“I have been living in this house for five years. During my stay I have never opened my flat’s windows.
When I open the door, a huge amount of dust enters my room. Even then, dust penetrates through different corners of my house. I have to clean my furniture twice a day. In addition, the dust makes my curtain of windows and doors, and other cloths so dirty that repeatedly I have to wash those, which costs extra effort and money. The problem becomes worse during the winter season. Every year, I think I shall leave the house before the winter comes. But I can’t shift my house as the areas having a tolerable level of dust problem are more expensive. So, I am bound to live here with dust”, this is how Farhana Kabir, a housewife of Malibagh area, shared her opinion about dust problem.
Raihanul Islam works in a publishing house at Bangla Bazar. He needs to travel every day and go through a miserable experience. He shared, “I live in Gabtoli area. When I go to my office through the busy city roads, it takes long time, but if I go through the bypass road via Mohammadpur I can reach my destination within a short time, as the road remains free and I don’t face traffic jam. But, during the winter season I avoid this road due to heavy dust. So, I need extra amount of time to reach my office. Every day I have to squander a huge amount of time. Government should think about the miseries of the mass people. They should make the bypass roads accessible so that the mass commuters can travel without any hazardous experience.”
Like Farhana Kabir, many housewives of Dhaka have the same complain, while millions of city dwellers, including the persons with lung and allergy problems, have to negotiate with thick dust as they have to go to their daily works. In many parts of the city, people moving with their faces and noses covered with scarves, handkerchiefs, facemask or bare hands, is a common sight that points to the threatening environment of Dhaka.
Reports of the Department of Environment (DoE) shows that, the density of airborne particulate matter (PM), or what we commonly perceive as dust, reaches 463 micrograms per cubic meter (mcm) in the city during the dry season, which is the highest level in the world. World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines (2005) stated the maximum acceptable PM level to be 20mcm; while in city areas 70mcm are considered as highly polluted. According to the website of Air Quality Management Project (AQMP), poisonous carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, suspended particulate matter (PM-10) and particulate matter (PM-2.5) exist in Dhaka’s air beyond permissible level for human body.
Dust particles are small enough to inhale. They cause not only irritation of the eyes, coughing and sneezing, but also asthma, bronchitis and many other diseases. According to the information provided by the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), the number of patients of various airborne diseases severely increases during the winter season, as in this dry season, the air contains huge dust. The doctors usually visit 300-350 patients every day, but during this time of the year, the number of patient increases to 650-700. And it is not the scenario of this year only rather it happens in every dry season of the year and the figure of the patients having airborne diseases rises at least three to four times in the NIDCH. If it is the case for only NIDCH, then certainly there are more patients, who suffer from the same problems and visit other hospitals of the capital.
Doctors opined that the number of patients suffering from respiratory diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis and asthma have increased in the city due to the growing dust pollution specially in winter season. As concentration of dust particles in air is on the rise day by day, most city dwellers are suffering from common cold and cough problems. As dust generates wax in human ears patients of ear-infection is also increasing in the city. Airborne dust from construction sites is a problem for a number of reasons as it creates health hazards, particularly for those suffering from respiratory problems, causes environmental degradation, including air and water pollution, and creates some other problems.
The dust originating from construction work-related processes like concrete crushing, cement batching and road stone plants is destroying the environment and clean air, depriving the city dwellers of breathing in fresh air. Construction firms working in the capital should take necessary measures to minimise dust problems. Airborne dust has been emerging as a severe threat to the city dwellers. As the Department of Environment (DoE) does not have any guideline to check dust, Dhaka city has become a storehouse of air pollution. Many mega development works like Malibagh-Moghbazar flyover project and metro rail project, road repair and construction works are going on in the city and generating huge dust every day. Mirpur, Kuril, Badda, Rampura, Mouchak, Malibagh, Moghbazar, Khilgaon, Jatrabari, Sayedabad, Gulistan, New Market, Bangla Motor, Farmgate, Mohammadpur Beribadh are some of the areas where the menace is at its highest level.
Back in 2011, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) and the Department of Environment in Bangladesh (DoE) undertook a three-year project to improve local expertise in air quality monitoring and planning. According to their findings, during the winter, Dhaka was probably the most polluted city in the world. Meanwhile, according to the DoE’s old data, the density of airborne particulate matter reaches 463mcm in the city during December to March — highest in the world — followed by Mexico City and Mumbai with 383 and 360mcm respectively.
Then again, the initiatives taken by the Department of Environment in the recent years is not adequate. According to their annual report, there are about 2598 brick fields in Dhaka division, among them only 1258 are environment-friendly. In addition, 669 bricks fields have no environmental approval at all. A very few vehicles comes into physical condition testing and the authority hardly takes proper step to ban unfit ones. On the other hand, about 68 different types of companies were fined for polluting air.
The High Court demanded an explanation from the government on the steps taken to remove dust, smoke and other deadly elements causing damage to public health in four city corporations –Dhaka South, Dhaka North, Gazipur and Narayanganj on January 25, 2016. DSCC claimed they spray water twice a day at their project sites. They claimed that they do their best to prevent air pollution while the DNCC said that they have only two lorries to spray water and another would be added soon. But this is not enough to remove dust. In addition, DNCC has undertaken tree plantation projects to reduce the capital’s air pollution.
A major reason for air pollution has been the meteoric increase in construction works across the city by both the government and private development firms. And Dhaka, of course, being an underdeveloped city, requires rapid development in its infrastructure. There is no way of putting logical arguments against that. But what one can easily argue is the lack of effort on part of the authorities to mitigate and, in fact, even reduce in any way the fallout effects of such development and construction works.
Under such circumstances what is needed first and foremost is a change in attitudes of the concerned authorities. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the authority to resolve dust related problems, but unfortunately the truth is harsh to accept as the steps taken to address dust problem don’t seem enough at all. Due to insufficient amount of cleaning staffs, DSCC and DNCC fail to provide required service to the dwellers.
There are only eight thousands of cleaners in the two city corporations for about twenty million citizens. They have requested the concerned ministry to allow more human resources and budget for them, but they haven’t received any response yet. Another problem lies with the unplanned development works. Without a single authority to coordinate and monitor all the development works of the city, mitigation of dust problem will remain a dream.