Breathing is indispensable task for all human beings. Without proper oxygen inhale the hazards which would entail on our lives is beyond contemplation. But sometimes breathing becomes a nightmare when air pollution is ubiquitous. The breathable air in Bangladesh is a prime example to this notion. The air quality in Dhaka is surmised to be the most egregious on a global margin at this point. Constantly for four years our country’s air quality managed to be the worst, according to global projection.
According to AQI (Air Quality Index) from IQAir, a Swedish technology company that monitors global air pollution and noxious airborne pollutants daily, Dhaka is one of the worst places in the world to breath. IQAir’s 2021 projection specifies that Bangladesh is the second most polluted country in the world followed by India. But fast forward to 2022 on the Christmas day , the AQI index score for Dhaka , Bangladesh leaped to 374 at 9 am in the morning which meant that Dhaka’s air quality became the champion of air pollution on a global scale.
According to the AQI index data , ranking between 200-300 is considered to be “very unhealthy” and if the ranking surpasses the 300 threshold then the air quality would be considered extremely “hazardous”. So the ranking of 374 indicate that our country’s breathable air has been transformed into poison. AQI measures air quality data through scientific particulate matter (PM) which is 2.5 in Bangladesh. According to the projection of the World Health Organization (WHO) the particulate matter in Bangladesh is 15 times more than the average standard. Such statistics alarmingly shows that it is time for the government to take prompt action to improve air quality since the failure to do so would be fatal for the public health of our country.
A project report filed by the “Clean Air and Sustainable Environment Project (CASE)” authorized by the Department of Environment (DoE) identified some primary causes of air pollution in Bangladesh which includes the production of bricks by the conventional and more environmentally damaging kilns, vehicular emissions. But aside from these causes, accumulation of dust from construction sites, fumes from the factories are also considered to be detrimental. So prior to taking mitigating steps extensive research needs to be conducted to isolate the root causes of air pollution.
Prevention is always better than cure. So after evaluating the root cause of air pollution the next prompt mechanism is to enforce the existing laws to combat air pollution. Especially in this sector there are lots to be desired. Yet the government has some legislative policies at its disposal for effective resolution to acute air pollution. The major law which inculcates the provisions to combat air pollution in Bangladesh is the “Environment Conservation Act 1995 (ECA)”. ECA on section 6 and 6(ka) provides preventive measures to stop air pollution caused by vehicular emission and industrial emission which are injurious to the public health. Moreover section 09 identifies the perpetrators of the environmental pollution. Issuance of the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) for seeking permission for industrial establishment which also averts the risk associated with environmental pollution.
The government has also passed the “Air Pollution Control Rules 2022” for prompt control, prevention and reduction of air pollution in Bangladesh. This act particularly gives effect to the air control policies in the ECA act and extended the jurisdiction of the Director General (DG) of the Department of environment. Rule 4 provides the DG power to frame “National Air Quality management” scheme which would entitle him to take actions to counter air pollution. Moreover the DG can also declare any area within Bangladesh as 'Degraded Air Shed' when the air quality of a designated place worsens significantly.
Rule 6 prescribes that the DG can make catalogue of activities which he seems to degrade the environment. Such categories can be made based on the contemporary pollutants. Rule 15 further specifies that for pollution management a committee can be created which would be formed from the concerned ministries, organizations and institutions which would be eligible to provide consultation for managing air pollution. The rules have also penal implications too . If any party denies or non-comply with the provisions of the rules then such person can be imposed with 2 lakh taka fine and 2 years of jail time. The said rules also prescribes award for any party who co-operates to facilitate the commitment of this policy. Finally the rules also encourage all the relevant environmental entities to work mutually for prevention of air pollution.
Part of preventive mechanism the government of Bangladesh has adopted CASE project under the department of environment. In light of the project to minimize the vehicular pollution a vehicle emission inspection program (VEIP) has been initiated to measure the toxicity of the vehicle fumes. According to the VEIP report CNG and motorcycles has trivial carbon footprint. But on the contrary the diesel powered vehicles emit most carbons in the air thus considered to be the worst polluters.
CASE project has swiftly surveyed the vehicular sector of the capital and found the responsible emitters. And within the vehicular spectrum of air pollution has prescribed some beneficial recommendations for reducing vehicle induced air pollution. Those are: to create a comprehensive vehicle emission inventory, traffic pollution control through imposition of fine and creating better traffic management system, vehicle emission standard should be established, creating massive awareness campaigns to create vehicle emission standards, health hazards of emissions, decommissioning of unfit and old vehicles, emission testing infrastructure should be built, and lastly quality assurance of vehicles.
Although our country do recognize the intensity and adverse impacts of air pollution but policies adopted must be implemented. A collective work from public and private sector as well as citizens must be involved. Implementation of penalty for default should be fast tracked moreover the environmentally damaging automobiles which are run by gasoline should be slowly phased out, ecofriendly cars and bikes should be preferred instead. World Bank has suggested that the government of Bangladesh can invest in early warning system and monitoring system, improving air quality data collection and more.
Finally it is alarming to envisage that according to the World Bank projection acute air pollution in Dhaka increases the risk of respiratory and breathing problem, depression, & children under 5 years and elderly citizens are prime victims of air pollution in Bangladesh. So if this uncontrolled pollution in our environment is not stopped quickly then the morbidity rate would continue to pile up and public health would be seriously be in a major predicament and poor air quality would become another pandemic . Luckily the air pollution can be tamed so the government now would have to isolate and prevent the root cause of the air pollution. For isolation extensive scientific research and development should be done and for prevention the government should implement the ECA and relevant policies and rules. Alongside with that the people at large must be cautious about the health hazards of air pollution too.
Samiur Rahman is a Lecturer at Department of Law,
The Millennium University