How Rajshahi city got cleaner air
The greenery in and around Rajshahi city would instantly catch one's eyesight if one notices the city's topography from an airplane or any high-rise building.
Also the city's air is much cleaner and a huge number of people can be seen strolling or spending time together by the bank of Padma river.
But the situation was not the same even a few years ago when sand storms from the Padma would made sultry summer heat unbearable and force dwellers to remain behind closed doors; dust from fields and roads, and thick-black smog from brick kilns and vehicles, also added to their sufferings, according to a report by The Guardian.
The northwestern city was in the top-tier of the most polluted cities of the world, the report said.
At the same time, the UK national daily, showing a WHO research of 2014-16, reported on Friday that Rajshahi city topped the cities of the world that remarkably reduced the harmful air particles in just two years.
However, Md Shahriar Alam, state minister for Ministry of Foreign Affairs on his Facebook page yesterday said, “I don't understand this, can someone explain to me, Rajshahi used to be the most polluted city, and improved most from that situation? Though the last statement sounds nicer, the first accusation of it being the most polluted city is unacceptable.”
According to the report, levels of larger PM10 particles went from 195 micrograms per cubic metre in 2014, to just 63.9 in 2016, a reduction of about two-thirds, and the largest in the world in absolute terms. Smaller PM2.5 particles have been nearly halved to 37 micrograms per cubic metre from 70, it added.
“The achievement came silently as we kept on concentrating on tree plantation, which are cleaning harmful particles from air more than some other means,” said Ashraful Haque, chief engineer of Rajshahi City Corporation.
“We planted trees abundantly and encouraged citizens for building fruit orchards. The corporation won the prime minister's national award for tree plantation in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013,” he informed.
“We are still implementing a project called 'Zero soil' to cover all the available soils with green trees and so far achieved 10 percent success,” Haque added.
“Sand from emerged chars and bank of Padma used to cover the city's air before, but now we built parks on the river bank
while the chars are also covered with raised Kashbon, grass, cultivation of crops and plantations.”
He said instead of diesel or petrol driven vehicles, the city streets were now full of battery-run auto-rickshaws and gas driven vehicles; carbon emissions were remarkably reduced by this.
The corporation has been constructing footpaths covering the open soil on roadsides, improving the drainage system, increasing mango orchards, and beefing up the cleansing operations, Haque added.
“The news (of air pollution level going down in Rajshahi) is dramatic and surprising in the face of growing urbanisation and increase of brick-kilns,” said Prof Golam Sabbir Sattar of Rajshahi University.
Sattar said, “The given data is not detailed. We need to know whether the PM particles are combined with carbon or not.”
He said he, in a research in 2003-04, found the harmful PM particles to be at much higher level.
Although it was reduced drastically, heat radiation followed by sand storm was still driving away clouds in summers, as a result the city was witnessing lesser rainfall, he emphasised.
Besides, massive afforestation in the last 10 years, introduction of CNG and battery-run vehicles, increase of the greeneries, raising the height of the brick-kiln chimneys might have worked for reducing the pollution level, he said. “The city has no major industry, and so, there is no threat on its environment,” he added.
However, Aminul Islam Sohel, a business owner of Sastitola, said, “This report is really encouraging, but I still have to wear a face mask whenever I'm riding my bike because of the dust.”
“It's true that the air has become cleaner because of the introduction of CNG and battery-run vehicles, but it also has increased traffic congestion,” said Pijush kumar Sarker, a government employee.