Dhaka beats Delhi in poor air quality

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Iftekhar Mahmud . Dhaka | Prothom Alo  Nov 25, 2019

A bus runs with its headlights on amid the dust along Dhaka-Khulna Highway recently. Photo: Ehsan-Ud-Daula
A bus runs with its headlights on amid the dust along Dhaka-Khulna Highway recently. Photo: Ehsan-Ud-Daula

Dhaka’s air quality was the worst for over ten hours at a stretch from morning till evening on Sunday.

Around 9:00pm on Sunday, the Indian capital of Delhi which made headlines in the international media several times at the beginning of the month, stood fourth in the index while Dhaka topped it, according to Air Visual. The Bangladesh capital was surpassed by Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar and India’s Kolkata for a few hours in the evening.

Air Visual is an US-based international air quality monitoring organisation.

Experts said that over the past 20 days, Dhaka’s air has been the worst throughout most of day for eight days. Air Visual monitored the air quality of seven areas of the city.

Among the areas, Karwan Bazar had the worst air followed by Mohammadpur and Gulshan. The air quality of Uttara, Mirpur and Norda too scored worse.

Though the air quality varies from area to area, the overall air quality of the capital is unhealthy, according to experts.

The environment department monitors the air quality of 11 cities of the country. Among these the air of Dhaka, Gazipur, and Narsingdi, Narayanganj, and Barishal, Savar, and Mymensingh, Rangpur has been unhealthy on Saturday. Chattogram and Sylhet were rather in a healthier position while Khulna and Cumilla fared poorly.

When the AQI (Air Quality Index) value is over 200, it is considered ‘very unhealthy’, according to the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency of the USA. City dwellers are asked to wear masks, shut windows and avoid cycling in such conditions. Children and elderly people are also encouraged to avoid outdoor activities.

The average score for Dhaka was 220 on Sunday 9:00pm while Karwan Bazar scored 298 which means very unhealthy.

Such air has posed as a serious health hazard for the residents of Dhaka, especially children. Risks of cancer, respiratory diseases, nerve complications, and brain development issues increase, according to physicians.

Governments of the concerned countries issued special health bulletin when the AQI score reached hazardous level in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangkok and Beijing. Their health departments, too, advise the citizens to take cautionary steps.

There is no programme at present regarding the outdoor air pollution of the city for lack of budget, said Shahnewaz Parvez, deputy programme director for the non-infectious diseases department under the Directorate General of Health Services.

Though the air pollution scenario is steadily worsening, pollution sources are on the rise too. The environment department is responsible for controlling pollution.

Though the department has strengthened drives against brick kilns across the country it has not been effective in improving the situation.

Environment activists say there are no effective measures to contain emissions. There’s no initiative either to control the dust from construction work, they say.

“It’s not possible for us to control the air pollution of Dhaka on our own. We’ve called an inter-ministry meeting on Monday. We’ll take the opinion of all the concerned organisations of the city corporation to control the pollution,” said environment secretary Abdullah Al Mohsin Chowdhury.

Brick kilns, emission from vehicles, and construction work are the top air polluters in Bangladesh, according to a study by the environment department and the World Bank in March 2019. Pollution from these three sources is steadily increasing for the last eight years.

According to a 2013 survey by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the number of brick kilns is 4,959. Another survey by the environment department in 2018 said the number is 7,902. Of these, 2,487 brick kilns were built in Dhaka alone.

The first step to fight air pollution is to control the source of the pollution, said Raquibul Amin, country representative of International Union for Conservation of Nature in Bangladesh.

The next step is to build green belts at several points of the city and to protect the water bodies as well as create the management needed for the safety of people amid the pollution, he said adding that, air pollution must be seen as a national emergency.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.