Dhaka now ranks second amongst the cities of the world with the worst air pollution. In 2014 it had been fourth, in 2016 third and now in 2017 it ranks second. That’s a steady progression from bad to worse. It has also been named the most unlivable city with a record rate of deaths due to air pollution. As we hurtle down the path of development, do our policymakers not take a moment to count the cost in human lives?
In 2015 NASA stated that from 2005 to 2015, the percentage of nitrogen dioxide in Dhaka city’s air shot up to 79 per cent. This excessive pollution was caused by unplanned constructions and development work, smoke emitted from the brick factories surrounding the city, and fumes from vehicles. Most harmful to the human body, the PM (particulate matter) count of the city is 2.5, coming only after China and India. This year Dhaka comes second to Delhi. Delhi has several coal-fired power plants which their Centre for Science and Environment says is the most polluting in the world.
The report published jointly by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Matrix and Evaluation also states that in Bangladesh air pollution is the direct cause of 122,400 human deaths annually. Inhaling polluted air is the cause of breathing and pulmonary problems, heart disease and cancer.
It is not impossible to address this situation. Alternative technology must replace the use of coal in brick factories, dust particles in construction work must be controlled, and mass transportation like metro and trains must be made affordable. Use of personal cars must be restricted. Pollution at Narayanganj and Gazipur has created world records. If the forest areas, rivers and water bodies of these places can be restored, the air will be fresh and pure. All this must be done under a greater coordination plan.
Therein lies the crisis. Development, construction, business and housing in Dhaka and the other major cities run recklessly on crass commercial interests. In public interest, the government must tighten the reins. Why, in 46 years of independence, have we failed to create a modern, people-friendly and developed city?