans, ionizing radiation which is high-level radiation has great responsibilities for cellular and DNA damage. Many experts have pointed out that cell phone towers emit non-ionized radiation that is different from nuclear radiation or even the waves we are exposed to while getting an X-ray done. While these rays cannot penetrate deep into the cells of humans or affect molecular structure, they create very stressful situations for birds. Studies have found that they can cause thin skulls of chicks and thin egg shells. While electric and magnetic radiations’ effects on human body are sometimes taken into consideration, its effect on other living beings (birds to be particular) goes unnoticed.
In the urban areas birds are already exposed to high levels of noise and air pollution, but because of the harmful effect of electromagnetic radiation they are now in the biggest treat. When exposed to high electromagnetic field, these birds receive a small electric shock that can impact their flight and even the path they take. Some study results around the world expose the effect of electromagnetic radiation on birds and other living beings. Birds use magnetic navigation to travel, but then contrasting magnetic fields present in the atmosphere is leaving them completely disoriented. In May 2018, an analysis of ‘97 studies by the EU-funded review body EKLIPSE’ concluded that radiation from cell-phone towers, phone masts, WiFi and broadcast transmitters is a potential risk to bird orientation along with insect and plant health. The report found that the magnetic orientation of birds could be disrupted by electromagnetic radiation. On the other hand, reproductive and co-ordination problems and aggressive behavior have also been observed in birds such as sparrows due to electromagnetic radiation. The Centre for Environment and Vocational Studies of Punjab University observed that when 50 eggs of House Sparrow were exposed to electromagnetic radiation for durations of five minutes to 30 minutes, all the 50 embryos were found damaged. Later on in some studies in India, population of Passer domesticus was found fast disappearing from areas contaminated with electromagnetic waves arising out of increased number of cell phones. Moreover, the birds are not only in risk due to electromagnetic radiation, but for the tower itself as well. The US Department of the Interior estimates that up to 6.8 million bird deaths a year may result in from collisions with towers. Though many tower tops are equipped with red warning lights, this artificial light ironically lure them towards the deadly metal structures disrupting ability of birds to navigate. The US Department of the Interior also states that two hundred forty one bird species are at mortality risk from both tower collisions and from exposure to the radiation towers emit, among which estimated 230 species fall prey to communication towers. Studies abroad have conclusively proved that when the number of cell-phones in an area increases, the number of birds decreases and vice-versa. However, in Bangladesh, the topic has not been studied well. Though we hardly get any statistics in this regard, the situation will, more or less, be the same and our experience about the decreasing number of birds also justify such claim.
Observing the overall situation, scientists and ornithologists around the world have expressed their anxiety time and again. They have stressed on the need to strengthen the scientific basis of knowledge on electromagnetic radiation and its impact on wildlife. In fact, 237 scientists had reportedly appealed to the United Nations through a petition, asking them to take risks posed by electromagnetic radiation more seriously. There are indeed some preventive measures but these recommendations are hardly taken into consideration, though some recommendations are as simple as changing the light bulbs from steady red lights to flashing lights for preventing many of the bird deaths caused by communication towers. And as far as our country is concerned we are far away from taking preventive measures to save the birds, let alone conducting research on this matter.
It is obvious that science will always come up with advanced technology and such blessing will always have some adverse impacts. We will definitely keep up with the pace but at the same time we should take the side-effects of such advanced technology on other living beings into consideration and try to act in favour of them as well. After all, the planet belongs to all the creatures and it is our responsibility as humans to save others.