Tuesday, 5 July, 2022

Clean Air for Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature

Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder

Fifth June is celebrated as the World Environmental Day for emphasizing the importance of nature and its conservation. The day is observed all over the world to raise awareness about the critical importance of protecting Mother Nature. As always, World Environmental Day will be celebrated on 5th June this year. This year "Only One Earth" is the campaign slogan that focuses on “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”. Understanding and accepting the non-sentient reality of natural forces are necessary for living in harmony with nature. The more understanding and acceptance there is, the more harmony there will be with the nature. People who are in contact with nature feel more alive and cheerful. The need to emphasize the need for fairness to nature and other living beings is one of the most crucial parts of rearticulating human growth. We cannot develop unless we reconnect with nature and live in balance, cooperation, and harmony with it. All human beings require a sense of vigour and well-being for their survival as well as their health. People feel more alive and cheerful when they are in touch with nature. All human beings require this sense of vitality and well-being in order to live and be healthy. Due to different types of pollution our precious earth destroys day by day. According to a report 'Global Burden of Disease' published by Lancet, pollution caused over 2.15 lakh premature deaths in Bangladesh in 2019. The 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 time in all over the world air pollution is increasing specially in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is in the top position in the Air Quality Report of 2019 and 2020 in terms of air pollution, where Dhaka city is in the second position among the capital cities of the world.

The main sources of air pollution in Dhaka city 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 also. The Department of Environment says brick kilns are responsible for 58 percent of Dhaka's air pollution in Dhaka. Dhaka is also suffering from air pollution from several industrial areas including Tejgaon, Tongi and Keraniganj. An important source of air pollution is uncontrolled road digging and uncoordinated and unplanned construction work. Air pollution is occurring in Dhaka city due to BRT, MRT and various other public and private construction projects. Throughout the year, the roads of Dhaka are suffering from digging by various authority open for a long time. On the other hand, use of construction materials openly transportation in construction work also cause air pollution. Lack of fit, obsolete, old, dilapidated branded cars and non-stop traffic jams are some of the major sources of air pollution.                

This is followed by indoor air pollution which is increasing the amount of air pollution in many places across the country. 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 every year in Bangladesh due to air pollution. According to the World Bank's 2017 report, 46,000 people die every year 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 in the world 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 7 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 next were neighbouring districts Dhaka (2nd) and Narayanganj (3rd), with 252.93 and 222.45 µg/m3 respectively. The concentration of PM2.5 of the mentioned most polluted 3 cities is 4-5 times higher than the standard value. Only 10 (15.62%) districts had good air quality (below 65 µg/m3), 36(56.25%) districts had moderate (66-120 µg/m3) levels of air pollution and 18 (28.13%) districts had high (above 121 µg/m3) levels of air pollution. According to research the average concentration of PM2.5 in the 8 divisional districts was 115.07 µg/m3, which is about 1.77 times more than the standard value. According to analysis of US Embassy Air Now data from 2017 to 2021byCAPS, the average air pollution in 2021 has increased by 9.8 percent compared to 2020. On the other hand, the average air pollution has increased by 7 percent in 2021 from 5 years (2016 to 2020). In January 2022, average Air Quality Index (AQI) at 222.13, which is very unhealthy. Analyzing the data in the study, it can be seen that the people of Dhaka did not get a chance to enjoy good air even for a single day and the air quality was mostly "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy" and one day crossed the extreme level in January, 2022. This study also found that in the last six years, the people of Dhaka received only 2% of total days (38 days) good air. However, 26% days (510 days) received moderate air, 29% days (577 days) received sensitive air (air is harmful for respiratory people, children and pregnant woman), 22% (443 days) received unhealthy air, 19% days (385 days) received very unhealthy air and 2% 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) established under the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project under the Department of Environment and air quality indicators also formulated. At present, Govt. formulates Air Pollution Control Rule instead of Clean Air Act 2019. On 15thNovember 2019, the Hon'ble 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, 15 February, 2022 Hon'ble High Court directed the authorities concerned of the government to identify and make a list of the activities, which are mainly responsible for air pollution across the country. Hon'ble High Court also asked the authorities concerned to prepare a time-bound mitigation plan to install Continuous Air Monitoring Station (CAMS) in appropriate places and introduce a system to save people from the exposure to unhealthy air and ask to develop an action plan about switching to alternate of burnt bricks and to submit a report to the HC within 4 months. Hope those rules can change scenario of air pollution in Bangladesh (Source: Daily Star and Prothom Alo).

To control air pollution, first of all, everyone has to work together in inclusive, sustainable, scientific, integrated and participatory manner. We need to increase our awareness regarding air pollution. Advanced and quality masks should be used for personal protection. Children, elderly person, sick people and pregnant women need to be careful. Water should be sprinkled in the streets regularly at least twice a day in the morning and the afternoon using water sprinkler. The government can also issue a request to the city corporation to request the authorities of each building to spray water on the street in front of their building every two to three hours on their initiative. For this purpose, they can reuse the water generated from full ton AC. More than 3 lakh ACs are used in Dhaka city. An AC with a capacity of 1 ton produces at least 3 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. If necessary, the vehicle should be instructed to drive in an even-odd manner according to the number plate. To protect the tree from air pollution, 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 organization need to be completed in a short time, if possible, will work only during the night in the busiest areas. A service company may be allowed to dig as many roads at once as they can in two or three days. 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. Artificial rain can be considered in the dry season especial where the air turns hazardous. Need to ensure automated traffic management. 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. All areas of Dhaka city should be covered by increased number of regular air monitoring stations (CAMS). To solve the manpower crisis, an environmental officer has to be appointed in every Upazila, and to ensure this, an Environmental Cadre need to be included in the Bangladesh Public Service Commission. Above all, the intensity of air pollution in the country, including Dhaka, can be controlled by arranging more information-based programs 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, we hope, Dhaka will be in the top ten cities on the list of liveable cities in the world.


The writer is the Dean, Science Faculty and Chairman, Department of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh.

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