It's a question of commitment
A two-day International Conference on Environment and sustainable development has just concluded in the capital. Both the Prime Minister and Leader of the opposition expressed their grave concern over environmental degradation, air pollution in particular; and suggested various measures to redress the situation.
Concern for environment is not a momentary enthusiasm only, but a commitment made by many people in many places. Since 1972 UN-sponsored world environment conference in Stockholm, Sweden, our engagement with the environment and actions to preserve parts of it seem to be at a nascent stage. At every seminar and symposium we discuss the same issues and make same suggestions.
When Dhaka had its first air pollution episode, did anybody manage to conserve the real record? Not to speak of the Department of Environment which is staffed with experts having higher degrees and always busy preparing projects of different kinds to utilise the dollars aimed at forging efforts to check environmental degradation through several hundred NGOs - national and international. But in real sense what the NGOs are doing? Most of the NGOs are busy with plantation. This has been on for years now.
When we discuss air pollution and compare our position with the developed world we find our position still at a rudimentary stage. In 1952, a severe fog combined with pollution lasted five days in London. In the United States of America, the first air pollution episode occurred in the small Pennsylvanian town of Donora in 1948. Heavy smog settled over the area surrounding Donora. Donora and London tragedy were not the first and the second air pollution incident to occur in the world. Air pollution has existed since industrialisation began in eighteenth century.
In London rules forbidding the use of coal for home heating have prevented a reoccurrence of the deadly fog. In the United States and in Europe, a series of regulations designed to decrease the release of air pollutants from industry have served to clean up the air to some extent, although all of the industrialised countries still battle the air pollutants generated by automobiles. As the developing countries gain the economic benefits of industrialisation and the mobility of motor vehicle transport, the focus of the air pollution crisis has already shifted to the developing countries.
Secondly, the areas of the world in which population growth is taking place have shifted with time - the major portion of world population growth has been taking place in the developing nations, in the south, although major portion of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels comes from the industrialised countries like USA UK Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada and Japan.
We cannot raise our head to developed countries when we see the air pollutants and suspended particles emitted from reconditioned buses, trucks, cars and three wheelers and see the dark cloud over Dhaka city. We did not really know enough about our environment and how it worked to formulate a policy, a plan for how Dhaka people could fit into the system without destroying it. We are now in a position in which we begin to have hope of dealing with the environment in a co-ordinated and unified manner since the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition voiced the same issues and suggested same measures to address the situation.
Now our responses need not go on indefinitely being clumsy and late. Let us make a drive to stop using three wheelers, reconditioned and long used vehicles from next June and make concrete efforts to replace these by several hundred new bus and taxi cabs. It is an endeavour in which the people of the other developing world can finally join hands. Let us make Dhaka liveable.
Admittedly, NGOs operating in Bangladesh are very slow to react to our environmental imperatives, air pollution in particular. They have so far failed to make much of an impact. The NGOs must go to the streets to make urban citizens aware of his or her rights and responsibilities to the environment. The civil society should stand by the side of the government, because Government won't be able to make much progress, no matter how strict relevant laws and their enforcement are, so long the citizenry do not actively participate in the process. Let us start our work today.