Other cities not faring any better
When it comes to air pollution, Dhaka continues to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. But what about the other areas of the country?
Turns out, they are not faring any better either.
According to a recently published global data of Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), air quality of each of the country's 64 districts was found to be unhealthy and at least three times higher than the World Health Organization guidelines.
For example, according to the Department of Environment's (DoE) Daily Air Quality Index (AQI) report of September 1, Mymensingh's air quality was worse than the capital's.
That day, Dhaka's AQI was 105 whereas Mymensingh's was 119. Meanwhile, Rangpur's was 104.
The AQI regards the range of 0–50 points as good air quality, 51–100 as moderately good, 101–150 cautionary, 151-200 as unhealthy, 201–300 very unhealthy, and 301-500 as extremely unhealthy.
This trend was also seen on some days of August, when air quality of other cities of the country was also at an alarming level.
The data of August 30 and 31 shows Dhaka and Mymensingh's AQI was the same, while on August 29, Dhaka's AQI was 112, whereas it was 120 for Mymensingh and Gazipur.
DoE monitors pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) for the index.
High air pollution often leads to citizens developing numerous diseases, such as asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, said physicians.
With International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies being observed worldwide today, The Daily Star looks into the situation in some of the cities outside the capital and reasons behind the pollution.
According to experts, brick kilns, faulty vehicles, fossil fuel, dust from roads and construction sites, and toxic fumes from industries are the major sources of air pollution, which continues to increase day by day.
In 2015, Mymensingh was declared the eighth division of the country. Since then, massive construction works have started, and industries have been expanding there after Gazipur, said Advocate Abdul Motaleb Lal, an environmental activist of Mymensingh.
"The construction materials are being left in the open by the roadside, from where dust gets mixed with the air," he said.
Besides, expanding industries can be seen even in villages, as agricultural land gets occupied. This expansion is not only polluting the air but also the waterbodies with their discharges.
"Not to mention, there are many brick kilns in the city corporation area, even though they're prohibited. At the same time, the number of vehicles has also increased in the city," he added.
According to Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), the smog from brick kilns, smoke from unfit vehicles and dust generated from constructions sites remain the main sources of air pollution.
This issue is prevalent not just in Dhaka, but also in other cities. Brick kilns are the top polluters in areas surrounding the capital, he added.
Some coal-based power plants are also attributing to this problem in some cities. Besides, indiscriminate disposal of waste and burning garbage at dumping sites are also causing severe air pollution.
According to the AQLI report, the most polluted areas of the country are Khulna and Rajshahi, where an average resident is exposed to pollution that is more than seven times the WHO guidelines.
PM 2.5, microscopic particles that are just three percent the diameter of a strand of human hair and most deadly for humans when they enter the respiratory system, is high in Narayanganj, Jashore, Rajshahi, Khulna, Pabna, Dhaka and Gazipur, found the study.
The average annual PM 2.5 concentration in Bangladesh was 77.1 microgrammes per cubic metre (mcg/m3) of air, while Manikganj was the most polluted regional city, with an average of 80.2 mcg/m3 in 2020, according to the World Air Quality Report 2020, published in March this year.
Bangladesh National Ambient Air Quality Standard guidelines say the presence of PM 2.5 in the air should remain within 65 mcg/m3 in 24 hours while the annual average should stay at 15.
However, according to WHO guidelines, PM 2.5 should be 10 mcg/m3 as an annual average and 25 mcg/m3 in 24 hours.
In 2020, Bangladesh's air quality was the worst in the world, while Dhaka was the second most polluted city.
The Daily Star could not get the data of brick kilns or industries in those particular areas.
According to the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, a total of 8,455 factories, shops and construction licences were issued by them, and 25,176 such establishments renewed licenses in fiscal 2019-20.
"Our biggest failure is that we only have a draft act to check the air pollution, which is not being implemented properly. Our ministry and its departments have no efficiency in controlling such severe levels of pollution," said the Bapa general secretary.
"The ministry's budget allocation has been reduced, where it should have been increased, as lots of development work are being undertaken by the government," he added.
"They [government] have taken initiatives to reduce the number of brick kilns but without any specific roadmap in this regard," he claimed.
Meanwhile, experts recommended phasing out the use of burnt bricks, making the use of block bricks mandatory in phases, covering construction sites to reduce dust in the air, phasing out unfit vehicles, importing diesel with less sulfur contents, using high-quality fossil fuel, planting more trees and having more waterbodies as measures to control air pollution.
Contacted, Syed Nazmul Ahsan, director (air quality management) of the DoE, said, he joined the DoE recently and his predecessor will be able to explain the situation better.