Dhaka opens new sewage plant but it’s not plugged into sewers

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka opens new sewage plant but it’s not plugged into sewers Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led the opening ceremony on Thursday for the Dasherkandi sewage water treatment plant, seen here in a drone photo, July 13, 2023.

Bangladesh’s prime minister opened a sprawling sewage treatment plant in Dhaka this week, but people are raising questions about a serious flaw – the $320 million, China-backed project was built without being connected to any local sewer network. 

As she inaugurated the Dasherkandi sewage water treatment plant on Thursday, leader Sheikh Hasina said it would allow the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) to treat “black water” from toilets in this, one of the world’s most populated cities. 

Many of Dhaka’s residents do not have access to sewage systems. Dumping of untreated sewage in local waterways is rampant.

The project would enable the DWASA to treat 500 million liters of sewage water produced daily in upscale neighborhoods such as Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Niketan, Bashundhara and adjacent areas before being returned to the Balu River, Taqsem A. Khan, the agency’s managing director, said at the opening ceremony.

But officials with Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), the public agency responsible for coordinating urban development in Dhaka, and urban planners questioned the plant’s usefulness without being plugged into a necessary pipeline network upon construction.

“Constructing the sewerage system is the responsibility of Dhaka WASA. WASA has informed us that they would build the sewerage pipeline network in the future,” RAJUK Chief Engineer Ujjwal Mallick told BenarNews.

It is unclear what the timeline is for connecting the new plant to a local sewage network or whether Bangladeshi authorities went ahead with the project, built by Hydro China, a Chinese firm, without taking that factor into account.

Officials did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for information about this. 

Residents of some neighborhoods in the Bangladesh capital, meanwhile, questioned the effectiveness of the new plant, saying they have had to build underground pipes to dump untreated sewage into the nearest waterways.

Project documents reveal that the government signed a loan agreement with China in 2016 to build the plant at a cost of 33.17 billion taka ($305 million) including a Chinese loan of 21.84 billion taka ($200 million).

The cost was hiked twice and reset at 34.82 billion taka ($320 million) including a loan of 23.66 billion taka ($217 million) from China, the documents said.

“What Dhaka WASA has been doing regarding the Dasherkandi treatment plant is not the right thing. They should revisit their strategy so that our rivers are saved,” Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury, chairman of the National River Conservation Commission, another government agency, told BenarNews.

Mallick said RAJUK, before approving building plans, requires separate septic tanks to keep the so-called black water from going directly to rivers, canals and lakes around Dhaka.

‘Sheer waste of public money’

That requirement has its own drawbacks, residents said.

“Septic tanks have capacity limitations. The homeowners secretly build underground outlet pipes which dump the sewage water to the drains, Gulshan Lake and canals which ultimately meet the rivers,” Mohsin Chowdhury, who lives in Gulshan, told BenarNews.

“What are homeowners to do when there is no pipeline to carry the sewage water? Can they take the sludge water by trucks to the treatment plant?” he said.

Syed Abdul Muqit, a resident of Banani, took a similar view.

“This is like putting the cart before the horse,” he told BenarNews.

Iqbal Habib, an architect and civil society member, said the project appears to be a “sheer waste of public money.”

“Do the WASA officials not know that they first need to construct the pipeline network? The project is tantamount to building a bridge without constructing the approach roads,” he told BenarNews. “This treatment project would ultimately sit idle while the people must repay the Chinese loan and the interests.” 

2 billion liters generated

DWASA figures show that 20.2 million people in Dhaka generate 2 billion liters of sewage water and storm water per day. Another treatment facility in the city, Pagla, can treat 200 million liters.

In early January, the Dhaka North City Corp. determined that residents in Gulshan and adjacent upscale residential neighborhoods were dumping sewage water to the storm drains flowing into Gulshan Lake.

North Dhaka Mayor Atiqul Islam, who led the investigation, told reporters that 3,265 of 3,830 houses in Gulshan had direct connections to the city corporation’s storm drains.

Habib pointed out that DWASA announced in 2009 that five treatment plants would be constructed in Dhaka to stop the dumping of untreated sewage.

After 14 years, “the environmental destruction through dumping of wastewater into the rivers has been continuing before their eyes,” he said.


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