GREEN campaigners and civic groups have for long expressed concern about Dhaka’s air quality, but successive governments have paid little attention to the deteriorating situation. Dhaka’s air quality has, as the Air Quality Index shows, remained within the range of unhealthy and hazardous since the beginning of the year. The AQI score of Dhaka on November 19 was 369 or ‘hazardous.’ The government’s Clean Air and Sustainable Environment Project data also show that the air quality index score has crossed 350 more than once in a week. A score above 300 is considered hazardous in which everyone could experience serious health effects. The State of Global Air 2019 report reveals that indoor and outdoor air pollution led to 1.23 lakh deaths in Bangladesh in 2017 and observes that life expectancy in Bangladesh would have had the highest expected gain of nearly 1.3 years if air pollution levels had met the World Health Organisation. All this while, the government has barely done anything to tackle the factors that add to air pollution.
The environment ministry has blamed an increased number of vehicles and brick kilns for the hazardous state of air pollution, but green activists argue that it is because of the oversight of government agencies that the pollution has taken such a fatal turn. Only when the air quality of Dhaka was ranked the worst in the world, the ministry concerned at an emergency meeting on Monday issued a few directives that include an immediate closure of non-compliant brick kilns, withdrawal of unfit vehicles, sheeting in all construction sites, water sprinkling on the road twice a day and an end to solid waste burning. The directives are important but they came far too late in the day. In Bangladesh, a few of the brick kilns have been constructed keeping environmental rules and the consequences have been devastating. A five-year survey by the environment department on the quality of air in seven major cities has previously found that 50 per cent of the pollution is caused by brick kilns. Urban planners have blamed the hazardous consequence of construction works of large development projects without any protective measures. The directive to withdraw unfit vehicles and end the burning of solid waste will not be effectively implemented unless the government provides the agencies with sustainable alternatives such as end-of-life vehicle disposal and solid waste management plants.
It is scientifically established that cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases have direct and indirect links with air pollution. The government must, therefore, ensure that the implementation of the directives of the ministry concerned does not suffer because of any lack of coordination between implementing agencies. It must immediately take action against brick kilns established in breach of laws and expedite the enactment of the clean air law on consultation with all stakeholders. The health ministry along with the environment ministry must develop a system to record the burden of disease from air pollution for monitoring its health effect.
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