An alarming threat left largely unattended

Published at 12:00am on October 23, 2020

AIR pollution reportedly killed 476,000 newborns across the world in 2019, as the State of Global Air 2020 said on Wednesday. The report — produced by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project, also points out that South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are at a high risk of neonatal deaths because of air pollution. India, with 116,000 neonatal deaths, tops the list while 236,000 neonatal deaths were reported in sub-Saharan African countries. Bangladesh is also among the countries where neonatal deaths attributable to air pollution are very high, with a fifth of neonatal deaths caused by air pollution. The report at hand has also stressed connection between mothers’ exposures during pregnancy to air pollution and the increased risk of their infants being born too small, low birth weight or preterm birth. The report also shows that nearly two-thirds of the neonatal deaths were caused by noxious fumes from cooking fuels, which suggests a worrying picture for countries such as Bangladesh where access to clean cooking is low. About 135 million, or 81 per cent, of Bangladesh’s population do not have access to clean cooking, a global status report published in June says.

Air pollution was also responsible for premature death of 6.7 million people across the world and was the fourth leading risk factor for early death in 2019, surpassed only by high blood pressure, tobacco use and poor diet, as the State of Global Air 2020 says. In the South Asian region, more than 2.1 million people died because of air pollution where Bangladesh stands third with 173,500 deaths. Bangladesh is the ninth among the top 10 countries with the highest level of outdoor ambient particulate matter which accounted for 74,000 deaths in Bangladesh in 2019. Household air pollution from solid fuel accounted for 94,800 deaths while the rest of the deaths are due to ozone exposure. Bangladesh is the fourth among the top 10 countries with the highest ozone exposure and the eleventh among top 17 countries for household air pollution exposure. All this portrays a worrying air pollution situation. What is further worrying is that successive governments appear to have played down the danger of air pollution and have let the air quality, especially in cities, go down to a dangerous levels. Dhaka, for example, has been among the five worst cities on Air Quality Index for some time now. Unplanned development projects, brick kilns, unfit vehicles, improper drainage and poor management of sludge have contributed to such a situation.

The government must, therefore, take effective air quality enhancement action plans to contain air pollution. At the same time, sources of air pollution and projects and people responsible must be taken care of. The government must also promote and facilitate all households to go for clean cooking by way of policy interventions to ensure and facilitate renewable energy use.