Amid growing concerns over the downward trend in Dhaka’s air quality, speakers at a discussion on Thursday emphasized the need to build public awareness in order to fight pollution in Bangladesh.
The major causes of the air pollution problem were the emission of black fumes and other harmful gases from brick kilns on the outskirts of Dhaka, as well as emissions from vehicles plying the city streets, they said, adding that construction sites also contribute heavily to pollution.
The observations were made at a program titled “Air Quality in Bangladesh: Challenges and Solution,”organized by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service to observe Air Quality Awareness Week.
The program was held at the Edward M Kennedy Center for Public Service and the Arts, also known as the EMK Center, in Dhanmondi, Dhaka.
US Ambassador in Dhaka Marcia Bernicat said the problem is not only taking its toll on Dhaka, but also posing threats worldwide.
Terming air pollution control crucial, as pollution severely impacts public health, the economy and the environment, the US envoy added that it was necessary to collect accurate information on air pollution to address the issue.
Premature deaths caused by air pollution are four times higher than those reported from HIV, with indoor pollution alone claiming four million lives annually, she said referring to a global reportby theWorld Health Organization (WHO).
She added that USAID is working to popularize clean energy in Bangladesh by encouraging the use of ecologically-friendly stoves in rural areas, to help cut health issues and deaths resulting from the use of traditional burners.
The diplomat, however, opined that success in curbing air pollution will not come overnight in Bangladesh, as the problem keeps deepening due to rampant construction work.
Replying to query about her personal take on Dhaka’s air quality, Bernicat said she had long been suffering from asthma and had almost healed before taking charge at the US embassy in Bangladesh in 2015.
Ever since coming to Dhaka, the medical condition started to resurface and now she struggles significantly in the capitaldue to the poor air quality, Bernicat told those in attendanceat the function.
Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Director General Prof Abul Kalam Azad said they were working with the Department of Environment (DoE) to improve the air quality in Dhaka.
The uncontrolled use of fossil-fuels is also intensifying indoor air pollution, causing 60% of non-communicable ailments in the country, he said, calling for stern action against brick kilns that are not ecologically friendly.
Dhaka University chemistry professor Abdus Salam said environmental factors account for 25% of annual deaths in the country and 75% of these deaths are caused by air pollution.
DoE Senior Chemist Mohammad Golam Sarwar said the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission in a 2011 report estimated the contribution of vehicles and brick kilns to air pollution at 19% and 38%, respectively.
In 2015, a report by the DoE said that brick kilns contribute 50% to air pollution, while vehicles contribute 10%.
Bangladesh, one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, has long been struggling with air pollution with Dhaka continually ranking among the most polluted cities.
Air quality declines between October and April, but improves in the monsoon season.
The situation is so serious that five of the top 10 causes of death in Bangladesh are related to air pollution, experts say.