Worsening problem of urban air pollution

Dhaka,  Wed,  20 September 2017
Published : 27 Nov 2016, 21:13:59

Worsening problem of urban air pollution

The latest official statistics give the capital city's dwellers enough reasons to be gravely concerned about its alarming state of air pollution. The air of Dhaka metropolis was found, according to the data released by the Department of Environment (DoE), to be 'extremely unhealthy'. This poses a severe health threat to the city-dwellers. The Air Quality Index (AQI), as figured out by the DoE and reported in this paper last Saturday, was 309 in the capital's air on November 22 against the moderate AQI range of 51-100. This shows that the air the city-dwellers are currently breathing in is extremely unhealthy. Experts have attributed it to unchecked discharge of dust from construction sites, release of pollutants from vehicles on roads and brick kilns on the city's outskirts.

Not long ago, Bangladesh was ranked fourth among 91 countries with worst urban air quality in the air pollution monitoring report of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Moreover, three Bangladeshi cities were put among the top 25 cities having the poorest level of air quality. In its city-wise assessment, Narayanganj was marked as the 17th city with worst air quality whereas Gazipur and Dhaka were ranked 21st and 23rd respectively. Among the gaseous pollutants which the DoE measured are carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and ozone (O3), methane and non-methane pollutants. All these floating micro particles in the air, called particulate matters (PM), harm people more than any other pollutants. Most damaging of the particles are those with a diameter of 10 microns or smaller as they can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs. Someone with chronic exposure to such particles stands the risks of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and even cancer in the lung and the urinary tract or bladder, according to the WHO.

In this context, what is all the more distressing is the virtual inaction of the DoE. Despite having the mechanism to assess air pollution, the organisation has demonstrated so far only its utter laxity; it has not been able to enforce even a modicum of a host of laws that were enacted by the government to check or reduce the incidence of air pollution. The Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997 were passed by parliament. Under the Rules of 1997, Ambient Air Quality Standards, Vehicular Exhaust Emission Standards, River Transport (Mechanised) Emission Standards and Gaseous Emission for Industries or Projects Standards have been set. The Environmental Conservation Act, 1995 also contains laws relating to protection of environmental health and control of pollution. The Supreme Court in a number of cases held that the 'right to life', enshrined as a fundamental right in the Constitution, includes the right to a healthy environment.

Unfortunately, all attempts to prohibit plying of old vehicles emitting poisonous gases on city roads or to modernise brick kilns failed either for political reasons or in the face of resistance by transport owners and their employees or brick-field owners. If the neighbouring countries can endeavour to help improve air quality of their cities by banning use of old vehicles and also relocating their polluting industries, there is no good reason why the authorities in Bangladesh cannot do the same. Relatively better governance has helped curb air pollution in some of the cities in those countries. The problem here also should be high on the agenda of the government as well as political parties. The issue does certainly deserve due priority. It has to be fixed. The sooner it is done the better.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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