A bustling mega city with over 21 million people, Dhaka has had its fair share of good and bad times.
With 3.5 percent people being added to its population every year, the city keeps becoming a pandemonium of all sorts of awful things. As the capital of the nation, this city has lucrative supplies of both economic and creative opportunities, as well as the soul-tiring problems of cleanliness. As this megalopolis extends its wings, clean water supply, effective sewage removal and clean breathable air become ever more critical to the haleness and success of Dhaka.
This gives rise to the question of air quality; Dhaka has been going through its worst time in recent weeks. Needless to say, this pollution is remarkably visible. In the last couple of months the air of this city showed signs of dreadful contamination.
At the time of writing this article on March 11, Dhaka scored 189 on the Air Quality Index – meaning the air was "unhealthy" to breathe. The worst score recently went up to 400 – which was "hazardous."
One of the symptoms of the coronavirus is respiratory problems that sometimes lead to pneumonia. This does not bode well for our capital as countries with better pollution management have been struggling with this virus with no cure so far.
City dwellers constantly express disgust at the pollution and give up, which seems to be the tradition in our country. Serious movements or actions need to be taken to save this city from an apparent abandonment. Our ideas need to reach both city dwellers and the authorities concerned. Without activism, raging on social and mainstream media only add referential values to news archives.
Although the coronavirus outbreak might be novel, Dhaka acts as a possible epicentre to all kinds of plagues from every possible way. The hygiene problems of this city have been growing in tandem with its rapid expansion. But economic progress alone does not necessarily augur well for us as every inch of this land is being used for commerce, industries, education, or residential purposes. Only a few trees have been left for us amidst millions of tonnes of cement. Our breathing spaces have been forced to make way for the concrete.
Dhaka has a scarcity of clean air which city dwellers have to face every day. The air appears as a dusty fog all the time. According to the Department of Environment, 58 percent of that smoke comes from brick kilns around and inside Dhaka, 18 percent from road and soil dust, 10 percent from vehicles, 8 percent from the burning stuff, and 6 percent from other sources.
Apart from these, city dwellers are victims of problems like over population, traffic congestion, scarcity of pure drinking water, lack of playgrounds and parks, vanishing water bodies, crime and lack of safety, murderous public transport, gross violation of traffic rules and many more.
However, three chief problems of Dhaka are the lack of clean atmosphere, clean roads and a better waste management system.
Dhaka probably saw its best times between the '60s and the '90s. The city was green back then with less traffic and less people. People had a better understanding of the city. There was a sense of allegiance to this city.
Most inhabitants of Dhaka have diasporic roots, meaning that, people from other regions of the country have settled here except for the residents of Old Dhaka. As a hub for sociopolitical, economic and cultural activities, people have their particular needs fulfilled from this city. Their major allegiances, however, from common understanding, are to their ancestral homes or places of birth. A clean Dhaka is something most people are less bothered about as they feel no permanent connection to this city.
The garbage piles seen everywhere indicates the grim state of poor waste management in Dhaka. Due to these heaps of garbage, the air stinks. Main streets have been gridlocked either by construction, excavation or garbage dumps. It is quite surprising to see how small holes become landfills within months with nobody to fix them.
Dhaka has always been on the brink of getting attacked by contagious diseases. But with low death tolls, people have started taking things lightly. The question is: How much death is enough for us to take these grave matters seriously?
People in the streets have been joking by saying that the pollution of Dhaka is enough to kill the Coronavirus and there is no danger at all. It is true that we have been surviving the world's worst breathable air possible but it does not give us a free pass to assume that we are invincible to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to research by the icddr,b, pneumonia alone is responsible for 28 percent deaths of children under five years of age. According to the Global Air Report of 2019, the hazardous air quality in Dhaka and across Bangladesh claims over 1.23 lakh lives.
Deadly diseases like the coronavirus would thrive in the polluted air. But the recent price hike of hand sanitisers, disinfectants and masks suggest that we only care about the solution that requires less effort. A clean Dhaka can not only help us control these contagious diseases, it can also help stop diseases from multiplying in the first place.
We need consensus and love for this city. It is not necessary how temporarily we tend to stay here as the basic idea is simple: Not only are our homes divine, it is also the outside that requires the same treatment.
Death and diseases are generic foes – they tend to attack all. It is not just adults who need not be aware of cleanliness and thrive for better living spaces, but kids as well. Curriculums should be developed to teach people about these issues, people should be more inclined volunteer for cleanliness programmes and the authorities should not neglect their responsibilities.
We need to remind ourselves that bad decisions taken individually could turn into collective death traps for all.
The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English language and Literature of the Central Women's University.