Every citizen of this country wants a peaceful travel throughout the cities as they roam for different purposes every day. But extreme air pollution, dirty surroundings and lack of safety and security makes it very hard to have a pleasant journey in the cities of Bangladesh. The scenario is worst at the capital city Dhaka as it is often claiming the top spot as the least liveable city of the world. Coronavirus pandemic is pushing us to wear masks but the citizens should wear masks every day to make themselves safe from the environmental hazards of our cities.
The hazy skies of Dhaka city in the beginning of winter may seem like forerunners of the cold season. But what appears to be only mist or fog, is actually smog and dust. The smog from brick kilns, smoke from unfit vehicles and dust generated from public and private constructions sites, including those of the mega projects taken by the government were the main sources of air pollution in Dhaka city. The air pollution in the capital Dhaka has reached an intolerable level. The city has been ranked as one of the worst in Air Quality Index (AQI) few months back. The quality usually improves during monsoon but as we have stepped into the dry season, the scenario will worsen.
Though this problem exists throughout the year, in winter or dry season the problem goes bizarre as many things are contributing to the dust as well as air pollution in Dhaka and other cities. Not only in Dhaka, but also at every city of the country, air quality is unhealthy.
The dust pollution in Dhaka city is due to several reasons. The most important reason is the unplanned development in this city. Throughout the year, roads are dug for works of gas, electricity, water and other utilities. These works take a longer period in Bangladesh than may be any other country of the world. Moreover, these works are not coordinated among different departments. Adding to that misery, the construction works of metro rail project and elevated expressway is making the lives of passers-by a living hell.
Moreover, throughout the city, many commercial and residential buildings are being constructed and that also creates a lot of dusts. There are other air pollutant factors also. After cleaning the drains of the city, the waste is kept on the side of the road. Due to presence of the pathogen in the drains, it causes unhealthy air. Construction materials such as bricks, sand, cement, brick chips are transported openly from one place to another contributing to dust pollution.
Wherever we go in the Dhaka city, the roads are dug open creating huge dusts. Of course the development or repair works are required but conducting a repair works for months and on multiple occasions by multiple agencies or departments without any coordination and environmental safeguard is completely unacceptable. The government penalizes the private construction sites for creating obstacles on the roads with construction materials but there is none to do such with public construction sites. There is no authority to check on these things as the contractors carry out their works without any environmental monitoring destroying the lives of the citizens.
Dust pollution is one of the major reasons behind several temporary and chronic health problems. We cannot ignore its ill effect on mental health of the Dhaka citizens.Coarse and fine particles also adversely affect the cognitive function of children by changing their brain structure. An unhealthy or disabled child due to air or dust pollution will become a social liability as we will not receive constructive contribution from this prospective soul. The dusts from roads not only affect us outside but also it hurts us inside our homes as that flow inside through the air. Especially, the habitants of roadside houses and the children are the greatest victims in this case.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, the dust pollution or degrading air quality will add huge misery. The respiratory troubles will obviously increase. It seems, the citizens, especially those of Dhaka need to wear masks throughout the year irrespective of the pandemic to keep themselves physically better.
Along with dust pollution, the dirty look of Dhaka city is very annoying. Our roads are not clean as garbage and rubbish are common on these roads. It is not possible to walk under the flyovers as those roads have become unusable due to maintenance. Moreover, the footpaths are very dirty as wastes are piled on the major footpaths of the city. It is never possible to use these footpaths comfortably. Additionally, thousands of trees planted on the mid-road islands of the citiesturned into dirty jungles due to inadequate maintenance.
There is no security on the city roads as we hit the evening as we often see no light on the roads and incidents like mugging, hijacking, eve teasing, rape, murder etc. are increasing and will keep increasing in the upcoming COVID-19 hit months. In our own city, we do not feel safe.
Overall, it has become very uncomfortable to live in the cities of Bangladesh, especially Dhaka. We have two mayors at Dhaka and have mayors at other city corporations, district and upazila pourosovas. But it seems like they are sitting idle. Unfortunately, the works of mayors have turned into media stunts as they suddenly come out on a day to clear out the problems of the city, to fine the citizens on any chosen issue or to claim government lands, canals etc. But these are mostly hoax as they do not see the gravest problems of the citizens.
Development works are important for the country’s growth but we must limit the sufferings of the citizens of our overpopulated cities. The city corporations must ensure watering dusty roads and public construction sites everyday during this dry season so that, people can move on the roads with comfort. They must strongly penalize the delayed public construction or repair works. Repair works should be completed quickly at night. They must play proactive role to keep roads clear of public construction materials. After that, they must create awareness to do the same at private construction sites.
The city corporations must issue an order for all public and private construction sites, offices to ensure watering the sites and roads in front of the organizations so that dusts are not created during this winter season. Strong monitoring for the sake of the citizens is required to implement this order. There is no way out without watering the roads, footpaths on a regular basis during this dry time as a temporary solution and it should be treated as utmost priority.
The city corporations also need to proactively deploy workforce to keep the roads and environment clean and well-maintained. Beautification of the roads must be ensured and green initiatives along with tree plantation must be promoted and maintained. Moreover, adequate lights on every roads of the cities must be installed and maintained to ensure public safety. Rather than the media, the mayors should move with respective officials from different departments to complete these tasks soon.
Bangladesh has turned itself into a role model of development under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as we are expecting to become developed country by 2041. But unfortunately, we have not been able to turn capital Dhaka into a liveable city, let alone other divisional cities, district sadars and upazilasadars. Lack of commitment from the proper authority is really hurting us but we hope, during this COVID-19 pandemic, the scenario will change and improve to reduce the sufferings of the citizens.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC)