Friday, 27 April 2018

A danger that deepens in winter

Redwan Ahmed

During these early-winter days, Mohammad Ali Azam barely leaves his home in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi area. He moved in here from Thakurgaon. At his 65 now, he has developed respiratory complications, which worsen with the winter spores and the smog. The story remains the same in many of Asia’s urban areas in every winter. Look at the scenario in Delhi for instance. As pollution spiked 30 times the World Health Organization’s safe level recently, Schools were closed down for limited period, prompting doctors to warn of a public health emergency. Dense grey smog blanketed the roads of the world’s most polluted capital and many residents rushed to buy air purifiers, anti-smog masks and even handkerchiefs—those who couldn’t afford to spend much to shield their faces from the smog. The current scenario in Delhi warrants a hefty alarm for Dhaka. According to the State of Global Air Report 2017, which was published earlier this year, Dhaka was ranked second on selected cities in Asia with worst air pollution, which claims 122,400 lives in Bangladesh a year. Delhi topped the list, while Karachi and Beijing stood third and fourth according to the report. The report also said India and Bangladesh have experienced the steepest increases in air pollution levels since 2010. Indian cities of Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna, Raipur and Delhi are in the top 10 on WHO’s list. Bangladesh is also unlucky because southwesterly winds regularly bring down trans-boundary pollution here from North India and even as far as Iran. A study by Bangladeshi researchers in Gazipur found fine particles from Iran and Middle East and heavier dust from north and central India in the air there. So besides its own pollutants, we are having unwanted contribution from the foreign atmosphere. Particulate pollution levels are dangerously increasing in the capital city Dhaka. Many like Ali Azam, suffer during this dry winter season. Children, the senior citizens and the people with asthma or other respiratory diseases get affected the most. According to Dhaka US consulate air pollution data, Dhaka gets 160 in Air Quality Index (AQI) of PM2.5, which was updated till October 30, 2017. PM2.5 particles are the fine particles in the ambient, 2.5 micrometers or less in size. These “PM2.5 particles” are known to produce respiratory and cardiovascular illness. AQI of 16O labels Dhaka as an “unhealthy” habitat. That means, everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more severe impacts. The “Good” AQI level ranges between 0-50. Scattered “Development Works” of the citywide roads, drainage system and sewerage contributes a lots of dust in the atmosphere. These unplanned constructions have become the biggest source of pollution during this dry winter season. And a ticking time bomb of hazardous health threat to the Dhakaites. Not only respiratory distresses, a new study showed air pollution causes kidney diseases also. The study was presented by the American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week 2017 October 31-November 5 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Results from the study suggest that the probabilities vary greatly by geography, with higher values seen in Central America and South Asia. “Air pollution might at least partially explain the rise in incidence of Chronic Kidney Diseases of unknown origin in many geographies around the world, and the rise in Mesoamerican nephropathy in Mexico and Central America,” lead researcher Benjamin Bowe was quoted as saying in a news release. A prominent green activist and the general secretary of Poribesh Bachao Andolan (Poba), Engineer Abdus Sobhan citing his independent assessment on the city’s dust pollution, said the air pollution, caused by construction work related processes like concrete crushing, cement batching and road stone plants, is destroying the clean air and depriving the city dwellers of breathing on fresh air. He asked the concerned authorities to take proper pre-cautious measures to check the dust pollution of the city as its air quality is set to fall during the dry winter. “It’s time for the Department of Environment (DoE) to take a proper plan and strengthen its monitoring system to check dust pollution in the city. Otherwise, the city dwellers will have to suffer a lot due to the uncontrolled dust pollution,” Engineer Sobhan told UNB news agency. Talking to UNB just weeks before, DoE additional director general Quazi Sarwar Imtiaz Hashmi said the department has already published advertisements in newspapers on sound and air pollution to make the city dwellers aware of these pollutions. Hashmi said the DoE will soon hold a meeting with relevant stakeholders to find a way on how air and dust pollution could be checked in the capital. “We’ve also started conducting drives against polluters, who generate dust polluting the air, aiming to check air pollution in the capital,” he said.

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