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OP-ED: Air gives life, air takes life

  • Published at 06:08 am June 6th, 2021
air pollution
Photo: MEHEDI HASAN

Our pollution problem is more than just an inconvenience

I remember riding a rickshaw home, and feeling my nose burn from the air, like it was drying out. I remember the sight of the dust-coated table from which I write. 

How long until it’s not safe anymore? I came upon a documentary from India on air pollution. There was a family of three members, and the father was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer. The question was, how? He didn’t smoke, neither did he drink. The doctor said it was air pollution. It was only the tip of the iceberg.

Air pollution consists of chemicals or particles in the atmosphere that pose serious health and environmental threats. But what does air pollution mean to us? More importantly, what does it mean for our planet?

Melting ice caps, warmer oceans, intense storms, heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires -- all these well-documented effects of climate change that I heard growing up didn’t faze me, as much as this did when I realized air pollution was capable of taking lives. Bangladesh has also been seeing an alarming increase in deaths due to air pollution in recent years.

In 2019, some 173,500 people died from diseases caused by air pollution which is over 50,000 more than the year 2017 in Bangladesh. The country is ninth among top 10 countries with the highest level of outdoor PM (micro-particles). 

PM 2.5, which was found in Bangladesh, was seven times above WHO exposure recommendation. This amount of pollution is capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory tract and causing severe health damage, accounting for 74,000 deaths in Bangladesh.

Even in the Covid-19 situation when pollution all around the world was decreasing, Dhaka still managed to place second on the pollution index. The source of air pollution has changed in the last eight years. 

A survey done by DU in 2020 found that thick smoke emitted from vehicles was mostly responsible for air pollution. Another study by the chemistry department of Dhaka University found that vehicles powered by fossil fuels make up 50% of the contributors to air pollution. 

Then there is burning of biomass, and last but not least, brick kiln emissions. A Department of Environment study found brick kiln exhaust to be one of the top 
air polluters. 

The survey reveals the major source of air pollution in the capital has drastically changed. There are more sources now: The streets are frequently under construction for the lack of coordination between the organizations. 

As a result, we see that when the road construction is done, the gas pipes need to be changed. 

Industries in the locality producing harmful gas, and a high number of expired vehicles also contribute to air pollution highly. Besides, over-population, slum areas, the open burning of garbage waste, dust from demolition sites, all are on the list.       

The impact of air pollution is severe. A study shows that air pollution can shorten lives by three years. Exposure to high level of air pollution can cause a variety of health outcomes, increasing the risk of respiratory infection, heart disease, and lung cancer. It causes damage to the blood vessels through greater oxidative stress, leading to increases in blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, and heart failure. 

On top of that, it is a major contributor to global warming and climate change. It depletes the ozone layer, which protects the earth from sun UV rays. It can also cause acid rain, which harms trees, soil, and the rivers. 

However, the government is taking various steps to combat air pollution, including regular drives against the polluters. But given the situation, this is not enough. We must take more rigorous steps to stop the air pollution now. We need to move away from fossil fuels, replacing them with green technologies; producing clean energy is crucial. For transportation, we need to turn to eco-friendly vehicles. There has to be better coordination between the different authorities regarding construction work.

As a youngster, it is my duty to our community to act in a way that reduces pollution and waste, and I invite you all to save our air and save our future generation.

Faeeza Tasmeem Neera is a freelance contributor.

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