Bangladesh tops air pollution index: When will the policymakers move?

In the 50th year of independence, Bangladesh’s achievements in socio-economic sectors are laudable. A number of global indices prove that. But we feel apprehensive about the sustainability of those achievements when we see Bangladesh ranking at the top of a negative index. Sadly Bangladesh topped the air quality index for two consecutive years for having the most polluted air. Capital Dhaka was the second most polluted city, just as in last year.

Prothom Alo published an editorial expressing its consternation when Dhaka city was hitting the headlines as the most polluted city as per the air quality index. When the country topped the list, we saw a flurry of discussions, but the situation has not improved. Instead, Bangladesh topped the list once again making every pledge, recommendation and step futile.

Air Quality Index Report 2021 by IQAir, a Swiss company that observes global air quality, revealed the air quality in Bangladesh. The latest report calculated the air quality by considering the hazardous finer airborne particulates. IQAir prepared the list after studying air quality of nearly 6,500 cities around the globe. This also proves how much Bangladesh is actually lagging behind as a place to live. The amount of black carbon, which is one of the most significant factors of air pollution, in the Dhaka air is 10-15 micro grams per cubic metre. In the cities of developed countries, the amount is just 0.1-0.5 micro grams.

Experts say polluted air is decreasing people’s life expectancy by 1 to 3 years. A 2019 research by the US-based State of Global Air reveals hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh have been dying because of air pollution. Doesn’t the situation demand all-out and coordinated steps as the government and the state had taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic?

The report also says smoke emitting from the burning of liquid fuel and dust are the major contributing factors to air pollution in Dhaka. There is no doubt that the increasing number of private vehicles in the capital city, absence of developed mode of public transport, unplanned housing projects and mega development projects are responsible for the situation.

The brick kilns also have been working as a catalyst to the air pollution. The department of environment says it shuts down regularly the sources of pollution including the brick kilns. But the question is, how have innumerable brick kilns been operating without any permission in every nook and corner of the country? At the same time, no modern waste management system has been developed as yet in most of the cities and pourashavas in the country. When will we end these suicidal acts like burning waste?

Last year the environment ministry issued a guideline to curb air pollution but that was not implemented. The High Court ordered the environment ministry and concerned officials to inform it the government’s plan to curb air pollution. We are yet to see any step following the HC order. Experts say Bangladesh does not have any specific goal to curb air pollution.

China has been developing the sector gradually. Delhi, one of the most polluted cities, is also working with a specific goal. Such a position of Bangladesh in a global index is damaging for the country’s global image. Such a situation would discourage foreign investment as well. Our question is when would the government policymakers wake up? Will the clear air for a healthy and normal life remain unattained?