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Dhaka Tribune

Death toll from air pollution sees alarming rise in Bangladesh

In 2019, some 173,500 people died from diseases caused by air pollution

Update : 21 Oct 2020, 10:41 PM

Bangladesh has been seeing an alarming increase in deaths due to air pollution in recent years.

The country saw a total of 173,500 deaths in 2019 due to air pollution, which is over 50,000 more than the year 2017, said a global report on air pollution related to health burden. In 2017, the death toll was 123,000 in the country.

The US-based Health Effects Institute and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation jointly published the report on Wednesday titled “State of Global Air 2020” under the global burden of disease project.

Bangladesh is ninth among the top 10 countries with the highest level of outdoor Ambient Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) which is very small at 2.5 micrometres in diameter or less, produced by all types of combustion common in urban and rural places.

PM 2.5, which is capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory tract and causing severe health damage, accounted for 74,000 deaths in Bangladesh. Household air pollution from solid fuel accounted for 94,800 deaths while the rest of the deaths are due to ozone exposure.

The country is also fourth among the top 10 countries with highest ozone exposure and eleventh among top 17 countries for household air pollution exposure.

In the South Asia region, more than 2.1 million people died due to air pollution where Bangladesh is third. 

In India, 1,667,000 people died last year followed by Pakistan with 235,700 deaths, Bangladesh with 173,500 deaths and Nepal with 42,100 deaths due to air pollution.

Around the globe, air pollution caused 6.7 million deaths last year and 213 million years of healthy life lost, the latest report said.

Among the all mortality risk factors, air pollution is at fourth position globally, surpassed only by high blood pressure (10.8 million), tobacco use (8.71 million), and poor diet (7.94 million). Death caused by air pollution is five times higher than the traffic collisions (1.28 million) worldwide.

Air pollution can cause diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, stroke, and many others.

In 2019, air pollution contributed to nearly 500,000 deaths among infants in their first month of life. It accounts for 20% of newborn deaths worldwide, mostly related to complications like low birth weight and preterm birth.

What authorities say

Ziaul Haque, director (Air quality management) at the department of environment said: “I have not read the report in detail. That is why I cannot comment on it.”

“We closed down 700 brick kilns from December last year to March this year. In 2025, there will be no use of bricks in any kind of construction work except road construction. Everyone will have to use blocks which are more environment friendly than brick,” he said.

“Moreover, following the High Court directives, we put together and distributed a guideline, where we defined what roles will be played by the various ministries and departments to stop air pollution,” Ziaul Haque added.

“If everything we planned is implemented in the right way, we may expect a positive change in air quality,” he mentioned.

Forecast of more deaths in coming years

The international independent research organization, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) jointly unveiled a study on May 5 this year, titled "Air Quality, health and toxics impacts of the proposed coal power cluster in Payra, Bangladesh.” 

According to the study, air pollutant emissions from seven plants of the payra cluster would be responsible for a projected 18,000 to 34,000 deaths in Bangladesh over its operating life of 30 years.

Air pollution, especially the presence of particulate matter in the air, is shortening the life expectancy of Bangladeshis by seven years on average, a study done by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago said on July 28.

Another report, titled "Air Quality, Health and Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Coal Power Cluster in Chittagong region, Bangladesh,” was jointly unveiled by CREA and BAPA on September 22. 

It said air pollution from coal-based power plants in Chittagong region may cause 30,139 deaths in 30 years, as per a recent study.

Source of air pollution

According to the research findings available so far, the brick kilns are causing 58% of the air pollution in Dhaka. Dust from the roads and bare soil cause 18% of the pollution, vehicles cause 10% and 14% comes from other sources.

According to the study of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, 25% of Particulate Matter (PM) pollution comes from vehicles, 20% from wood and coal burning, 15% from power plants and industry, 22% from other human activity, and 18% from natural sources worldwide.

Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, chairman of the department of Environmental Science at Stamford University and also the joint secretary of BAPA said: “We have to re-identify the sources of air pollution and take strict steps to reduce pollution from the sources.  Thus, we may obtain a good result.”

“Pollution from vehicles and coal based power plants are emerging as a greater source of pollution in Bangladesh, he added.

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