Air pollution is killing us slowly but surely
We are alarmed by yet another study report of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has found that the average life expectancy of people in Bangladesh is being cut short by 6.8 years due to their continuous exposure to polluted air. And this is not the first time that we have come across such worrying reports. Earlier this year, a World Bank study found that air pollution was causing about 20 percent of all premature deaths in Bangladesh. Another study has found that poor air quality is contributing to the rise in premature births and babies born with low birth weight in Dhaka. Over the past few years, different global organisations have published regular reports on air pollution, in which our capital city Dhaka has often been ranked as one of the top polluted cities. The question, therefore, is, what steps have the authorities taken in all these years to reduce air pollution, which has become an existential threat for all of us?
The EPIC report has identified some major sources of air pollution in Bangladesh as well as other South Asian countries, including smoke from brick kilns, fumes from the vehicles, dust from construction sites, industrial pollution, etc. While government sources claim that some initiatives have been taken to reduce the number of brick kilns using old technology in the country, not much has been done to reduce other factors contributing to air pollution. The number of vehicles on our roads tripled between 2010 and 2020, and between 1998 and 2017, the amount of electricity production fuelled by coal and oil also increased threefold. And the numerous ongoing development projects have also increased the level of dust pollution.
Will the government continue to treat air pollution as a non-issue or will it take some effective measures? China could be our example in this regard, which declared a war against air pollution and eventually reduced it by 42.3 percent between 2013 and 2021. It is said that if such improvements are sustained, the average Chinese citizen will be able to live 2.2 years longer. The EPIC report suggested that Bangladesh could also increase its people's life expectancy significantly by lowering its PM2.5 levels. But the question, as always, remains: will the government really act now?