DEVELOPMENT planning in Bangladesh has not considered environmental cost for decades and the results have already been manifest in all its severity. The Switzerland-based air quality monitoring organisation in its annual report says that the air in Bangladesh had the highest concentration of pollutants and Dhaka was the second worst polluted city in 2019. In each cubic metre of air, the average concentration of pollutant particles is far greater than other neighbouring countries. In the past six months, the air quality worryingly remained in the ranges of ‘unhealthy’ and ‘hazardous’. On January 30, as the Air Quality Index showed, the score of Dhaka was 408, considered ‘hazardous’ or ‘severely polluted’ which poses threat to not only sensitive groups but also the entire population. While the issue of air pollution gained particular attention because of the AQI ranking, it has been an environmental and public health concern for a while now. In 2017, as a report of the State of Global Air showed, indoor and outdoor air pollution led to 1.23 lakh death in Bangladesh. All this while, the government hardly did anything to tackle the factors contributing to air pollution.
The airborne particulate matters could originate from a range of sources — engine combustion, industries, fire, coal burning, sandstorms, agriculture and chemical reactions in the atmosphere. There are at least 4.58 lakh unfit vehicles on the road, as Bangladesh Road Transport Authority statistics say, contributing to air quality deterioration. Several media reports also suggest that trees lining the city streets are the most affected by the gases emitted by vehicles, with their rate of survival dropping by 30 per cent. The large majority of the brick kilns run in breach of the Brick Making and Kiln Establishment (Control) Act 2013. Geographers have blamed the authorities for widespread practice of open air construction of concrete structure for being a major source of air pollution. Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan fears that the situation will worsen with the installation of coal-fired plants in the coastal areas. In this context, environmental experts and green activists blame the government for its ecologically-insensitive development policy that do not consider the human and environmental cost of development projects.
It is now scientifically established that cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases have direct and indirect links with air pollution. The government must, therefore, attend to the issue of air pollution. The economic burden of an impending public health emergency will, otherwise, have a lasting impact on growth. In what follows, the ministry concerned must take effective action against brick kilns set up in breach of the relevant law and expedite the enactment of the Clean Air Act 2019 in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. The health and the environment ministry together must develop a system to record the burden of disease from air pollution for a systematic monitoring of health effects.
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