City air gets worst on earth

Public health in peril

Ershad Kamol | Published: 00:00, Nov 26,2019 | Updated: 00:08, Nov 26,2019


Dust engulfs the approach road to the Buriganga Bridge at Postogola in Dhaka as the years-long road construction work continues. The photo was taken on Monday. — Sony Ramany

The capital’s air quality was ranked the most polluted in the world on several times in the past few days and appeared to be a great concern for public health, environment minister Md Shahab Uddin said on Monday.

At an inter-ministerial meeting held at his office, the minister said that Dhaka’s air quality reached an extremely unhealthy level on the air quality index and the level of air pollution had been rising.

He requested the agencies concerned for taking special measures to control the pollution in the greater interest of public health.

Polluted air is extremely harmful for the public as it might cause chronic diseases of skin, lung, kidney, stomach and other complications besides failure of organs, Jatiya Shasthya Adhikar Andolan president Dr Rashid-e-Mahbub told New Age.

Environmentalists said that the situation would not improve unless the government strictly controls the causes of air pollution through proper monitoring.

The government’s Clean Air and Sustainable Environment Project data of the past seven days shows that the capital’s air quality index score on several times crossed 350.

A score of 300 or more on the AQI is considered as extremely unhealthy by the World Health Organisation.

The AQI score in the capital on November 19 was 369 rendering it the most polluted city in the world, followed by the Pakistani city of Lahore and the Indian capital New Delhi, according to the US Consulate Air Pollution Index.

Shahab Uddin at the inter-ministerial meeting identified ongoing construction works across the capital for the metro-rail, elevated express way, drainage and sewage development as a major cause of its worsening air quality.

Carbon emanated from the brickfields around the capital, burning of solid wastes by Dhaka’s two city corporations as well as by the capital dwellers, and hundreds of cars plying on its roads are other major causes, the minister said.

According to the minister, the number of brickfields across the country in 2009 was 4,995 while it rose to 7,902 in 2018.

Currently, the number of vehicles plying on the capital’s roads is 6,19,654 but 10 years ago it was 3,69,000, he said, adding that many of these vehicles were unfit and emanated vast quantities of carbon.

Considering the health risks of the city dwellers,  Shahab Uddin at the meeting requested all the relevant agencies for taking special measures to control the causes of the air pollution.

He ordered the department of environment to immediately shut down the non-compliant brickfields.

He also urged the environment department, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and the police to work together for removing the black smoke-emitting unfit vehicles from the roads.

The minister asked the representatives of the metro rail and the

elevated express way projects as well as Dhaka’s two city corporations and the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha to cover the materials near the construction sites.

The agencies were asked to stop the movement of vehicles carrying uncovered construction materials on the roads.

The minister further requested the agencies concerned to spray water

twice a day on the capital’s roads.

The two city corporations of Dhaka were requested to purchase vehicles with automatic road-cleaning systems and facilities for spraying water from the top.

He also requested the two city corporations not to burn solid wastes.

The roads around the Secretariat would be announced a sound pollution-free zone from December 17, he said.

‘The representatives of the agencies concerned assured us that measures would be taken immediately following the instructions,’ Shahab Uddin told New Age.

Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association executive director Syeda Rizwana Hasan, however, observed that the meeting decisions would have no result unless a special coordination committee was formed to monitor the activities of the agencies under different ministries.

‘In the draft of the Clean Air Act 2019, we proposed to incorporate these provisions. But the environment ministry has omitted these points from the draft arguing that those would be covered under the rules,’ she said.

She also questioned the government’s commitment to controlling the air pollution.

Shahab Uddin, however, said that the government would take the issue very seriously and would hold regular meetings with the agencies concerned for the implementation of the instructions.

‘The existing laws and rules would be enforced in the greater interest of the people and environment,’ he said.

The Clean Air Act 2019 with provisions for harsher punishments would be enacted soon, Shahab Uddin said.

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