Ashuganj offers valuable lessons. Are we prepared to learn?

Environmentally-sustainable development is the need of the hour

The 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally blamed the Anthropocene emission of GHGs and exploitation of nature for global warming.

There is, perhaps, no other alternative but environmental protection and efficient use of natural resources to protect nature as well as combat climate change. There is no other alternative but cutting down the emission of CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Are we doing enough?

Let us examine from a local perspective — Ashuganj, an upazila almost completely surrounded by the Meghna and Titas rivers. It is also Dhaka’s gateway to the Sylhet division. Its connectivity with waterways and roads has turned it into a communication and business hub. The upazila houses several power plants and fertilizer and rice processing factories.

But the upazila has its problems. Inefficient control measures and lack of awareness have caused water contamination, degradation of the aquatic system, and waterlogging in the low-lying areas. Besides, Ashuganj has a history of recording higher temperatures than Dhaka.

Now the question is: Why are these things happening in Ashuganj? There are a variety of factors that are contributing to the worsening environment and climate in this upazila.

For instance, there are allegations that power plants dump cooling water into the water bodies. Such thermal pollution is very likely to reduce the solubility of oxygen in water bodies. This less solubility of oxygen in water largely disrupts the metabolism of aquatic lives of plants, animals, and fishes — ultimately leading to death and extinction of these species.

If such thermal pollution is not checked, the aquatic ecosystem of Ashuganj could witness severe and permanent damage.

There are high chances that such dumping may lead to a sudden change in water temperature that can kill off everything that lives in the water and contributes to keeping the ecosystem working.

Where is the planning?

Rampant and unplanned sand filling of land is another major environmental issue. Landfilling is mainly done for setting up industries of various sizes, commercial buildings, and housing purposes. In different unions, lands are being filled that are located 3-4 kilometres away from the river.

While it creates employment for the locals and resolves the housing needs of the growing population, such unplanned and frequent land reclamation is likely to have a serious impact on the environment, causing large displacement of the river residues, increasing temperature, and creating mud waves below the reclaimed lands.

Ashuganj is a key rice processing centre in Bangladesh with more than 250 rice processing factories. Locally known as “chatal,” these factories are contributing to the country’s food security and also creating employment opportunities for thousands of people, especially women.

But these industries, like the power plants, are also creating a heavy toll by polluting the environment and creating health hazards.

These chatals lack advanced technology-based energy-efficient kilns and depend on rice husks as a source of biomass fuel. While they do not use fossil fuel, inefficient burning of rice husk is contributing to CO2 emission and releasing hazardous particles into the air.

Many of these chatals have been built by filling up low-lying lands. These chatals dump kiln residues in the adjacent lands and canals, polluting water bodies and creating water clogging for a significant time of the year. This is taking a heavy toll on aquatic life, affecting the livelihood of the fishermen.

There are also concerns that the fertilizer companies are endangering public health and local biodiversity. The situation worsens when these factories produce urea fertilizers — a major source of nitrogen for rice cultivation.

In addition to the potential of warming the local weather, these chatals and fertilizer factories pose a broad spectrum of health hazards, including asthma, and eye and skin irritation.

Therefore, it is high time for Bangladesh to investigate the patterns of energy consumption and the warming potential of rice processing plants as well as the impact of fertilizer production on the local biodiversity and human population.

Although this piece sheds light on human-induced environmental degradation that is happening in Ashuganj, it is not an isolated example.

Starting from deforestation to different kinds of environmental pollution, there are ample examples of how we are destroying nature and contributing to extreme climate.   

Is there a way out?

Bangladesh’s contribution to CO2 and other GHGs is tiny. It is commendable that the country recently abandoned at least 10 coal-fired power projects considering the negative impacts they would have on the environment, among other reasons.

But more needs to be done when it comes to protecting nature. Nature and its ecosystem work as a firewall against extreme weather events, protecting crops, aquatic life, homes, infrastructure, etc.

As the country is progressing toward having its very own National Adaptation Plan (NAP) with support from the Green Climate Fund, it should explicitly consider ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) ie, the use of nature and natural resources to protect the environment and as a defense mechanism against climate impacts.

It is also encouraging to see that multilateral development banks at the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) have pledged to mainstream nature in their investment. 

In principle, we need to endorse environmentally-sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of nature and natural resources.

In spirit, we need to take good care of nature which will, in turn, help us lead a healthier and happier life.

This was first published in the Dhaka Tribune on 22 November 2021. Click here to read on the site. The author gratefully acknowledges the deliberations from the participants at NAP formulation workshop held at Ashuganj.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: