10 Jan 2013 09:00
The cities of Bangladesh, one of the world's most densely populated countries, are growing fast and there's a never-ending need for cheap and available construction material. Today, bricks are the most efficient and widely used building material. Each day, new brick buildings are erected across the country. However, the millions of workers who make the bricks face harsh and uncertain conditions. All across Bangladesh, one can witness the towering brick chimneys.
There are more than 10,000 brick fields in the country, twice as many as ten years ago. Since Bangledash is rapidly urbanizing, bricks are a crucial building material. Some bricks get exported to nearby India, but the fields mainly provide for the local construction industry, which faces constant demand. The fields are staffed by hard-working Bangladeshis, many of whom come from rural backgrounds and work seasonally on the fields, which are closed during winter.
While brick-making represents an important part of Bangladesh’s industry, it remains both outdated and harmful to the workers. All the work is done manually, from digging the mud and forming the bricks to burning them in traditional kilns. Some workers live in make-shift buildings on the site, others have their houses and families nearby. The morning shift starts early, followed by a lunch break in the middle of the day. Then, they continue in the afternoon until sunset.
The workers eat together: traditional Bangladeshi fare which is rice accompanied by a spicy vegetable curry, lentils or fish. Many fields have a small pond nearby which allow the workers to rinse off the red dust generated in the brick-making process. The workers vary; young men, and some women too, work side by side with more experienced workers. Many young children work there as well.
While brick-making might provide a better income than agriculture or other jobs available in rural Bangladesh, it is unsafe and detrimental to the laborers' health. Accidents are common and workers have no protective gear. The fields affect nearby towns and villages as well, as the dust spreads across the surrounding areas, generating more health problems.
Moreover, the fields are a major source of environmental pollution. They represent the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, with several million tons emitted annually. In an effort to make the industry more sustainable, UNDP Bangladesh has launched a program to make the fields greener and more efficient. Most fields, however, have yet to take the step and replace their old kilns with new technology.