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Countering unabated air pollution in Bangladesh: Need for meaningful steps



Global climate change has been intensified due to unabated air pollution across the globe. As nations run after the material assets that is earned at the cost of environmental features such as green space and air quality often come under an increasing threat. No doubt is that uses of fossil fuels is a prime cause of climate change that is also linked to air pollution. That’s why, scientists have warned to restrict the increase of the global warming to 1.5 degree all coal based power plants have to be closed down by 2050[i]. Air pollution has been the major concern for global lives and livelihoods. Recently, air pollution (indoor and outdoor) is listed as the world’s largest single environmental health risk with the ever-increasing association to the incidence of cardiovascular diseases and cancer (WHO, 2014; Baklanov et al., 2016). Hence, SDG15 emphasis to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Particularly, Sustainable development agenda 3 and 11 to combat the air pollutions and importance of air quality improvement.


Outbreak of public health damages

However, according to United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), due to the air pollution one-fourth of the global population and their livelihoods are affected severely, in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia mostly. Though globally number of the cooking with solid fuels has been declined[ii] disparities persist and populations in LDCs continue to suffer the highest exposure to household air pollution since an estimate reveals that more than 2.8 billion people around the world continue to burn solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, and dung in their homes for cooking and heating (Chafe et al. 2014). Every year around 7 million people including 600,000 children face premature deaths due to exposure from both outdoor and household or indoor air pollution. Just in 2017, 3.6 billion or 47% of the global population were exposed to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking.


Globally, air pollution, a silent killer, is a major environmental and public health risk and due to polluted air over 2 million people die alone in South-East Asia region (World Economic Forum, 2018). More than 90% of people worldwide live in areas exceeding the WHO Guideline for healthy air. David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, insisted that air pollution as a “silent, sometimes invisible, prolific killer which affected women and girls more than men.” With that emerging global health risks UNEP has fixed the theme “Beat the air pollution” for World Environment Day observed in 5th June of each year.

Are the LDCs the prime victims?

Recently, it has been observed that air quality in different parts of the world has been declining over the period and according to WHO, air quality of around 98% of LDCs and MIDCs can’t attain the WHO standards. 3.6 billion People – 47% of the global population-were exposed to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking in 2017. In 2017, air pollution was the fifth highest mortality risk factor globally and was associated with loss of 147 million years of healthy life, the report added. The South Asian region—Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan—led the world as the most polluted, with over 1.5 million air-pollution related deaths and Us based Health Effect Institute (HEI) in its “The State of Global Air 2019” has identified that globally air pollution has reduced life-expectancy of a person by 1 year 8 months and 30 months in South Asia because of a combination of outdoor air pollution and dirty indoor air. “In addition to human lives lost, there is an estimated global cost of US$225 billion in lost labour, and trillions in medical costs. This is now one of the largest global health risks, with a disease burden comparable to that from tobacco smoking (WHO, 2014; WHO, 2015).


Linkages of development and air pollution: questionable benefits

At What Cost Air quality in Asia remained stubbornly poor; especially in Bangladesh where the entire population has been exposed to PM2.5 levels above 35 μg/m3 since 1990, according to the third annual State of Global Air report. Though the Constitution of Bangladesh in its clause 18A affirms that “The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, bio-diversity, wetlands, forests and wild life for the present and future citizens” but in terms of environmental performance the scenario is almost bleak! In a report of the US-based Environmental Protection Index (EPI) on the environment performance in 180 countries, Bangladesh ranked 179, having slipped down by 40 places from the year 2010 to 2018. World Health Organization has identified Dhaka as third highest polluted city in the world in 2019. However, Dhaka-based US embassy measures air quality of Dhaka and it has identified the highest air pollution at Dhaka in last 19th and 20th January of 2019. A new study (carried out jointly by US-based institutes-the Health Effects Institute (HEI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) on global air pollution has reported that at least 123,000 people died in Bangladesh in 2017 due to indoor and outdoor air pollution. According to the World Bank report Bangladesh lost 1% of its GDP each year due to air pollution.


A study carried out by the Department of Chemical of Dhaka University has specified the presence of 200 times higher than the presence of the standard level of led, cadmium, nickel, chromium, arsenic, manganese and copper in the road dust of Dhaka. Substantially reducing air pollution could save up to 3,500 lives and avoid up to 230 million cases of respiratory diseases annually in Bangladesh. In economics term, this is equivalent to around USD 500 million in savings due to reduced health care costs and increased productivity per annum[iii].

