Environmental pollution causes 272,000 deaths a year in Bangladesh: WB

The World Bank unveils its report titled 'The Bangladesh Country Environmental Analysis (CEA)' at a programme in Dhaka on 28 March.Prothom Alo

Air pollution, unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lead exposure cause over 272,000 premature deaths and 5.2 billion days of illness annually, says a World Bank report. 

The report – The Bangladesh Country Environmental Analysis (CEA) – also noted that these environmental issues cost the equivalent of 17.6 per cent of Bangladesh's GDP in 2019. 

Household and outdoor air pollution have the most detrimental effect on health, leading to nearly 55 per cent of premature deaths, which alone cost 8.32 per cent of GDP in 2019.

Air pollution, unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lead exposure cause over 272,000 premature deaths and 5.2 billion days of illness annually, says a World Bank report. 

According to the report, Bangladesh is experiencing alarming levels of pollution and environmental health risks that disproportionately harm the most vulnerable people – the poor, children under 5, the elderly, and women. 

The report was unveiled at an event at a hotel in Dhaka on Thursday, with environment and climate change minister Saber Hossain Chowdhury present as the chief guest.

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 The minister neither agreed with the report completely nor rejected it outright. He said, “We never say that there is no problem. We admit, of course, there are different issues regarding the environment, but we need to assess it ourselves if the extent of damage is so high.”

While unveiling the World Bank report, the minister expressed dismay, saying that he feels no joy in unveiling the report as it presents an issue that deserves serious attention. It is no doubt a significant report. 

Citing the constitution, the minister said, “As per constitution, we are committed to ensuring sound and healthy life to the people. But we have some issues, including finance and efficiency. Both finance and efficiency are necessary to address the environmental problems.” 

Regarding the cross-border flow of air, he said, “The polluted air of Punjab in India flows to Punjab in Pakistan. Similarly, the polluted air flows from one country to another and there is nothing to blame anyone for this.” 

 Abdoulaye Seck, country director of World Bank for Bhutan and Bangladesh, said, “For Bangladesh, addressing environmental risks is both a development and an economic priority. We have seen around the world that when economic growth comes at the cost of the environment, it cannot sustain. But it is possible to grow cleaner and greener without growing slower.” 

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“To sustain its strong growth path and improve the livability of cities and the countryside, Bangladesh simply cannot afford to ignore the environment. Preventing environmental degradation and ensuring climate resilience is critical to stay on a strong growth path and for achieving the country’s vision of becoming an upper-middle-income country,” he added. 

According to the World Bank report, environmental pollution is taking a heavy toll on children. Lead poisoning is causing irreversible damage to children’s brain development, resulting in an estimated annual loss of nearly 20 million IQ points.

Household emissions from cooking with solid fuels is a major source of air pollution and affects women and children. Major rivers in Bangladesh have experienced a severe decline in water quality due to industrial discharge and unmanaged waste, including plastics and untreated sewage, among other sources.

Timely and urgent interventions for air pollution control; improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); and control of lead exposure could prevent over 133,000 premature deaths per year. Investments in cleaner power generation, clean cooking fuels, and stricter controls on industrial emissions can help reduce air pollution.

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“With a timely and right set of policies and actions, Bangladesh can reverse its environment degradation trend,” said Ana Luisa Gomes Lima, World Bank senior environmental specialist and co-author of the report. 

“Strengthening and enforcing environmental regulations, coupled with investments and other incentives for clean cooking, scaling up green financing, setting up efficient carbon markets, and raising awareness, can help reduce pollution and achieve green growth in Bangladesh,” Ana added. 

The report identified environmental priorities, assesses interventions, and includes recommendations to strengthen governance and institutional capacity for environmental management. 

Bangladesh can protect its environment by setting evidence-based priorities, diversifying and strengthening environmental policy instruments, strengthening institutional capacity, and building an enabling environment for green financing, it added.