Improving Dhaka's air quality  

Published: December 26, 2019 21:57:12 | Updated: December 28, 2019 22:07:47

The Financial Express carried two items on environmental issues last Wednesday, one being the governmental move for ensuring clean air for Dhaka, albeit under court orders, and another on mitigating the impact of climate change on the Sundarbans. At the same time news channels carried an item that beach-encroachers on Cox's Bazar coast will be evicted to keep the world's largest unbroken seashore pristine, again under court orders. Newspapers also carried reports on BIWTA's eviction of factories, or part of them, set-up illegally on river banks around Dhaka, again as a sequel to an earlier court order. Altogether, there seems some briskness in environmental activity in the country.

Dhaka's recent propensity to remain at the bottom end of world's polluted cities, interchanging positions with the Indian capital of Delhi in a merry-go-round is indeed curious and hurting at the same time. The Indian capital historically has had dry origins, however much greenery it may have grown subsequently in a planned way. Its bad luck is partly due to less rain and the fertile plains of Haryana and Punjab where the farmers after bumper crop must burn the stubble every season for the north-westerly wind to carry the effects to the big Delhi metropolis down south-east. Dhaka has no such problem. It has much more rain and is surrounded by rivers. It is essentially on a green delta once boasting quality air and water. Now all of that has gone. The rivers around the city have turned into veritable cesspools and the air, at times first or at other times third from the bottom in the World Air Quality Index, has become a silent killer.  Now some new steps are being mooted for Dhaka's rescue. Brick kilns around a certain periphery have been banned. New steps would also include control over storing and burning of waste by the roadside, ban on carrying of cement, soil and sand in open trucks, improvement of dilapidated roads quickly and spraying of water. Mobile courts have also been talked about. Dhaka's recent building boom, specially the long stretches of the metro rail project in open roads is no less responsible for raising the particulate matter in the air far above the safety limit. Regular water spraying as thought of by the Ministry of Environment may be a short-term remedy. The other medium- and long-term plans that have been contemplated in the ministry's high-powered committee will need greater elaboration, let alone going through test of time.    

People may ask if everything has to be done under court orders, what the ordinary machinery of the government was doing! If every time they have to be awakened from slumber by the judiciary, their very necessity comes under question. The pro-environmental stance of the courts is welcome by every segment of society. A question may arise whether saving Dhaka only will deliver all that is needed in one of the densest countries of the world. Other metropolitan areas in the country as indeed the populated rural countryside also require rescue. The Sundarbans need special care as it saves us from the brunt of cyclone and supply vital ingredients to the air. The rivers need re-excavation for saving water wherever possible to contribute positively to the Air Quality Index. Above all, a holistic plan is required to protect the environment and improve air quality. One would wish the Environment Ministry's new plan success in this regard.

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