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Cleaner Bricks for Better Air Quality in Dhaka

Maria Sarraf's picture

Dhaka. Chittagong. Khulna. Just a handful of cities where construction is booming. In Bangladesh, the construction sector is driven by a single fuel: bricks. But making bricks is not neat. It is messy and backbreaking. In Bangladesh, most bricks are manually made from mud, and then burnt in kilns. Workers have to use hammers to break up tons of coal every day. Then they carry the coal on their shoulders to the ovens used to fire bricks. There are more than 4,500 traditional kilns in Bangladesh that operate this way.

The country’s capital, Dhaka, is surrounded by more than 1,200 kilns. Most kilns operate only 6 months during the year (between November and April). Because more than 90% are located in low-lying areas which experience flooding during the rainy season. During the 6 months of operation, Dhaka becomes one of the most polluted cities in the world. Every day, the chimneys blow black smoke that clouds the city’s sky. The smoke is dense and contains fine particulates, which are very damaging to health. They cause no less than 20 percent of the premature deaths related to urban air pollution in Dhaka. 

How long can the country afford to make bricks in this way? The current status is by no means sustainable. To make 100,000 bricks, one needs to burn 20 tons of coal, which has high sulfur content. China, the world’s leading brick producer, uses only 6 tons of coal to make the same amount of bricks. China’s experience suggests that adopting cleaner and more energy-efficient technologies is key to success.

But polluting technologies are relatively profitable for entrepreneurs. Would cleaner technologies make both the entrepreneur and society better off? To find the answer, a recent bank study estimated the benefits from several technologies. Polluting technologies generate about TK100 per thousand bricks for the entrepreneur. When the costs of air pollution and CO2 emissions are factored in, they actually become detrimental for society with negative net returns. By contrast, adopting cleaner technologies is a win-win solution: for society, it reduces the impact of air pollution and CO2 emissions, generating a net benefit of TK72 per thousand bricks; for the entrepreneurs, it increases the profits to TK115 per thousand bricks.

Better economic benefits from cleaner technologies is good news, but isn’t enough by itself. Most brick entrepreneurs in Bangladesh can neither afford cleaner kilns, nor get a loan to buy them. Recognizing the brick sector as a formal industry and encouraging diversification to energy-efficient products (hollow, perforated bricks) are among the first steps towards a more efficient brick sector and cleaner air in Dhaka city.

For more information, check out the Feature Story & the Full Report (pdf)


Submitted by Amina Semlali on
Thank you for a very interesting and eye opening blog. I read it with great interest. Tragic to learn that no less than 20% of premature deaths in Dhaka are caused by the pollution. You mention that recognizing the brick sector as a formal industry and encouraging diversification to energy-efficient products is the way to go - but how can that be achieved concretely? What should be the first, second and third step be towards formalization and diversification? How did China go about in adopting cleaner technologies? Curious to learn more, and thanks again for highlighting this issue.

Submitted by Jie Li on
Beyond Bangladesh Just want to add, as a team member, that Bangladesh is not alone in SAR in terms of the situation of the above described brick sector in the blog. Other countries in SAR such as India, Nepal, and Pakistan etc. are all using similar if not more backward technologies. Also wonder if similar Bank intervention may benefit some African countries, too.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Article tres interessant on souhaite que beaucoup de pays vont suivre. des idees ingenieuses pour un grand resultat.

Submitted by leyla on
very interesting. making a difference and paving the way to a better future one brick at a time!

Submitted by Anonymous on
An original article, shedding light not only on how socially profitable are cleaner technologies, but providing real estimates on their benefits and costs. It is definitely a significant step forward towards technology diversification!

Submitted by Nadia Sharmin on
It is an Interesting and eye opening article indeed. Air pollution is a big concern of Dhaka city with the rapid urbanization. Bangladesh Media is also working relentlessly to build awareness about air pollution among the people of every sector. Here is the link of a recent article published in one of the widely published newspapers of Bangladesh.

Submitted by M. khaliquzzaman on
Government in Bangladesh (GOB) has be trying get a grip on the problem with limited success. Some years back 120ft chimneys were made mandatory. This mitigated the local pollution a bit but did not reduce overall pollution or increase energy efficiency. Now, GOB has issued a notification banning all fixed chimney kilns(FCKs) by the end of 2012 which is unlikely to succeed because of seemingly unsurmountable barriers to implementation. The biggest barrier is the unwillingness of a large section of Brick kiln owners to move to newer technologies because of lack of awareness and also to perceived lack of financial gains for additional investments. Most of the current kiln owners do not have financial capatity to move to high capacity newer kilns that need about ten times or so more investment and land above flood level. To give credit to kiln owners, some of the more enlightened owners on their own have tried to move to Zigzag kilns which are some what less polluting and a bit more energy efficient. However, the performance of these kilns are highly variable in the absence proper technical support in implementation.So, sound technical support in terms of design,iplementation and operation are needed to make such changes successful. Bank's CASE project is in the process of providing such technical support. Financial suuport in the form of low cost loans may accelerate the process of tranformation. One piece of good news ia that some large investors are coming to the brick sector for newer and cleaner technology kilns. More than a dozen Hybrid Hoffman Kilns (HHKs) and a few tunnel kilns are in operation now which are much less polluting and more energy efficient. Bank has made ERPAs(Emission Reduction Purchase Agreement)for two bundles of HHKs. So, Carbon Finance has already been introduced in the Bangladesh Brick sector. Such investments also need encouragement through both regulatory and financial support. Thus, retrofit (i.e., Zigzag) for existing kilns and investments in newer and cleaner high capacity kilns (HHK, Tunnel etc)are probably the way forward for Cleaner and Greener Brick Sector in Bangladesh.The process of change can be accelerated through regulatory and financial support.

Submitted by Raluca on
This is a great article that illuminates on the strong impact that air pollution from brick sector can have on health, and most importantly, how to deal with the problem'

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