Dhaka's air severely polluted 317 days a year: Study

A rickshaw passenger covers his mouth and nose as dust fills the air above the dilapidated road. Photo taken recently at AminbazarAshraful Alam

The air quality of the capital city Dhaka most of the year is 'unhealthy'. At times it reaches 'hazardous' levels. In winter, the level of air pollution is the worst. Other than 48 days a year, Dhaka's air in the remaining 317 days is below the World Health Organisation's clean air standards. A study has revealed that Dhaka's air in winter is 16 times more polluted than during other times of the year.

The findings of the study were presented on Sunday at a workshop held at Dhaka Reporters Unity auditorium of the capital. The workshop was organised by the non-government organisation Waterkeepers Bangladesh. The study was carried out as part of a monitoring programme concerning Dhaka city's water, air and noise pollution.

The study used noise and air quality samples in 10 selected areas of Dhaka city from April to December 2021. The study team also collected and test water samples from four dying, river transport and tannery pollution areas of Buriganga and Dhaleswari rivers. The opinions of the general people along the river banks were recorded and the concerned policies, laws and High Court directives were reviewed.

The preliminary results of the study were highlighted at the workshop. It was said that other than 48 days, the quality of Dhaka's air was below the WHO clean air standards. The pollution mainly was caused by dust from infrastructure construction, fumes emitted from unfit vehicles, brick kilns and industrial factories.

The study said that for half of the year, Shahbagh has the most polluted air in Dhaka. During monsoons, the most polluted air is in Mirpur. In the time following the rainy season, Tejgaon's air is the most polluted. Neglect of the government agencies is the most responsible for failing to prevent pollution. In fact, in many instances it is the government agencies that are responsible for polluting the air.

Former chairman of the National River Conservation Commission, Muzibur Rahman Howlader, was chief guest at the workshop chaired and moderated by Waterkeepers Bangladesh coordinator Sharif Jamil. Special guests at the event were Jahangirnagar University's geography and environment department chairman Mohammad Nazrul Islam.

Chairman of Stamford University's environmental science department Professor Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder and professor of Jahangirnagar University's department of geography and environment, Md Nurul Islam, presented the findings of the study at the workshop. Environment and climate expert of the National River Conservation Commission, Munir Hossain Chowdhury, presented expert views on the study paper presented at the workshop.

Chief guest Muzibur Rahman Howlader said the findings presented in the study do not reflect the state of all rivers in the country. But it can be considered as a representation of Dhaka's rivers. He said that those who carried out the study deserved due credit. However, he added, the findings did not mention that the severity of river pollution had increased due to encroachment. He recommended that data be collected concerning river encroachment.

Going home from school in a haze of dust
File Photo

Muzibur Rahman went on to say there are laws in the country regarding rivers, water and environment, but these were not implemented. There was no one to implement these laws. And even if there were people to implement the laws, they did not have the courage to do so. Accountability needed to be ensured in every area and only then can changes be brought about in the environment.

Speaking as special guest, Muhammad Nazrul Islam said that the four rivers surrounding Dhaka were dead due to pollution and encroachment even though the court had declared rivers to be living entities. If pollution was to be decreased in the rivers, compensation would have to be extracted from the polluters. A policy must be put in place to free the rivers of pollution.

Participants speaking during the open floor session of the workshop expressed concern about air, noise and river pollution and stressed the need for implementing the law.