As Dhaka is grappling with air pollution posing serious health risks to city dwellers, the government has taken a series of measures to fight and protect the environment, says the environment minister.
The pollution level in the capital has reached an extreme level mainly due to uncontrolled discharge of dust from construction works, smoke from vehicles and brick kilns.
Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin had admitted that the air pollution in the capital reached an intolerable level while the High Court issued a nine-point directive to bring down air pollution in Dhaka.
"Brick kilns are responsible for 58 percent air pollution in the capital. Plans have been taken to shut [traditional] kilns currently in operation. We're working to produce eco-friendly bricks," Shahab Uddin told UNB.
He said the government plans to stop burning bricks at kilns by 2025 and use block bricks to construct buildings under government projects.
Kiln owners have already been directed to produce 10 percent block bricks, the minister said, adding that it will be increased to 100 percent over the time and the use of block bricks will gradually be made mandatory in private projects, too.
He said the Department of Environment (DoE) and the World Bank published a research report on the sources of air pollution in Bangladesh in March, 2019.
According to the research findings, the three main sources are brick kilns, fumes of vehicles and dust from construction sites.
Pointing out that dust particles are contributing to the city's worsening air pollution due to construction work without putting the sites under cover, Shahab Uddin underscored the need for taking effective steps to control air pollution in Dhaka by all government and private organisations.
Sixteen camps have been set up in Dhaka and district towns to assess the air quality. "Steps will be taken after getting assessment reports," he said.
"There're many reasons for air pollution in Dhaka. There must be coordination in construction of public and private infrastructures, and among the agencies working with utility services. A proper management of various projects, including the elevated expressway, must be ensured," he said.
Shahab Uddin said they have written to authorities of the metro rail project for protecting the environment during the mega construction work. It was recommended to spray water to stop dust from spreading and cover construction materials and sites.
"The government is monitoring whether the authorities implementing various development projects in the city are using mechanisms to protect the environment," he added.
Quoting Rakibul Amin, country representative of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the minister said sources of the air pollution must be plugged in to tackle it. "Green belts should be set up at various locations of the city and water bodies need to be conserved. A system should be in place to identify how people can live safely in polluted air. Air pollution should be seen as an important national crisis."
On January 13, the High Court issued nine-point directive following a writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB).
The directives include ensuring the use of covers on trucks or other vehicles that transport sand or soil in the capital, covering sites where construction work is underway to prevent the spread of dust, sprinkling water on streets, ensuring complete road construction or excavation work or carpeting complying with laws and rules, seizing vehicles that emit black smoke, taking steps to fix the economic life of different vehicles as per the relevant law and restricting plying of those vehicles which have no economic life.
The court also instructed to ensure that all market owners or shopkeepers keep their garbage in bags and the city corporations remove those after the shops or markets are closed.
It had also asked DoE to shut down illegal brick kilns within two months, stop burning of tyres and recycling of vehicles' batteries without approval from the DoE.
Meanwhile, LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Md Tazul Islam told UNB that a committee was formed at an inter-ministerial meeting recently. "Twenty sweeping trucks will be brought as per the recommendations of the committee to settle the dust swirling of the city."
He said Dhaka was built in an unplanned way. "Various utility services, including power, water and gas lines, were not installed after considering the future."
General Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) MA Matin said the dust pollution is on the rise for lack of good governance, preventive measures, action plans, initiatives and enforcement of law. "I think the government and its relevant agencies are not sincere in dealing with dust pollution.""As the government's development activities have marked a significant rise, pollution also increased. We're not against development, but it has to be done protecting the environment," Matin observed.
He said the two Dhaka city corporations can neither properly cleanup roads nor ensure a proper waste management, causing a rise in the dust pollution.
"There's also no step to check the release of pollutants and black smoke from different industries, vehicles, water vessels and nearby brick kilns."
Chief Waste Management Officer of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Air Commodore Md Zahid Hossain told UNB that water is being sprayed on the main streets of Dhaka since November 21 to prevent dust from swirling in the air.
"We've submitted the DPP for importing nine sweeping vehicles to stop air pollution from dust. The vehicles will keep the streets clean using brush and water," he said.
Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Prof Abul Kalam Azad said the dust pollution causes serious harm to public health. "People are getting affected with serious diseases like lung problem, cancer and respiratory complications due to the dust pollution."
Dr Imrul Haque of ENT department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University said the number of patients suffering from asthma, pneumonia, obstructive lung diseases, bronchitis, lung cancer and lower respiratory infection has been on the rise in the city due to the growing dust pollution.