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World Environment Day 2019

Staying away from air pollution: Save trees to breathe fresh

At least 1.23 lakh people were killed in Bangladesh in 2017 due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, said a new study on global air pollution.          —Photo: UNB
At least 1.23 lakh people were killed in Bangladesh in 2017 due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, said a new study on global air pollution.          —Photo: UNB

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Every year world Environment Day promotes environmental awareness and sustainability. It highlights the importance of global environmental issues- including climate change, marine pollution and wildlife crime. This year's theme focuses on the blight of air pollution. Air pollution is a global public health concern causing early mortality and ill heath at a huge economic cost to the society. It also impacts on our natural environment altering habitats. World Environment Day 2019 is a great opportunity to increase awareness on the most pressing environmental issue of the 21st century.

World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated on June 05 every year.  June 05 was the day when the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began in 1972. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment) annually organises events for World Environment Day. This year, China will host the World Environment Day celebrations on the theme -- Air Pollution.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 4.2 million people die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to ambient air pollution and that 92 per cent of the world's population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guidelines. The WHO describes air pollution as "the world's biggest environmental health risk."

Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, has topped the index of the world's cities with the worst air quality. In the real-time air quality ranking, Dhaka scored 361, according to AirVisual. The air was classified as "hazardous." Dhaka was followed by Afghanistan's capital Kabul and India's capital New Delhi.

Bangladesh, one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, has been struggling with air pollution for a long time; and Dhaka continuously ranks among the world's most polluted cities. The major sources of pollution, as per the study, are household solid fuels, dust from construction, coal power plants, brick production, transportation and diesel-powered equipment, among others.

A study on global air pollution has reported that at least 123,000 people died in Bangladesh in 2017 due to indoor and outdoor air pollution. As per the report, the life of South Asian children could be shortened, on average, by 30 months as they are growing up in high levels of air pollution. The report also revealed that South Asia is the most polluted area in the world, adding that air pollution worldwide was responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol abuse, and physical inactivity. The study also found that 3.6 billion people-47 per cent of the global population-was 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 about 4.9 million deaths and loss of 147 million years of healthy life. In that year, annual PM2.5 exposures were the highest in South Asia, with Nepal at 100 µg/m3, India 91µg/m3, Bangladesh 61 µg/m3, and Pakistan 58 µg/m3. Particulate matter (PM) is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air, many of which are hazardous. This complex mixture includes both organic and inorganic particles, such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. According to the report, each year, more people die from air pollution-related diseases than from road traffic injuries or malaria. Air pollution reduces average life expectancy by almost as much as active tobacco smoking does.

The report for the first-time mentioned type-2 diabetes as a major health risk of air pollution. In 2017, about 1.5 million people died in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan due to air pollution-related reasons, the study said. It also mentioned that nearly half of the world's population (3.6 billion people) was exposed to household air pollution in 2017.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) declares "to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources". In particular, Goals 14 and 15 focus on protecting underwater and land ecosystems, as well as sustainably using marine and terrestrial resources. 

The effects of air pollution are alarming. There are many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which have direct and indirect links with air pollution. Another direct effect of air pollution is global warming. Harmful gases like nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides are released into the atmosphere during the burning of fossil fuels.

Many steps may be taken to reduce air pollution. People can be motivated for greater use of public transports instead of using their own vehicles. The use of CNG driven vehicles and more fuel efficient four wheelers with better mileage per litre can be encouraged through road tax and sales tax incentives. Installation of solar panels should be encouraged at homes, multi-storey buildings and commercial establishments so that decentralised power is generated with suitable subsidies to make it financially viable for all households. Lastly, awareness should be raised among all levels of citizens to make them understand the adverse impact of air pollution. We have to take initiatives to plant plenty of trees which will absorb pollutant gases, such as -- nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulphur dioxide, ozone etc and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark. In one year, an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people. As such, tree plantation and saving trees can help reduce air pollution. It may be mentioned that recently in the Philippines people voluntarily planted an incredible 3.2 million seedlings in just one hour-- a world record for most trees planted in a short span of time.

World Environment Day 2019 will urge governments, communities, and individuals to come together to explore renewable energy and green technologies towards breathing fresh in cities and regions across the world.

Md. Touhidul Alam Khan is Deputy Managing Director of Prime Bank Limited.
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