Dhaka dwellers did not get a single day of good quality air

Dhaka city dwellers did not get even a single day of good quality air in March. The average air quality in that month was higher than normal standards. Besides, the air quality in Dhaka during this March was significantly worse than the standards from last year (2023) on two criteria of air pollution.

This condition of the air has been found in separate observations of the chemistry department of Dhaka University and Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS) of Stamford University.

There has been 43 millimeters more rain than usual in the city just in this March. The rainfall is the last resort in preventing the pollution in Dhaka city. But the pollution did not decrease even after so much rain.

Meanwhile the department of environment is running a 100-day special programme, where strict measures have been advised to reduce the pollution of brick kilns, a chief source of air pollution in Dhaka.

More pollution in March this year

A group of researchers led by professor Abdus Salam from the chemistry department of Dhaka University has been monitoring the pollution condition in different parts of the country for more than 12 years now.

One of the several methods of measuring pollution is Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD). The pollutants present in the air are measured here. The minimum tolerable limit is 0.2 but, it was found that the level was 0.9 in March last year. And this year the level was 1.81 per cent.

These researchers have also measured PM2.5 or the tiniest particulate matter, one of the main components of air pollution. It showed that the quantity of this was 70 micrograms per cubic metre in March last year. This time it has increased to 78 micrograms, which is five times higher than the tolerable level.

Professor Abdus Salam said, “We haven’t seen any effective initiative to prevent air pollution that will improve the air quality of Dhaka.”

CAPS’ observation

Ananlysing the data of air quality index or AQI received from the US embassy in Dhaka, it was found that air pollution in March this year has increased by almost 0.1 per cent compared to the average standard in March (188) from the previous eight years (2016-2023).

However it has decreased by more than 3 per cent in comparison to 2023. Yet, residents in the capital did not see good quality air even for a single day in last March.

CAPS chairman Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder said, “We have noticed that the air quality remains better in some of the areas through which the Metro rail has passed. But there’s no good sign for the overall air quality in Dhaka.

According to the standards of IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, if a city scores 50 or less it has good quality air. A city with the score of 51 to 100 is considered ‘moderate’ or ‘acceptable’, the score from 101 to 150 is ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’, from 151 to 200 it is ‘unhealthy’ and the score of 201 to 300 is considered ‘very unhealthy’ in terms of air quality.

If the score is higher than 301 that air quality is considered ‘hazardous’ or ‘risky’. The air quality index in the capital didn’t stoop below 50 even for a single day in March.

Impact of pollution

A picture of increase in the number of patients suffering from air pollution related diseases was noticed at the 250-Bed TB Hospital in capital’s Shaymoli area in March.

Deputy director of the hospital, Ayesha Akhter told Prothom Alo on Wednesday, “In march, we received more than 600 patients with various respiratory problems in the outdoors every day. There are not so many patients usually. Meanwhile, patients couldn’t even be accommodated in the indoor.”

While the air quality in March is being discussed, two international research reports on the country’s air pollution situation were published in that same month. Both of their findings highlighted the delicate state of pollution in the country.

Meanwhile, IQAir’s ‘World Air Quality Report 2023’ published on 19 March stated that as a country Bangladesh was the topmost in air pollution in 2023. And as a city, Dhaka was the second topmost city.

Highlighting a report on this 28 March, the World Bank said that more than 272,000 (2.72 lakh) people died early due to four types of environmental pollutions including air pollution in Bangladesh back in 2019. About 55 per cent of them died because of air pollution.

Commenting on the reports of Dhaka University’s chemistry department and CAPS, urban planner Iqbal Habib said, “There’s an overall incapability on the government’s part to control the production and transport of construction materials as well as construction and brick kilns. There’s almost zero waste management. That’s why we are facing huge harm to public health because of air pollution.”

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