The country, especially its urban areas, is facing severe air and water pollution due to rapid and unplanned urbanisation, show the preliminary findings of a World Bank study.
It is losing one percent (around Tk 20,000 crore) of the gross domestic product every year due to air pollution, according to the study.
The country's GDP stands at nearly Tk 20.88 trillion as per the latest data of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Titled “Bangladesh Country Environment Analysis 2017”, the study found people living in the urban areas are inhaling extremely unhealthy air. They are also exposed to lead, arsenic, cadmium, pesticide and sulphur dioxide from different sources.
Air in the capital and its nearby Gazipur and Narayanganj cities remains highly polluted for several months in a year. It gets worst in February and March, showed a presentation on the findings during a workshop at a city hotel yesterday.
The brick kilns are the biggest polluter of air. They contribute 38 percent micro-pollutants while motor vehicles are responsible for 19 percent, road dust 18, solid dust nine and metal smelters seven percent.
Another major problem is lead. Nearly 600,000 people living in 59 hotspots in Dhaka and its adjacent areas are exposed to lead contamination.
The study identified 20 battery recycling areas, 23 lead smelting hotspots and four multiple industries and industrial estates as the main sources of lead-induced pollution.
Lead can cause neurological damage, especially among children, at any detectable level, it said, noting that mean blood lead levels are at 14-15ug/dl in Dhaka's industrial areas.
The report also found that just to produce one tonne of fabrics, the dyeing and finishing factories discharge 200 tonnes of wastewater into rivers leading to health hazards in the capital's poorer neighbourhoods.
There are a total of 719 such washing, dyeing and finishing factories in and around Dhaka, it mentioned.
The cities also suffer from waterlogging due to heavy rainfall. They are vulnerable to flood because of wetland encroachments and lack of waste management.
On October 22 this year, just 233mm of rainfall inundated 60 percent area under the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) and 27 percent of developed areas.
It is not only the case of the capital. For example, Pabna, which has lost nearly half of its wetlands since 1990, faces prolonged waterlogging.
The report, to be launched early next year, focused on four areas: cost of environmental degradation, urban wetlands, cleaner technologies and institutions.
It recommended that the government should incorporate wetlands into urban planning and invest in waste management to improve the cities' resilience.
The study also suggested enforcing environment policies and strengthening institutions.
It said the government should provide incentives to industries to adopt green and clean technologies and enforce polluter's pay principle -- a practice that those who are responsible for pollution should bear the costs of managing it.
As Bangladesh is rapidly urbanising, the report suggests that the country needs to manage the urbanisation and industrialisation process in an environmentally sustainable way.
“When growth comes at the cost of environment, it cannot sustain. The good news is that we have seen it is possible to grow cleaner and greener without growing slower,” said Zahid Hussain, World Bank's acting country director for Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh must plan and act now to prevent environmental degradation and ensure climate resilience.”
Anwar Hossain Manju, minister for environment and forests, was present on the occasion as the chief guest. Many other policy makers, government officials, environmentalists, urban planners, and civil society representatives attended the programme and discussed the findings of the report.