Worst air pollution grips Dhaka’s 20mn people this winter

Dhaka, Nov 26 – As the dry season sets in, the pollution level in the capital reached its extreme level due to uncontrolled discharge of dust from construction works and road digging, posing serious health risks to the city dwellers, say environment and health experts.

They said the city authorities must clean up major roads by spraying water regularly alongside enforcing the law and strengthening monitoring to force the construction companies to carry out development activities following the building code and rules to combat the worsening dust pollution amid lack of rain in the dry season.
Different national and international air pollution indices are depicting how Dhaka’s air quality is getting worse day by day with the onset of winter.
According to Air Visual, the US-based international air quality monitoring organisation, Dhaka’s air was the worst in the world most of the time from 7am to 5:30pm on Sunday.

A mother tries to protect a tiny tod from polluted air by wrapping a cloth on his nose.

On Monday morning, Dhaka city ranked the worst in Air Quality Index (AQI) as it had a score of 242 at 8am, manifesting unhealthy and alarming air quality. Dhaka also ranked the worst in the AQI for three consecutive days in the last week.
“Dust pollution intensifies every year during winter, but the authorities concerned have no preparedness and action plans to deal with the problem,” said urban expert and green activists Iqbal Habib.
He said there is no sincere effort from the government’s part to check the major sources of dust and air pollution — brick kilns, black smoke from vehicles and unplanned construction works.
Narrating the main reasons behind the serious pollution during winter, Habib said, “Usually, all types of construction works increase significantly in the city during the dry season. So, vehicles carrying construction materials like sand, cement and bricks generate huge dust. Brick kilns increase their production in full swing in this season to meet the growing demand of bricks, badly polluting the air quality. Besides, the digging of roads and earth for development activities and building construction also produce huge dust.”
The construction work on Metro Rail in the city alongside unplanned digging of many roads by the government agencies are contributing to serious dust pollution, he said, adding, “The two city corporations have enough manpower to clean up the major roads with spraying water regularly to reduce the dust pollution.”
Environment expert Ainun Nishat said dust has become a big source of pollution in the capital during the dry season for various unplanned construction works taking its heavy toll on human health.
“Air pollution is growing in Dhaka due to the apathy of the government. The government has a big project to check air pollution under which footpaths are developed and foot-over bridges are made. I don’t understand what the relation between air pollution and footpaths and over bridges,” he observed.
Di Nishat, Professor Emeritus at BRAC University, said dust pollution is on the rise for lack of preventive measures, action plans, initiatives and enforcement of law.
“There’s no alternative to properly cleaning up roads with spraying water regularly and ensuring a proper waste management to reduce the dust pollution. The construction companies must be forced to follow construction rules like covering construction sites and spraying water to control dust. Besides, steps should also be taken to check the release of pollutants and black smokes from different industries, vehicles, water vessels and nearby brick kilns.”
Contacted, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin said the two city corporations are mainly responsible authorities to check dust pollution by cleaning up roads and spraying water during wither.
He said they have already warned the construction companies implementing various development activities to follow the guidelines to check dust pollution. “We’re going to issue a letter instructing them to control the sources of dust generate from the construction related works.”
Besides, the minister said, the environment department will conduct mobile courts against those construction companies flout the building code and rules.
He said brick kilns are still the main worry for the environment as 58 percent of air pollution in Dhaka City is caused by those. “We’re working out plans to combat it.”
Air Commodore Zahid Hossain, chief of waste management of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), said they have been spraying water on the main roads of the city since November 21 last to decrease dust pollution.
He said they had a plan to spray water on the roads from November 11, but they could not do it as Wasa declined to supply them water for it.
Under the circumstances, Zahid said they are going to procure nine road sweeping vehicles with which they will be able to clean up the roads with little water. “These vehicles are very effective to remove dust from roads and keep those clean.”
Dhaka North City Corporation waste management department executive engineer Abul Hasnat Mohammad Ashraful Alam said dust problem has turned acute due to road digging for development works. We’ve started spraying water on the streets. We’ve also asked the construction company implementing metro rail project to spray water every day on their own management.”
Director General of the Directorate General Health service (DGHS) Prof Abul Kalam Azad said dust pollution causes serious harm to public health. “People may get affected with serious diseases like lung problems, cancer, respiratory problems due to dust pollution.” – UNB