Need meaningful steps to learn solutions and their strict implementation

Despite having the legal regime to protect environmental conservation environmental pollution is not reducing rather increasing drastically caused by poor enforcements, inadequate accountability, corruption in registration process as well as ousting unfit vehicles from the road and in result, air pollution is damaging economy of Bangladesh[iv]. However there are also bright sides to learn from the global experiences to counter the devastating air pollution in limited time. For instances, to reduce the air pollution, in Southern California, various policies and programs were put into use including electric cars, ship at-port electrification, cleaner fuel for trucks, ships and trains and mandatory installation of newer and cleaner engines. Despite a 38% increase in traffic, 30% increase in population and 160% increase in port activity from the year 1994 to 2011, the policies and programs led to drastic decreases in pollution levels, with a 54% fall in NOx, 65% fall in reactive organic gases, 40% fall in SOx, 21% decrease in PM 2.5 and 15% decrease in PM 10. In China, air quality was improved drastically by reducing production of steel and coal-fired electricity, and heavy investments into wind and solar power. Chinese cities are pressing residents to give up coal stoves and furnaces at home. Officials have required higher-quality gasoline and diesel for vehicles. In March 2017, the national government announced the closure or cancellation of 103 coal-fired power plants. The country created citizen watchdogs, by making air quality data from monitoring stations public, and allowing anyone with a smart-phone to detect air-quality and report violations.


South Korea, from 2005, introducing the installation of DPF and DOC devices in city buses and business vehicles. LPG engine retrofits, and early termination of vehicle registration for vehicles failing to meet the emissions requirements. Seoul as a fundamental solution has distributed green cars since 2009 with a “smart payment” system to meet potential demand for easy payment.


In Singapore, National Environment Agency (NIA) also carries out regular enforcement against smoky vehicles by issuing fines to owners. In addition, drivers who leave their engines idling are taken to task. The NIA keeps a close eye through fourteen air monitoring stations around the island, sensors installed in the chimneys of factories, and video cameras trained on smoke stacks in industrial parks. This continuous monitoring allows NEA to detect any deterioration of air quality and respond immediately and provides evidence for acts of non-compliance when it comes to enforcement against culprits. It also allows NEA to find out whether its policies and programs to ensure the effectiveness good air quality are effective.


Moreover, in 1992, the Mexico City was declared the most polluted in the planet and finally it replaced city’s soot-belching old cars, removed lead from gasoline, embraced natural gas, and expanded public transportation, and relocated refineries and factories. The presence of lead in the air has dropped by 90 percent since 1990. Suspended particles -pieces of dust, soot or chemicals that lodge in lungs and cause asthma, emphysema or cancer – have been cut 70 percent. Carbon monoxide and other pollutants also have been drastically reduced[v]. As part of its Sustainable Energy for All Action Plan, Ghana’s government aims to provide 50% of the country’s population with LPG access by 2020. In a related effort, the government launched the Rural LPG promotion program in 2013 to focus on increasing LPG use in rural areas where solid fuels are the most common source of energy.


Going forward, knee-jerk reactions to curb pollution will not a permanent solution to the crisis, but sustainable solutions which include strict legislative norms, citizen’s participation and community engagement on a massive scale and dispersion of eco-friendly technology may be effective in battling this crisis, which poses a threat to people and the environment. Considering to ensure the efficiency, effectiveness and economically soundness of efforts as well as mobilizing the adequate funds for public health concerns caused by air pollution applying Polluter’s Pay Principle Department of Environment (DoE) should impose pollution fees or permit would be optimum solution to curb the alarming state of air pollution.

Air pollution does not recognize geographic boundaries. Pollutants can travel great distances affecting air quality and public health locally and regionally in areas downwind. For this reason, the control strategies to improve air quality in local areas need to include control measures that are mandated and implemented on a state, region-wide or national basis, in combination with local control measures. In general, regulations established by the national government tend to have the widest application, which can minimize boundary and economic competition issues.


[i] https://www.who.int/air-pollution/news-and-events/how-air-pollution-is-destroying-our-health

[ii] https://www.stateofglobalair.org/sites/default/files/soga_2019_report.pdf

[iii] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/07/24/cleaning-dhakas-air-bangladesh

[iv] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/585301536851966118/pdf/129915-CEA-P161076-PUBLIC-Disclosed-9-16-2018.pdf

[v] http://www.businessworld.in/article/5-Global-Success-Stories-On-Battling-Air-Pollution-Can-Delhi-Learn-From-Them-/13-11-2017-131422/

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