‘Air pollution should be treated as national crisis’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 13, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:58 AM, February 13, 2020

‘Air pollution should be treated as national crisis’

Bad air quality is one index where Dhaka is consistently topping the global chart, posing serious health risks to residents.

Rampant operation of illegal brick kilns in suburban areas around the city, along with the staggering number of unfit vehicles plying city streets are major contributors to the capital's rapidly deteriorating air quality.

Add to that the construction work of various large-scale infrastructure projects, which are making matters worse for city dwellers. The air pollution situation is so severe that even trees are getting affected.

The High Court also issued a nine-point directive to this end.

This alarming situation has prompted the government to chalk out various measures to fight the menace and protect the environment, said Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin.

The capital's air pollution level has reached an intolerable level, the minister admitted.

Smog from brick kilns, smoke from unfit vehicles and dust generated from public and private constructions sites, including those of the mega projects, are the main sources, he said.

"Brick kilns are responsible for 58 percent of the air pollution in the capital. Plans have been taken to shut down [traditional] kilns. We're working to produce eco-friendly bricks," Shahab Uddin told the news agency.

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 and use of block bricks will gradually be made mandatory in private projects as well.

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 that, the three major sources are brick kilns, vehicle fumes and dust from construction sites.

Pointing out that dust particles are contributing to the city's worsening air pollution as construction works continue without taking appropriate measures, the minister underscored the need for taking effective steps to control Dhaka's air pollution 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 the 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 construction work. It was recommended to spray water to stop dust from spreading and cover construction materials and sites, he said.

"The government is monitoring whether the authorities implementing various development projects are using mechanisms to protect the environment," he added.

Quoting Rakibul Amin, country representative of International Union for Conservation of Nature, the minister said, "Green belts should be set up at various locations of the city and waterbodies need to be conserved. A system should be in place to identify how people can live safely... Air pollution should be seen as an important national crisis."

On January 13, the HC issued a nine-point directive, following a writ petition by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh.

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 relevant law and restricting plying of 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 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 vehicle batteries without DoE approval.

Meanwhile, LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Md Tazul Islam told the news agency that a committee was formed at an inter-ministerial meeting recently. As per its recommendations, 20 sweeping trucks will be used to tackle dust.

Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon General Secretary MA Matin said dust pollution is on the rise for lack of good governance, preventive measures, action plans, initiatives and enforcement of law.

"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 clean roads nor ensure a proper waste management, causing a rise in 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."

Contacted, Chief Waste Management Officer of Dhaka South City Corporation Air Commodore Md Zahid Hossain said water is being sprayed on main streets of Dhaka since November 21 to prevent dust from swirling in the air.

"We've submitted a DPP for importing nine sweeping vehicles to stop dust pollution. The vehicles will keep the streets clean using brush and water," he said.

Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services Prof Abul Kalam Azad said dust pollution causes serious harm to public health. "People are getting affected with diseases like lung problem, cancer and respiratory complications due to it."

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 due to growing dust pollution. 

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