The punishing costs of pollution
We do not need studies to tell us that indiscriminate, unplanned urbanisation, along with encroachment of land and water bodies, have polluted the air and water making our urban areas, unlivable. Yet we still must live in these areas, paying a huge cost in terms of ill health, untimely deaths and loss of productivity. A World Bank study has estimated the economic cost of all this to be one percent of our GDP which comes to around TK 20,000 crore a year.
This is because we are continuously inhaling air that is contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium, pesticides and sulphur dioxide – basically poison that seeps into our system causing irreparable damage. Dhaka and other urban areas of the country have seen a spike in the number of people especially children and the elderly with severe respiratory conditions such as asthma and pneumonia. Even young, healthy adults are falling ill because of the air they are forced to breathe.
So where are these poisons coming from? Well, we have allowed brick kilns to operate in the outskirts of the city contributing 38 percent of the micro-pollutants. Then there are the motor vehicles giving us another 19 percent, road dust 18, solid dust and metal smelters another seven percent to add to the lethal cocktail we choke on everyday. There is also lead poisoning caused by scores of battery recycling areas, lead smelting hotspots and industries. Textile industries, meanwhile pour in 200 tonnes of toxic waste into the rivers leading to more health hazards. On top of all that greed has taken away most of our water bodies intensifying water logging and the associated hazards to public health.
There is no alternative except to take emergency measures. This includes recovering our wetlands, adopting cleaner technologies in industries, stopping illegal constructions and investing in modern, efficient and adequate waste management. This is the only way to resuscitate our dying urban areas.