Gazipur has topped the list as the most polluted city in the country, while Sylhet claims the title of the least polluted, according to the latest "Air Quality Life Index-2023" report from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in the United States.
"In Gazipur, the concentration of ultrafine particles, usually measuring 2.5 micrometres or smaller (PM 2.5), reaches a staggering 89.8 micrograms per cubic metre. This value is more than 18 times the World Health Organisation's recommended limit of 5 micrograms and over six times the designated annual limit," mentioned Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumdar, joint editor of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), during a press conference titled "Measures to control air pollution," organised by Bapa at Sagar-Runi Auditorium of Dhaka Reporters Unity on Tuesday.
"Until 2022, the annual limit for PM 2.5 was set at 15 micrograms per cubic metre. In this context, Sylhet has emerged as the least polluted district, with a concentration of 48.5 micrograms per cubic metre. This is significantly lower than both the World Health Organisation's recommended limit and Bangladesh's designated national standard," he added.
The Bapa joint secretary highlighted the various causes of air pollution, which include "natural and meteorological factors, urban planning deficiencies, weak enforcement of laws, legal limitations, geographical factors, and population density."
According to research by the Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS), approximately 30% of pollution comes from road dust and construction activities, 29% from brick kilns and industries, 15% from vehicular emissions, 6.5% from indoor air pollution, 8.5% from household cooking, and 8% from waste burning.
Kamruzzaman Majumdar pointed out that according to the Air Quality Life Index-2023 report, air pollution has led to a global average reduction in life expectancy of 2 years and 4 months worldwide.
In Bangladesh, however, the average life expectancy of a citizen has decreased by 6 years and 8 months due to air pollution.
In 2021, the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital (NIDCH) in Dhaka saw an increase in patients seeking outpatient and emergency care, reaching a total of 210,000, while just seven years ago the number stood at only 85,000.
The National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) in the capital city observed that in July of the past year, the number of patients admitted to the hospital, combining both the outpatient and emergency departments, was slightly over 12,000. In July of this year, this number exceeded 14,000.
Quality of Life Index-2023 has identified air pollution as the second-largest threat to human health in Bangladesh, especially in terms of life expectancy, with ultrafine particles being the most significant contributors.
According to the World Bank, due to exposure to fine particulate air pollution, Bangladesh experiences over 138,000 cases of heart disease each year. The risk of intellectual disabilities among children is also on the rise.
Bapa has recommended a series of short-term, medium-term, and long-term measures to improve air quality.
In the short term, five points have been suggested, the first of which is ensuring that both construction sites and materials transported should be covered to prevent accidental pollution. The implementation of regular water spraying during dry seasons should be coordinated between the city corporations, fire services, the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa), and the Department of Environment. The last three points are implementing odd-even vehicle restrictions as required, further enforcement regarding illegal brick kilns and promoting the use of alternative building materials, and finally increasing the number of street sweepers to collect dust.
Medium term measures include the promotion of tree planting through government and private initiatives, encouraging rooftop gardening, and conserving water bodies in cities. Furthermore, the effective coordination of development endeavours through city governance, the acceleration of urban development projects, and the endorsement of sand blocks as a viable alternative to traditional brick kilns have been proposed. Notably, the introduction of dedicated bicycle lanes to bolster the adoption of cycling has also been included among these medium-term measures.
Finally, long term measures involve urgently enforcing the Clean Air Act 2019, increasing the budget allocation for the Ministry of Environment, and expanding the coverage of Continuous Air Monitoring Station (CAMS). The last point called for the establishment of an environmental cadre service and an environmental court.