• Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:57 pm

Cry for a Dhaka with clean air

  • Published at 12:21 am February 21st, 2020
Air polution in Dhaka Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

AQI score exceeds 400 in the city's upscale areas on Thursday

Once again Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka has topped the list of cities with the worst air in the Air Quality Index (AQI) last morning and evening.

According to AirVisual, which monitors and gives data regarding global air quality in real-time, the areas adjoining to Gulshan, Banani, and Baridhara experienced AQI scores exceeding 400 at 9am, indicating the air in the areas to be "hazardous."

Several other residential areas of the capital such as Mohammadpur and Lalmatia also had AQI value of over 200, indicating the air to be "very unhealthy."

For the last two years, Dhaka has been frequently ranking highest — with a score of over 300 — in the World Air Quality Index.

Meanwhile, Kathmandu and Delhi occupied the second and third spots with AQI scores of 225 and 191, respectively.

An AQI score between 301 and 500 implies health warnings of emergency conditions and the entire population are more likely to be affected, and as per forecasts Dhaka's air will continue to remain unhealthy till February 25.

When contacted for comments regarding the ongoing crisis, Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, professor of environmental science at Stamford University, said: "The existing law does not have any provision about declaring an emergency because of air pollution. However, the draft of Clean Air Act, 2020 does have provisions for the formation of an advisory board that would be able to decide on whether to announce an emergency or not due to bad air quality."

In Bangladesh, the AQI is based on five criteria of pollutants – particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), NO2, CO, SO2, and Ozone (O3).

As of 5pm on Thursday , the average AQI value was reported at 207 for the whole of Dhaka city. 

However, the city's Bashundhara Residential Area had a score of 286, Kalachandpur 267, the areas close to the US Embassy in Dhaka 223, and Gulshan 2 had the AQI value of 254. 

Experts say that the AQI value remains high in the morning time because of heavy traffic movement and construction works, but it comes down gradually as the day progresses.

Due to extreme air pollution, general people, especially sensitive groups, remain at high-risk of experiencing strong irritations and adverse health effects that could trigger other illness as well, thus everyone should avoid exercise and remain indoors if the AQI score is above 300 at any given place, recommends AirVisual.

Earlier, on November 1, 2018, the Indian government had to declare a public health emergency in Delhi after the city recorded AQI score of 484 on an average for several days.

In the index, Hanoi in Vietnam, Beijing in China, and Shenyang in China, Lahore in Pakistan and Mumbai in India occupied the next five slots with a score of 237, 181, 178, 173 and 172 respectively.

DoE understaffed

The High Court in two different directives asked the government to deploy five executive magistrates within a month under the Department of Environment (DoE) to conduct mobile courts twice a week against air and environmental polluters. 

It also asked to mark the areas where construction works are going on, repair damaged areas in 15 days, to check dust and also to spray water at “dust-prone” areas twice a day.

Complying with the court's order, Ministry of Public Administration appointed three magistrates and they will join DoE shortly, said Md Sadequl Islam, director (admin) at the Department of Environment.

"However against the 1,065 approved posts in our department, we now have a little over 500 people," he added.

On Sunday, Environment Minister M Shahab Uddin said the air quality of Dhaka city turned worse between 2016 and 2019 due to construction of many mega infrastructure projects.

Brick kilns, vehicles, construction of different infrastructures and road digging, civic waste, biomass and trans-boundary influence are also responsible for the worsening air quality of the capital, he added.

As part of the short-term plan, the government ensured checking of the emission level of vehicles while providing fitness certificates, Shahab Uddin said, adding that the government has also ensured waste management of city corporations and stopped the burning of waste.

As part of the mid-term plan, he said, the government has taken measures to set up high-speed water sprinklers at different hotspots of Dhaka city to control the air pollution through spraying water at high speed from high above.