Environment has turned into a great concern as our beloved Dhaka city is going through modernization for decades. Among different types of pollutions, dust pollution has become a great trouble for the citizens of this megacity during the winter. There are many areas of the city which makes it impossible for the people to breathe comfortably due to dust particles in the air.
Though this problem exists throughout the year, in winter or dry season the problem goes bizarre. Unplanned development works, brick kilns, openly left out drain sludge, uncovered construction materials and many things else are contributing to this dust pollution in Dhaka. It is seriously degrading the air quality. Not only in Dhaka, but also at every city of the country, air quality is unhealthy. It is very alarming for the future generations of our country and this problem must be addressed now.
Dust pollution refers to presence of particles (e g PM2.5 to PM10 microgram) in the air which degrades quality of the air having severe harmful effect on human health. These particles vary in size, composition and origin. It can be in the form of fly ash, dirt, dust, smog, smoke etc. These can be classified from PM10, usually crude particles to PM2.5, fine particles. In terms of its ill effect on human health PM2.5 is more harmful than PM10. In winter or dry season, dust pollution drastically increases and with each year, the condition of Dhaka city is getting worse in the context of dust pollution.
As it was revealed in World Bank’s Country Environmental Analysis (CEA) report of 2018, air pollution leads to 46,000 deaths yearly in Bangladesh. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Cancer Agency listed PM2.5 as “G-1 carcinogen”. Dust pollution can also cause environmental and economic damage along with people’s health hazards requiring monitoring and control. According to a World Bank report, the health burden of air pollution caused by PM2.5 in urban areas stands at USD 1.93 billion, which is 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
A project named Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) was adopted by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and climate change with the assistance of the World Bank to address the issue of urban air pollution. The project focuses on ensuring technical assistance for capacity building and necessary reform in key polluting sectors. They also have 11 total Continuous Air Quality monitoring stations throughout the country to check the quality of air. Among these 11 stations, three are in Dhaka, two in Chattogram, one each in Rajshahi, Khulna, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Sylhet and Barisal as these stations measure pollutants in the air of these cities. For this measurement, an Air Quality Index (AQI) was prepared by Department of Environment.
According to the air quality index (AQI), the quality of air is not satisfactory at any of the monitored cities of Bangladesh. To understand the measurement, if AQI is between 101 to 150–it is ‘warning air’ which is mildly harmful to humans; from 151 to 200–it is ‘unhealthy’; from 201-300–it is ‘very unhealthy’ and if AQI level is from 301 to 500 – it is marked as ‘extremely unhealthy’. The AQI level of Dhaka is over 300 meaning Dhaka air is extremely unhealthy. Though the scenario is similar for almost all large cities of Bangladesh but it is most alarming for Dhaka due to its dense population. Moreover, the dust pollution in Dhaka city is almost three times higher than the permissible limit during dry season.
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. Hence, a single road is dug multiple times in a year. Roads, due to low quality constructions, get damaged frequently and create dust. It also calls for frequent repair works and that construction works also creates huge dust.
Adding to that misery, the construction works of metro rail project and elevated expressway is making the lives of passers-by a living hell. And this is when the works have not started in full phase yet. When the citizens travel through the adjacent areas, they have to endure severe traffic jam while they cannot breathe due to heavy dust pollution. From our experience with the flyovers, we have seen the sufferings of the people for so many years. We are now anticipating the same fate with metro rail and elevated expressway projects also for long years to come. On top of that, throughout the city, many commercial and residential buildings are being constructed and that also creates a lot of dusts.
There are other dust creating 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. As per Department of Environment, brick kilns are the main source of air pollution in Dhaka. Over 4,500 bricks kilns are situated around Dhaka. Burning of wood coal, wood pulses, and furnace oils in the brick kilns releases huge dust, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxides which are polluting the air of Dhaka. Moreover, different types of chemicals like; lead in different industries also generates dust.
Dust pollution is one of the major reasons behind several temporary and chronic health problems. It creates eye irritation, coughing, sneezing, high fever and headache among the usual health hazards. It also causes major diseases like; lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, kidney damage, high blood pressure, birth defects, heart attack, liver problems, dermatitis and pneumonia etc. 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. Hence, it is very hard to have a minimum healthy life at Dhaka city in today’s context.
Though we have an environment related law, Environment Conservation Act 1995, it is not effective to address dust pollution. Hence, we need to take some drastic steps to save Dhaka citizens from this trouble.
First of all, all the citizens must be aware of the ill effects of dust pollution. The government should launch educational campaign in this regard initially throughout the city and later throughout the divisional cities of Bangladesh. The public should have the right information so that they can take protective measures. Along with the existing laws, new acts should be enacted especially for adopting modern construction technique which reduces spread of dust from commercial and residential construction sites. No construction materials should be kept in open space or should be transported openly in vehicles.
The brick kilns also should use modern technology. If required, the government should support them in installing modern facilities which will ensure lower dust creation, emission of smoke and burning of coals or fuels. Moreover, the brick kilns should be relocated at less populated areas at different locations so that the pollution is not concentrated in a particular area or populated area.
The works of mega projects like; metro rail or elevated expressway should also adopt modern construction technique. These construction areas also should be covered to prevent dusts from spreading. These projects should be completed in minimum duration. These should adopt a phase wise completion plan so that the whole city does not suffer together. The traffic police must arrange a bypass road plan so that traffic jam does not occur in those construction areas. Masks and other useful materials should be supplied by the government for free to the citizens living in adjacent areas of those construction sites.
The City Corporations have a great role to play. They should arrange for watering the construction sites of these mega projects everyday so that the dusts can be restrained from spreading. They must also ensure that the garbage and drains wastes are immediately cleared from the streets and taken to assigned dumping places. They can play a vital role in lowering the dust pollution and must not ignore this responsibility.
The utility supplying bodies and roads management body should work in a coordinated manner so that the roads are not dug multiple times in a year. Right now, they are working in a manner which is reactive maintenance. But they should practice proactive maintenance from now on as that will enable the suggested coordination among different stakeholders.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is leading the current government to ensure the best possible developments of Bangladesh and has shown tremendous people orientation during the last decade. We believe, under her leadership the respective departments will work efficiently and effectively to contain dust pollution in Dhaka city. This city being the centre of our country’s development remains at severe threat of extinction. Reducing dust pollution to improve air quality is a mandatory first step for the survival of this city and we hope the government will take right steps in this regard. As citizens, we want to breathe fresh air in our beloved city.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)