Just six months ago, an ancient banyan tree could be found in the capital's Kamrangirchar area, providing shade to the tired city dwellers yearning for a cool hangout spot. The tree is gone, leaving behind yet another hot zone in Dhaka that provides no respite for anyone.
According to local people, the area was home to three banyan trees. Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) cut the trees in December last year as part of the Old Buriganga channel’s restoration project. The trees were chopped and removed, despite causing no hindrance.
Rabiul Islam, an auto-rickshaw driver in the area, said, no matter how hot the weather is, standing under a banyan tree always cools people down. We, the working class people, were relying on the trees to relax during breaks. We now have no shelter from the scorching heat.
The residents claim that thousands of trees on both banks of the Old Buriganga channel have been cut by multiple state agencies in the last 6-7 years.
The remaining trees are waiting to be cut down for channel rehabilitation and construction of an embankment road under expansion projects. Amid the countrywide low rain and record temperature, the alarming rate in which the trees are being cut down in Kamrangirchar is a matter of concern.
Trees in Dhaka are being chopped down indiscriminately, sometimes in the name of development, sometimes by illegal occupiers. Forests are also being encroached by influential quarters.
Environmentalists say this particular situation is especially worse in Dhaka, and there are concerns that the capital city is rapidly turning into a “heat island.”
Despite the strong protest by environmental, social and political activists, the tree cutting operation by authorities continues in the Dhaka city area.
In the last one year, various state agencies including the city corporations, Dhaka University, RAJUK, Metrorail and Roads and Highway Department have cut down trees in the name of improving the beauty of various roads in Kamrangirchar, Dhanmondi, Uttara, Mirpur, Agargaon and entire Dhaka city.
Experts and environment activists said Dhaka is gradually becoming gray after losing its greenery, temperature is rising in the concrete jungle, and the city remains second in the list of unlivable cities in the world.
Referring to a study conducted by Stamford University Bangladesh Department of Environmental Science in 2017, Head of Department Prof Ahmed Kamruzzaman Majumdar said, “Out of 36 locations in Dhaka, nine areas had relatively low temperatures and nine areas had extremely high temperatures.
“Areas where the temperature was high had no wetlands and no trees. Taking into consideration the current situation of Dhaka city, not a single tree should be cut, but many trees should be planted.”
Concrete jungle choking greenery
Government data shows that the total area of Dhaka’s two city corporations is around 306 square kilometres.
A 2019 study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) reveals that the amount of green area in Dhaka is only 9.2 per cent, and concrete covers 81.82 per. The remaining 4.61 percent is open and 4.38 percent is wetlands.
According to the study, the green cover in Dhaka in 1999 was 8.97 square kilometres. That year, 6.69 per cent of the capital's area was covered with trees. The situation improved considerably in the next decade.
In 2009, the green cover in the capital was 12.45 square kilometres. The situation however worsened over the next decade, as the green cover decreased by 0.12 square kilometres during this period.
On the other hand, in 1999, the concrete covered area in Dhaka was 87.9 square kilometers. A decade later the area covered by concrete increased from 16.33 square kilometres to 103.42 square kilometres.
Another report conducted by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Urban and Regional Planning Department published in 2022 states that there is less than half of the required green area in Dhaka city.
Again, the area that is green is also controlled by boundary walls, so the city dwellers do not get any benefit from them.
5 cities will be unlivable in a decade
A study conducted by Australian Curtin University published in 2017 warns that five cities in the country, including Dhaka, Rajshahi, Chattogram, Sylhet and Khulna will be unsuitable for living in the next decade.
The report lists abnormal population density, tight concrete, drastic air pollution, excess industrial factories, unplanned transportation and urbanization, filling of wetlands and aggressive cutting of trees as the reasons behind this prediction.
The study said if the temperature rise continues the temperature in big cities could increase by 5 to 6 degrees compared to rural areas in the next 20 years.
In Bangladesh, urban temperatures are much higher than rural areas normally with an average of 2.78 degree Celsius in Dhaka, 1.92 Chattogram, 1.27, Khulna, 1.10 Sylhet and 0.74 degree Celsius in Rajshahi.
The study mentions that rapid deforestation and urbanisation of Dhaka is transforming urban areas into a heat island.
Speaking to the Business Post, Meteorologist Bazlur Rashid said, “Carbon emissions caused by burning fossil fuels have emerged as a major threat to the world. The trees absorb carbon. Carbon emissions are high in cities, so more trees should be planted here.”
Responding to a query on the issue, Mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation Atiqul Islam said, “We have a target of planting 2 lakh trees under our jurisdiction in 2 years. Besides, all concerned have been instructed not to cut any trees unless absolutely necessary.”