The Financial Express

Intensifying drive against air, noise pollution

Intensifying drive against air, noise pollution

The capital city Dhaka had the worst air quality in the world in recent days. The alarming situation prompted the government to chalk out immediate measures to give city-dwellers some relief.

An emergency meeting of the inter-ministerial bodies decided that steps would be taken to stop burning garbage at waste dump sites and shut down all illegal brick kilns around the capital. It also directed the Dhaka north and south city corporations to sprinkle water on the city roads to reduce dust in the air.

The meeting also decided that directives would be issued to cover all construction materials. From now on, the government would mention this instruction in all their construction-related tenders.

The government is also planning to issue a gazette notification to ensure 100 per cent use of eco-friendly green bricks -- an eco-friendly alternative -- for all government construction projects.

The smog from brick kilns, smoke from unfit vehicles and dust generated from public and private constructions sites, including those of the mega projects taken by the government, are the main causes of air pollution.

Brick kilns were identified as the single largest source of air pollution in Dhaka city, with 50 per cent of the total pollution attributed to those.

In 2013, the number of brick kilns across the country was 4,985, but it rose to 7,900 in 2018. During the dry season, 58 per cent of the city's total air pollution is caused by the brick kilns.

Although previous drives against illegal brick kilns had failed, experts believe it would be different this time around as there is an alternative to traditionally-used bricks in green bricks.

The brick kiln sector also consumes 3.5 million tonnes of coal and 1.9 million tonnes of firewood, emitting 9.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas annually, according to a World Bank report.

Compounding the situation is the rising number of registered vehicles. the number of vehicles had increased over the years, contributing to air pollution. According to data from the Bangladesh Road and Transport Authority, the number of motor of vehicles in Dhaka almost doubled in the last nine years, rising to 13,70,500 last years. 

The Air  Quality Index (AQI), an index for reporting daily air quality, informs people how clean or polluted the air of a certain city is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for them.

In Bangladesh, the AQI is based on five criteria pollutants - Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5), NO2, CO, SO2 and Ozone (O3). The Department of Environment has also set national ambient air quality standards for these pollutants. These standards aim to protect against adverse human health impacts.

The AQI tells people how clean or polluted the air of a certain city is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for them. Bangladesh's overcrowded capital has been grappling with air pollution for a long time. The quality usually improves during monsoon.

Meantime, the country's High Court (HC) has asked the government to constitute a high-powered committee to formulate a guideline in order to reduce air pollution in and around Dhaka city. It passed the order recently following the capital's worsening air quality in recent times.

The HC also ordered the authorities concerned to conduct mobile courts to shut down illegal brickfields in five districts, including Dhaka. The four other districts are Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Gazipur and Manikganj where brick kilns are largely contributing to air pollution.

According to research findings, the three main sources are brick kilns, fumes of vehicles and dust from construction sites. The dust particles are contributing to the city's worsening air pollution due to construction work without putting the site undercover.

There is a need for taking effective steps to control air pollution in Dhaka by all government and private agencies or organisations.

According to the index, the air pollution level across the world varies from hour to hour and day to day. In late February last year, Dhaka ranked as the most polluted city in the world with a score of 339 and its air was classified as "very unhealthy."

According to medical experts, dust concentration in the air usually increases five times during the dry season, and dust particles from construction sites worsen the situation. Inhaling dust can severely damage the respiratory system and cause various lung diseases as well as viral and bacterial infection.

Along with the air pollution, noise pollution, also known as sound pollution, has turned acute in the capital city as it always goes far beyond the permissible level, putting the public health at risk. The survey, conducted at 70 points of the city, reveals that sound pollution has reached the highest 120-130 decibels (dB) at many points -- almost double the permissible level.

According to a survey, about 10 per cent of city dwellers' are now hearing impaired and 35 per cent are suffering from low-hearing problem due to high noise pollution. Although the government announced the Noise Pollution (Control) Rules 2006 to protect public health from sound pollution, it totally fails to enforce the rule putting the health of people at risk.

In fact, noise pollution in the city has gone beyond control due to lax enforcement of the Noise Pollution Control Rules 2006 by the authorities concerned and lack of awareness among the people about the rules. The mobile courts of the traffic police can impose a fine of Tk 100 as per the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 against a vehicle for violating various traffic-related offences.

 Around 25 per cent of the surveyed people of Dhaka city suffer from lung function abnormalities due to higher level of air pollution. Such lung function abnormalities cause different types of airborne diseases, like bronchiolitis, pneumonia, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Reports say air pollution is a major issue around the world and kills seven million people annually -- one in every eight people around the world. And, of course, air pollution is a well-known and much-complained-about fact in Bangladesh. Few major global cities suffer from air pollution worse than Dhaka.

During the dry season, when dust is especially harmful, pollution levels can reach up to 16 times higher than the World Health Organisation's (WHO) air quality guideline.

On its part, the government needs to conduct a serious awareness campaign on the rules and health-related issues out of air and noise pollution should be intensified and become more active in enforcement of the law.

Use of the vehicular hydraulic horns at any place of the city should be completely banned. Monitoring teams should be expanded at main traffic points to determine whether the vehicles follow the rules or not.

All said and done, it is necessary to make a coordinated effort while conducting the development work to check air pollution. 

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