The United Nations (UN) General Assembly's Second Committee passed a resolution declaring September 7 as the "International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies" during its 74th session. The theme for the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies'22 is "The Air We Share." It emphasises the need for communal accountability and collective action by concentrating on the trans-boundary aspect of air pollution. The problem of air pollution is global and widespread. Air pollution is the largest contributor to the burden of disease from the environment and is one of the leading unavoidable causes of death and disease globally. Ninety-nine per cent of the world's population is now breathing polluted air, warns WHO. Seven million people die each year due to air pollution, with 90 per cent of them in low and middle-income countries (WHO, the Lancet Planetary Health).
Additionally, it is closely tied to other global crises, including economic growth, biodiversity loss, social and gender parity, climate change, and other forms of pollution. During the past three decades, Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, has experienced a dramatic shift in exposure to environmental health risks due to pollution. Poor air quality was the main contributor to such deaths, while water and lead pollution and occupational hazards are the other causes. Nearly 1.75 lakh people died due to air pollution alone. For living, we need fresh air, but in recent times air pollution has been increasing all over the world, especially in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is in the top position in the Air Quality Report of 2019 and 2020 in terms of air pollution, whereas Dhaka is in the second position among the world's capital cities.
Dhaka's primary sources of air pollution include unplanned and uncontrolled road digging and construction work, brick kilns and industrial plants, vehicle exhaust fumes, indoor air pollutants from household and cooking stoves, and air pollution from open burning. The Department of Environment says brick kilns are responsible for 58 per cent of Dhaka's air pollution in Dhaka. Dhaka also suffers from air pollution from several industrial areas, including Tejgaon, Tongi, Keraniganj. A significant source of air pollution is uncontrolled road digging and uncoordinated and unplanned construction work. Air pollution occurs in Dhaka due to BRT, MRT and various other public and private construction projects. Throughout the year, the roads of Dhaka have been suffering from digging by multiple authorities for a long time.
On the other hand, the use of construction materials also causes air pollution. Unfit, obsolete, old, dilapidated vehicles and traffic jams are some of the major sources of air pollution. This is followed by indoor air pollution. The use of wood or coal stoves in slum areas, in particular, has led to high levels of air pollution. Air Pollution is causing damage to people, animals, and even our buildings and other installations. It is also accelerating climate change. According to the US-based research institute Health Effects Institute, 122,400 people die annually in Bangladesh due to air pollution. According to the World Bank's 2017 report, 46,000 people die annually in Bangladesh due to air pollution. According to the report, 10,000 people died due to air pollution in Dhaka alone. According to a UNICEF study, 300 million children live in areas surrounded by polluted air, of which 22 million are in South Asia. Six lakh children under the age of 5 die every year due to air pollution.
The research institute Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Study (CAPS), from January 6 to April 6, 2021, considering seven types of land use in 64 districts, has observed the Particulate Matter (PM2.5) concentration of 3163 places. The study showed that in 2021, the average PM2.5in 64 districts of Bangladesh was 102.41 µg/m3, which is 1.57 times more than the daily Bangladesh standard (65 µg/m3). According to the observations, the highest pollution out of the 64 districts was observed in Gazipur district, which was 263.51 µg/m3. After Gazipur, the neighbouring district of Dhaka (2nd) and Narayanganj (3rd), with 252.93 and 222.45 µg/m3, respectively. The concentration of PM2.5 of the mentioned most polluted three cities is 4-5 times higher than the standard value. Only 10 (15.62 per cent) districts had good air quality (below 65 µg/m3),36(56.25per cent) districts had moderate (66-120 µg/m3) levels of air pollution and 18 (28.13per cent) districts had high (above 121 µg/m3) levels of air pollution. According to research, the average concentration of PM2.5 in the eight divisional districts was 115.07 µg/m3, which is about 1.77 times more than the standard value. Moderate air pollution increased by 7 per cent in 2021 from 5 years (2016 to 2020). In January 2022, the average Air Quality Index (AQI) is at 222.13, which is very unhealthy. Analysing the data , it can be seen that the people of Dhaka did not get a chance to enjoy good air even for a single day. The air quality was mostly "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy", and on one day, it crossed the extreme level in January, 2022. This study also found that in the last six years, the people of Dhaka received only 2 per cent of total days (38 days) of good air. However, 26 per cent days (510 days) received moderate air, 29 per cent (577 days) received sensitive air (air is harmful for respiratory people, children and pregnant women), 22 per cent (443 days) received unhealthy air, 19 per cent days (385 days) received very unhealthy air and 2 per cent days (37 days) received extremely unhealthy or hazardous air.
Although the government approved CNG in the nineties, the conversion was long overdue. Lead-free fuel was introduced in 1999. On January 1, 2003, two Stoke three-wheelers were banned. The Vehicle Emission Standard was reformed in 2005. Regular air monitoring stations (CAMS) were established under the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project under the Department of Environment, and air quality indicators were also formulated. Currently, the government is preparing Air Pollution Control Rule instead of Clean Air Act 2019. On November 15, 2019, the High Court issued a directive directing the two cities (north-south) corporations to sprinkle water on different roads of the capital twice a day and to cordon off the construction sites. Again, February 15, 2022, the High Court directed the authorities concerned with the government to identify and make a list of the activities which are mainly responsible for air pollution across the country. The High Court also asked the authorities concerned to prepare a time-bound mitigation plan to install the Continuous Air Monitoring Station (CAMS) in appropriate places. It also asks for introducing a system to save people from exposure to unhealthy air. Developing an action plan to switch to the alternative of burnt bricks and submitting a report to the HC within four months are also ordered.
To control air pollution, everyone must first work together in an inclusive, sustainable, scientific, integrated and participatory manner. We need to increase our awareness regarding air pollution. Quality masks should be used for personal protection. Children, elderly people, sick people and pregnant women need to be careful. Water should be sprinkled on the streets regularly at least twice a day in the morning and the afternoon using water sprinklers. The government can also request the city corporations to request the authorities of each building to spray water on the street in front of their buildings every two to three hours. For this purpose, they can reuse the water generated from air conditioners. More than 3 lakh ACs are used in Dhaka city. An AC with a capacity of 1 ton produces at least three litres of water every two to three hours as a by-product. The construction site should be fenced. Construction materials should be covered during transportation. Vehicles without fitness should be controlled. The leaves of the trees should be cleaned with water every few days. Air pollution forecasting should be introduced. Suction trucks can be used to collect dust on the road. Development activities need to be coordinated through the introduction of city governance. The development activities of the service organisations need to be completed in a short time. Advanced technology has to be used in brick kilns. As an alternative to burnt bricks, the use of blocks should be gradually increased. The development of waste management requires the introduction of advanced technology, "incinerators," so that energy can be generated from waste. Water reservoirs need to be preserved in Dhaka. Lots of trees should be planted. People can be encouraged to do roof gardening. The annual budget allocation of the Ministry of Environment needs to be increased to create environmental protection and awareness. Above all, the intensity of air pollution in the country, including Dhaka, can be controlled by arranging more information-based programmes on air pollution in various media to create awareness.
If air pollution is prevented, we can leave a liveable city for the coming generation. This will increase the average life expectancy by more than a year. So, let us hope that Dhaka will be in the top ten cities on the list of livable cities in the world.
Professor Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, Dean, Science Faculty, Chairman, Department of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh.