This World Environment Day, discover why Islamic Relief is helping residents of one of the world’s most polluted cities to take to their rooftops.

One of the most densely populated cities on the planet, the rapid growth of Bangladesh’s capital has destroyed crucial eco-systems and caused rising temperatures.

“Dhaka also faces major pollution challenges, having earlier this year been ranked second in the US Air Quality Index of the world’s worst cities for air pollution,” adds Akmal Shareef, country director of Islamic Relief Bangladesh.

“Poor air quality can cause health effects such as breathing difficulties, and heart and respiratory diseases – and premature death.”

The rooftop gardening movement, which is gaining popularity in the city, offers local people the chance to fight back. According to experts, it can improve air quality, reduce the temperature and also provide a source of fresh food.

Professor Dr Mohammad Mahbub Islam, of Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, is passionate about the benefits of rooftop gardening.

“Massive implementation of rooftop gardening in the city will decrease the urban heat island effect and carbon dioxide, and increase the oxygen content of the atmosphere,” says Professor Dr Mohammad Mahbub Islam, of Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.

“Eco-friendly practices will also create new possibilities of food security and safety, nutrition, employment and urban planning.”

Local authorities are offering tax cuts for buildings with a garden on their roof, but without training many rooftop gardeners are struggling to make their green-fingered projects work. Most of the city’s existing rooftop gardens are thought to be unsustainable.

Turning Dhaka’s rooftops into pollution-busting gardens

Determined to develop effective rooftop gardening in the city, Islamic Relief teamed up with Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University. Together, we developed an eco-centre with a 3,000 square foot rooftop garden and a training room.

The eco-centre and rooftop garden at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.

The centre researched suitable plant species, and found the best ways to set up gardens, manage pests and nourish plants. Last year 100 local people trained to be rooftop gardeners at the centre, which also campaigns for residents to get involved and has developed a smartphone app providing technical advice.

One of those to learn about the importance of rooftop through the eco centre is Tania Sultana.

“I love gardening, that’s why I started my garden,” says the mother-of-two, who has been an avid gardener since completing her degrees in botany. “To me, it’s really beautiful, and I like to spend my time here.

“I attended a day-long workshop last year. It showed us how rooftop gardening is important, because it reduces heat, how it is helping the environment. I didn’t know before. I had started gardening for my own pleasure, but now I know that this really matters, it gives me a good feeling.”

Professor Dr Mohammad Mahbub Islam says that research conducted by the centre has shown reduced carbon dioxide levels in the garden as well as a significant increase in atmospheric oxygen and humidity. It also reduced the temperature around the garden and in the room under it, reducing the need for power-hungry air conditioning.

“There is no other eco-centre and rooftop garden in Bangladesh – we are the first one,” adds the professor. “People don’t know about the techniques for developing a sustainable and productive rooftop garden. We are showing them how.”

It is planned to extend the initiative by developing new roof gardens and eco-centres, and creating a laboratory to study rooftop gardening in more depth and find effective technologies.

Protecting our planet and its people

The eco-centre was developed through a major programme led by our Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD) with funding from the KR Foundation. Concluding last year, it worked in Asia, Africa and Europe on localised carbon reduction initiatives, faith literate climate change advocacy, global campaigns, research papers and the development of eco-centres.

“Climate change is one of our research priorities at HAD, so we were very happy to work with the KR Foundation and our field offices on this important topic”, says Dr Jennifer Philippa Eggert, Head of the Research Department at the Academy.

This World Environment Day and throughout the year, Islamic Relief is doing all we can to protect our planet and its people from catastrophic climate change. We are hungry for bold action, and campaign to reduce emissions, promote sustainable living and protect the world’s most vulnerable people.

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