When 31-year-old Sajid was diagnosed with hypertension and obesity, his doctor suggested that he walk every day for at least 30 minutes.
To Sajid's utmost surprise, he could not find a single place in Dhaka where he could walk comfortably. Day or night – thick, dusty air made it impossible for him to continue walking. Finding no other way, he joined a gym.
Like Sajid, many of us suffer from the same problem. Walking is apparently the best exercise for any human being. Yet in Dhaka, it is impossible to do so because of worsening air quality.
The toxic air that we are breathing is making us sick. Bangladesh has nearly 7 million asthma patients, half of whom are children (data by National Institute of Disease of Chest and Hospital). Respiratory infections and dust allergies have become common diseases in every household.
Delhi's post Diwali air pollution has been making headlines for the last few years; but the pollution in Dhaka is getting just as worse. It ranked fourth as the worst liveable city in terms of air pollution in November this year.
The sources of air pollution in our country are vehicle emission, unregulated brick kilns and construction work, indoor cooking and tobacco smoking.
The air quality in Bangladesh becomes especially worse after monsoon, usually beginning from September/October and lasting till March/April. Polluted heavy air fills up our surrounding and makes it difficult for us to breathe.
In September this year, Soheli (pseudonym) was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Manager at a buying house in Uttara, she is in her late 40s and had never touched a cigarette in her life. The cancer spread so aggressively that she was coughing up bloody lung tissues.
Soheli's doctors are not hopeful of a recovery and have asked her family members to sign a bond before the chemotherapy sessions would begin.
Contrary to popular belief, many non-smoker patients like Soheli in Bangladesh are suffering from various types of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) due to air pollution and their number is increasing at an alarming rate.
Air pollution is directly linked to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and cancer. According to the State of Global Air 2019, air pollution is cutting down our life expectancy by 1.3 years.
The report further revealed that polluted air around the globe was responsible for causing more deaths than malnutrition, alcohol abuse and physical inactivity. Poor air also causes stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Head of the Cancer Epidemiology Department and Associate Professor at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital, Dr Habibullah Talukder Ruskin, spoke to The Business Standard on rising air pollution and its effects on human health.
Dr Habibullah said, "Common risk factors of cancer include tobacco, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. Coupled with air pollution, the situation is especially hazardous for women and children."
He added, "Undoubtedly air pollution plays a role in causing diseases such as lung cancer, oesophageal cancer and head-neck cancer. Things will not improve unless we do something about unplanned urbanisation, medical waste mismanagement, passive smoking and motor vehicle emission."
It has to be acknowledged that we are responsible for turning air, that is life to us, into a slow poison. The next time we see someone smoking in public places, see old dysfunctional cars emitting black smoke on the roads, disorganised garbage disposal in open public places; we need to speak up, or do something about it.
Air pollution is no longer a national issue; its impact is global, affecting each one of us. Our air is gradually becoming more unbreathable, it is slowly killing us, and we have been ignoring it for a long time.