While the record air pollution in neighbouring India’s Delhi this past weekend has made alarms go off, Bangladesh too has been consistent in its air pollution over the years. As a country focused on construction and industrialization with one of the most dense populations, air pollution has been a cause for concern.
Yet, lacklustre efforts in the form of slapping fines and hosting seminars is all there is to mitigate air pollution as there are no active projects to improve air quality.
According to the Department of Environment (DoE), the average Air Quality Index (AQI) over 24 hours on November 5 in Dhaka stood at 264, at 180 in Savar, and at 268 in Narayanganj.
According to the AQI, a score between 0-50 is good, 51-100 is moderate, 101-150 is cautionary , 151-200 is unhealthy, and 201-300 is very unhealthy, 300-500 is extremely unhealthy. The air quality in Savar is unhealthy while Dhaka and Narayanganj has very unhealthy air.
The air quality deteriorates in the winter, which is just around the corner. If air quality further declines, the situation may resemble Delhi, which was shrouded by a heavy layer of smog. Dhaka has frequently topped the index of the world’s cities with the worst air quality. In AirVisual’s real-time air quality index, Dhaka scored 361 on February 19. The air was classified “hazardous.”
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India, the 24-hour average AQI in Delhi stood at 494 on Sunday afternoon.
Ziaul Haque, director (Air Quality Management) of DoE, said: “We will try to keep AQI within 350 during winter. Delhi’s air was worse because of the tendency of the farmers from adjoining areas to burn their crop residue. As per the Annual Performance Agreement 2019-2020 with the Prime Minister’s Office, we will arrange over 100 seminars, meetings and workshops countrywide with stakeholders to raise awareness.
“It would have been better if we had any projects. However, we are strictly enforcing the law by fining polluters like brick kilns, construction projects and other industries.”
DoE officials said the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (Case) project was the sole project dedicated to clean air, but it has neither been renewed nor followed up with another project.
The CASE project, which commenced in October 2009 and ended in June this year, was jointly implemented by the Department of Environment, the Dhaka city authorities, and Dhaka Transport Coordination Board. Its focus was to strengthen the government agency’s capacity to effectively address air pollution issues. The project focused on two components: a. Environment, which included addressing emissions from brick kilns; and b. Transport, which included traffic management and engineering issues to regulate emissions.
Air pollution severely affects human health and is a rising cause of death. At least 123,000 people died in Bangladesh in 2017 due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to a global study titled “State of Global Air 2019,” released on April 3 this year by two US-based institutes—the Health Effects Institute (HEI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Among the top 10 diseases which cause death in Bangladesh, five are related to air pollution – lung cancer 13%, lower respiratory tract infections 7%, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 7%, ischemic heart disease 6%, and stroke 5%.
Legal and policy initiatives
The Brick Production and Brick Kiln Building (Control) Act, 2013 was amended in 2019. The DoE says 71.64% brick kiln use technology that reduce emissions. There are at least 7,933 brick kilns in the country, with over 1,000 around Dhaka. The Clean Air Act, presented back in February, has yet to be passed in parliament.
DoE made a GIS database to monitor all the brick kilns in the country. The DoE will also make it mandatory to set up an Air Treatment Plant for large industrial units. So far, 16 air quality observation stations have been set up nationwide, with only 11 functioning.
What experts said
Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, said: “The authorities have no interest in combating air pollution. They are doing nothing effective.
“We must develop brick kilns to be more eco-friendly, cover construction sites to reduce dust from spreading and introduce mass transportation instead of private vehicles. If the government wants to reduce air pollution, it must succeed quickly,” he added.
Dr Ahmed Kamruzzaman Majumder, chairman of the Department of Environmental Science at Stamford University, said: “The enforcement (of laws) for environmental degradation in Bangladesh is the lowest globally due to lack of awareness and public support. Offenders will definitely continue pollution if there is no or weak enforcement and lack of proper monitoring system.”
Sources of air pollution
Mass industrialization, urbanization, and infrastructure construction cause air pollution to skyrocket in dry season. Industrial emissions, vehicle emissions, and waste burning are other major causes of air pollution.
Substances of 10 micrometre in size or smaller (gas and solid) are known as particulate matters PM10. These substances are severe health hazards. PM10 is emitted from brick kilns, cement, steel and ceramic factories. Each brick kiln emits 83 tons, steel re-rolling mill 17 tons, cement factory 130 tons, and ceramic factory emits 20 tons of PM10 annually.
Around 72% of national household use solid fuel, which contribute to air pollution, according to State of Global Air 2019.