I recently spent time photographing Hazaribagh, Bangladesh, documenting the livelihoods of those working and living in the toxic leather tanneries in the area, as well recording the environmental cost of the industry fuelled by heavy demand of cheap leather for European markets.
Hazaribagh was labelled the 5th most polluted location in the world in a study of the World’s worst polluted places by the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland in 2013. With increased attention the pressure to move to a new tannery site in Savar with modern treatment facilities has been great. However, for locals in Hazaribagh this potential move brings with it a sense of uncertainty as their livelihoods have been dependent on the industry for so long. Despite this, the damage of the industry wreaked upon residents and the environment are undeniable.
In 2001 a High Court ruling in Bangladesh deemed Hazaribagh a threat to the environment and recognised the hazardous working conditions of the workers and ordered its relocation to a new site. Tannery associations and the government overruled this by rejecting and extending the deadline multiple times to the point where the move to Savar is still being sidelined.
Whilst proposals to move to the new site remain under debate, the residents continue to suffer from the damaging effects of poisonous runoff water from the tanneries. Cancer rates reach alarming proportions in Hazaribagh and the part of the Buriganga that flows nearby is tainted blue, and sometimes red, from the chemical laden water.
About the author:
Adib Chowdhury was born in 1991. He is a freelance photographer interested in human rights, politics and conflict. Having recently graduated from the London School of Economics he now works in Brussels.