We’re all at risk
A few months ago, Delhi was declared as the most polluted city in the world. For most of us who breathed a sigh of relief, the breathing just got harder. The smog caved in and, before we knew it, Dhaka was already creeping up the list to becoming world’s most polluted city.
Dhaka has been consecutively maintaining the highest position among the cities having the lowest air quality in the world. We are all so concerned about landfill waste waters, but very few of us actually consider air quality a major issue.
Air pollution increases the risk of contracting irreversible health problems. And as the decentralization of Dhaka is yet to happen any time soon, the risk of significant parts of the population being exposed to air pollution becomes inevitable.
It is indeed sad to say that the city full of life has also been ranked as the second least livable city in the world by The Global Livability Index 2018.
What have we turned our habitat into? Was this what urbanization had in store for us? Living in Dhaka comes with a hefty price, not only at the cost of money but also at the cost of a healthy life. The toxicity in the air is slowly poisoning each of us, one day at a time.
The Department of Environment (DoE) has found the presence of sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, carbon, and mineral, in the air, which is responsible for chronic respiratory diseases. These are suspended in the air, often reaching dangerous levels, totally unfit for human inhalation.
The DoE is therefore working to keep such pollution in check by operating the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project. CASE publishes monthly reports and charts on air quality.
It also encourages people to abide by the rules in order to prevent such pollution. It has undertaken several ambitious projects, such as the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Program, Brick Kilns Emission management, and vehicular emission standards.
But have these actually worked? Why has our position then been constant in the US-based Air Quality Index, which provides real-time data on the air quality of every city in the world?
Air pollution in Bangladesh is at its peak in the dry seasons, from October to March. The primary culprits behind this are the brick kilns and Dhaka’s traffic congestion. Buses spewing black smoke still rule the roads despite having been banned years ago and factories continue to be built around the outskirts of the capital.
The presence of hazardous substances in the air causes aggravation of asthma, heart, and lung diseases. For example, according to a newspaper report, “lead accumulates in organs, which may lead to poisoning or even death. The gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, and central nervous system are also affected by the presence of lead. Children exposed to lead are at risk of impaired development, lower IQ, shortened attention span, hyperactivity, and mental deterioration.”
If this goes on, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see a future generation suffering from a vast number of health issues.
What does the law say?
The Bangladesh Environment Protection Act 1995 puts a restriction on the driving of vehicles producing smoke harmful to the environment. It even imposes a punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine which may extend to Tk1 lakh, or with both.
However, the presence of these smoke-emitting buses still active clearly goes to show how much the Act has been implemented. In 2013, the government passed the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act.
This ordered companies to implement modern technology in their kilns within two years’ time. However, it was not realistically possible to do so in the stipulated time limit.
Although it cannot be totally removed, the focus now should be on air quality management based on the existing environmental laws of Bangladesh. The government took the initiative to draft a Clean Air Act back in 2018.
The organizers, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the DoE, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, however, were doubtful whether such an act can rightfully be implemented.
Rule violators would break it just as they break every other law. Therefore, imposing strict liability is the only way to ensure cleaner air. The Act would need further support from the Ministry and DoE in order to be enacted.
The air we breathe in is vital to life. We have certainly taken our respiratory system for granted. We can hope that we don’t realize these mistakes until it is too late.
Aiman R Khan is an apprentice Advocate, Dhaka Judge Court.