Dhaka sees rise in air pollution and related diseases in February

People cross the street as dust covers the Strand Road in the Sadarghat area of Chattogram city.Sourav Das

About 500 patients visit the outdoor department of the 250-bed TB Hospital in the capital’s Shyamoly daily. Deputy director physician Ayesha Akhter said the average number of patients receiving treatment daily was over 250 and the number started rising in February.

There are currently 150 beds at this hospital and no bed is left empty now.

Ayesha Akhter said diseases related to sneezing and coughing increased when winter ended and that is normal during season change but patients with chronic bronchitis are on the rise, and that is apparently related to air pollution.

The hospital’s outdoor department registered about 8,000 patients in January, but the figures exceeded 7,000 in the first half of February.

Physician Ayesha Akhter thinks the rise in patients is related to the rise in air pollution in Dhaka.

The Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS) of private Stamford University Bangladesh monitors the state of air pollution in various places of the country including Dhaka. According to this research organisation, air pollution in Dhaka shows no sign of abating, and Dhaka’s average level of air pollution increased this February compared to the previous seven years.

Two men pull a van amid dust on the MOhamamdpur Beribad area in Dhaka on 3 March 2024.
Ashraful Alam

CAPS analysed the data on the Air Quality Index (AQI) between 2017 and 2024 collected by the US embassy in Dhaka. CPAS chairman professor Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder led the research.

CPAS found the average score of AQI for the month of February between 2017 and 2023 was 221 while the average AQI score increased by 2.17 points this February, and the AQI score also rose to 225.4 during this period from 225.2 points in February 2023.

Professor Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder told Prothom Alo, “We have witnessed that the air quality of Dhaka is worsening every day. No effective initiative is visible to control the local sources of air pollution, which is why health experts say pollution-related diseases are on the rise.”

There are six categories in the Air Quality Index. The categories are determined in accordance with the score. The main source of pollution in Dhaka's air is particulate matter (PM 2.5). The score is determined based on the presence of particulate matter.

According to the IQA indicator, the quality of air is considered good if the score of a city is 50 or less. Scores between 51 and 100 are acceptable, 151-200 unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy and 301+ is 'disastrous' or 'risky'.

Road renovation results in the dust on a road in Motijheel in Dhaka.
Suvra Kanti Das

Data of Department of Environment

Along with the CAPS, the Department of Environment (DoE) also found a worse state of pollution this February.

The DoE releases a daily update on air pollution of the capital, considering the presence of PM in the air only, and air quality, according to the DoE, was very unhealthy in 16 out of 29 days in February.

DoE deputy director (air quality management) Mohammad Abdul Motaleb admitted rising Dhaka’s air pollution. He, however, thinks cross-border polluted air, ongoing construction in tow Dhaka city corporation and dust in city streets are the main reasons for air pollution.

The World Bank released the ‘Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia’ report in March 2023. The report said air pollution travels long distances, crossing municipal, state, and national boundaries, depending on wind, climatology, and cloud chemistry. At any given location, PM2.5 in ambient air originates from several upwind sources extending over several hundred kilometres. This is especially true on and around the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

People try to save themselves from dust in Doyagonj, Dhaka on 3 March 2024.
Sazid Hossain

For example, nearly 25 per cent of the fine particulate matter to which residents of the city of Patna, India, are exposed has its origin in a neighbouring state. In many cities—such as Dhaka, Bangladesh; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Colombo, Sri Lanka—only one-third of the air pollution originates within the city, according to the report.

The multilateral talks on cross-border air pollution were held in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal in 2022. Delegation of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan also took part in it, but the talks progressed no further.

Experts think both cross-border winds and local sources contribute to air pollution in Dhaka.

Abdus Salam, a professor of chemistry at Dhaka University, has long been working on air pollution. He thinks local organisations including the DoE have no effective measures to control the local sources of pollution including smoke from factories, pollution from vehicles and dust from construction.

He told Prothom Alo winds beyond the border are being termed as the main source instead of taking measures to control local sources, and that is nothing but to avoid responsibility.