It has not been possible to control air pollution despite government pledges, orders by the High Court, various studies and the growing number of deaths caused by this pollution in the country. The rate of deaths related to air pollution has steadily increased since 2012. The matter has been made clear not only by the court, environmentalists and health experts, but also by various international organisations and studies.
Although the number of deaths has been steadily rising, the efforts taken so far have not been enough. According to the Global Air Report 2020, 173,500 people died due to air pollution related diseases last year. Earlier, the High Court expressed its disappointment and annoyance over the lack of necessary steps to curb air pollution in Dhaka.
The court summoned the director general of the environment department in April and said, "We are disappointed with the steps taken to curb air pollution. We are angry. If we want to protect our children, we have to stop this (air pollution).”
According to the World Climate Report, coronavirus infections will accelerate in countries with poor air quality. In our country in winter the air quality becomes quite bad. Air pollution starts in October and continues till February. According to experts, polluted air can reduce lung functioning capacity. We all know coronavirus affects human lungs.
Worryingly, air quality is so bad this year that Dhaka's air quality has topped the list of the world's most polluted air cities despite the monsoons. Dhaka was ranked third among the cities with the most polluted air on Wednesday evening.
However, it is not only in Dhaka, the air quality of the overall country including Chittagong is deteriorating rapidly. Rajshahi is an exception, where greenery has increased and pollution has decreased.
There is no alternative to human awareness to protect the environment and prevent pollution. We are sadly lacking in this awareness
Efforts have been made for a long time to pass a clean air act to prevent air pollution in Bangladesh, the draft of which has been finalised. The law is expected to be passed in the following or next session of the Jatiya Sangsad. The crime for air pollution will be punishable by jail or fine or both.
We have not seen any of the initiatives that should have been taken to clean the air of the country. The issue of dust control was not kept in mind during the construction of large infrastructure. Vehicle emissions could not be controlled. There is a lot of speculation about the implementation of the brick kiln law.
Although the government has planned to reduce the number of coal-fired power plants, plans to generate electricity from renewable energy have not progressed in that sense. Environment-friendly transportation system could not be built. The government has made no effort to increase open spaces as well as greenery in the city. Instead, greenery is declining, housing projects are being built around the capital by filling rivers, canals, reservoirs and farm land.
It is a matter of time before the Clean Air Act is passed and implemented. But the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is knocking on the door. The combination of this disease and air pollution has increased the risk of health risks ahead of us. The authorities must take at least some temporary measures to prevent coronavirus infection and air pollution.
The department of environment, the local administration and the police, all the concerned departments of the government including the people's representatives now have to work from their respective positions to reduce the pollution. And there is no alternative to human awareness to protect the environment and prevent pollution. We are sadly lacking in this awareness.