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5 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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Dhaka air quality worsens as dry season approaches

Faisal Mahmud, Dhaka
Dhaka air quality worsens 
as dry season approaches
People cover their noses in the capital’s Jurain area yesterday amid dense dust, which appears like fog, created by car fumes coupled with dust from neighbouring construction sites as the air quality of the mega city worsens in the dry season. Photo: Sumanta Chakraborty

The sky over Dhaka continued to be smoky yesterday morning, with the air quality hovering between the ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ categories. The overall air quality index (AQI) as monitored by the Department of Environment (DoE) crossed the 250 mark in the capital. This is particularly alarming as the country is all set to experience the dry season with the onset of winter next month. The AQI is an index of daily air quality, indicating how clean or polluted the air of a certain city is and the associated health effects that might be a concern for the city residents. An AQI between 0–50 is considered ‘good’, 51–100 ‘satisfactory’, 101–200 ‘moderate’, 201–300 ‘poor’, 301–400 ‘very poor’ and 401–500 ‘severe’. Above 500 is called ‘severe-plus emergency’ category.

A numerical value between 201 and 300 indicates that the general public will be noticeably affected and that sensitive groups will experience reduced endurance in several activities. The AQI centre at Farmgate, Dhaka came up with a reading of 254 yesterday, indicating that the air quality was very unhealthy. The readings were 248 and 258 at two other AQI centres in the city’s Sangsad Bhaban and Kalyanpur, respectively.

The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the health concern, say experts.

Dhaka was ranked the second-most polluted capital city after New Delhi in the 2018 World Air Quality Report prepared by Greenpeace and AirVisual, which monitor global air quality.

Gurgaon, a suburb on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi, is the world’s most polluted city, said the report that ranked Dhaka 17th.

“The air quality of Dhaka is not good, but it's in no way comparable with that of New Delhi,” said Md Ziaul Haque, director (air quality management) of the DoE.

“On Monday, the average AQI reading of Delhi was nearly 1,000, with some areas even having AQI reading     over 1,400,” he added. Bangladesh cricket team played a T20I match in Delhi against India on Sunday. The Bangladeshi players wore pollution masks prior to the match during practice sessions.

Haque said air quality usually declines during the dry months—from October to April—but improves during monsoon. “It becomes worse in the winter. Last winter, we had AQI readings of over 400 in Dhaka, but that was for just a few days,” he added.

The AQI index is based on the five criteria of pollutants—ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. AQI was introduced in 1968, when the National Air Pollution Control Administration of the US undertook an initiative to develop an AQI and apply the methodology to metropolitan statistical areas.

In Dhaka, Haque said, brick kilns were the major source of air pollution. “These kilns are mostly operated during the dry season as it is hard to run them during monsoon because of frequent rains.”

Also, construction work that kicks up dust, poorly-maintained vehicles that emit excessive harmful particles and toxic gases, and industrial air pollution are to be blamed for the pollution, he noted.

“Last year, half the air pollution in Dhaka was caused by brick kilns, while construction work contributed around 25 per cent and vehicle emission 10–12 per cent,” he said.

A five-year survey, conducted by the DoE, found that Narayanganj has the most polluted air, followed by Dhaka. Third is Gazipur, followed by Rajshahi, Chattogram, Khulna, and Barisal. The survey was conducted between 2013 and 2018 with funds from the World Bank (WB).

Haque said the DoE was taking measures to curb the air pollution in the capital city as well as in the country. “For example, we have already taken steps to stop the rapid sprouting and growth of brick kilns in the country,” he added.

He also said the government plans to replace traditional bricks with eco-friendly modern block bricks in all state-funded construction works by 2025. “If we can use alternatives to bricks or use modern technology to manufacture bricks, the pollution level would fall considerably,” he added.

The government is also promoting modern technology for brick kilns like Hybrid Hoffrman and Tunnel technology. Making bricks using these methods requires less coal or wood, hence less pollution, he said.

He also said the draft of Clean Air Act-2019 has already been proposed by the DoE and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA). “It is waiting to be presented to the Cabinet and Parliament,” he added.

Dr Mahadi Abdur Rauf, an associate professor of Northern Medical College, said the consequences of air pollution are pretty evident. “Tens of thousands of people suffer from respiratory diseases per year in the country,” he added.

The Global Burden Disease Project showed that the average lifespan went down by 1.87 years due to ambient air pollution in Bangladesh. “Bangladeshis are already spending an exorbitant sum of money on medical treatment for respiratory illnesses. This means that diseases due to ambient air particles risk having a huge economic impact in the country by dragging down the working capacity of people,” he added.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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