Brick Kilns Over Lives And The Environment.
Much of Bangladesh’s land is consumed by brick kilns. Estimated to be about 5000 brick kilns in the Bangladesh countryside, producing one million bricks each and every year. And the numbers is rising.The industry employs over 500,000 people. Whole families travel vast distances from all over the country to work a job that could, in many ways, be considered a modern form of financial slavery trapping them for their entire lives.
In this over crowded country, 180 million people on a land mass not much larger than Great Britain, it is considered an important place of work but the season is short. When the summer comes it brings with it the rains when production stops and the people return to their villages and cities, where there is little work. They scratch around just to feed themselves until it is time to return to the kilns, where they will live and work once again from dawn to dusk.
There is though, a worrying down side to this industry that gives so many people employment. It has become the country’s biggest environmental threat, damaging cultivable land, forests and human health. Few of the kilns have proper authorisation and the government stipulates they should be located on a site of less than one hectare, but many kilns use twice this amount of land. It is also law that they should only be set up on fallow or infertile land but most are set up on fertile land near highways and near to densely populated areas. Allegedly the law is flouted regularly, and bribing local administrative officials in widespread. There are laws in this country set up to try and curb the violations, these consist of a jail term of 7 years and a fine of $2000 but as yet no one has ever been been punished.
The effects on the environment from these brick kilns are considerable. The top soil is removed during the production of bricks and it takes between 25 and 30 years for the fertility to return anywhere near its earlier condition. The period though is probably far longer as the process produces vast quantities of toxic waste in the form of carbon monoxide and sulphur oxide that also affects near by farmland.
The Brick kilns burn low-grade coal and some are known to burn tyres, as well as this, each kiln burns close to 350 tonnes of wood a year. With so many kilns, the industry is having a devastating effect on the forests. Bangladesh has barely a tenth of its area covered with trees and is loosing 2.56 million hectares of forest a year. It is thought, that there will be almost no forests left in 30 years.
The health risks at the brick kilns are huge. People living within 5km and exposed to the pollution, suffer from liver and stomach troubles. It is also reported that many of the women suffer damage to their reproductive health and all suffer terrible respiratory problems.
In a country so over populated and ever expanding; land and its use is one of the most contentious issues. Despite dreadful poverty, the government here still gives priority to the production of bricks, over the production of basic food. The people who work within this industry consider themselves lucky to have such a job but for less than a dollar a day they will still spend all of their lives struggling to house, feed and cloth themselves not to mention health issues that constantly threaten their lives.
Photography and writing by ©Thomas W. Morley