Pol­lu­tion Prob­lems

Bangladesh faces the men­ace of pol­lu­tion be­cause of the life­style it has fol­lowed so far. But the gov­ern­ment is now em­ploy­ing a cleaner fuel pol­icy to prevent a catas­tro­phe.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Hafiz Inam The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

South Asia is prone to ad­ver­si­ties of nat­u­ral calami­ties. Cli­mate change, in re­cent times, has posed a se­ri­ous threat to eco­nomic and so­cial devel­op­ment of the re­gion which has gone through all around progress in many spheres of life. Be­ing a low-ly­ing and river­ine coun­try in South Asia, Bangladesh fears the most in the face of cli­mate change as its 580 km coast­line is ex­posed on one side, to the sav­age Bay of Ben­gal and, on the other, to the Ganges and Brahma­pu­tra rivers. But the real in­tim­i­da­tion is in the air. With its smoggy ur­ban skies, Bangladesh’s eco­nomic land­scape is slowly mov­ing to­wards ru­ina­tion.

Af­ter in­de­pen­dence in 1971, Bangladesh emerged as a na­tion with a boom­ing econ­omy in the re­gion. Its GDP has tripled since then with more job op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing cre­ated. The pop­u­la­tion growth rate has de­clined to 1.4% from 2.9% in 1974 and the coun­try is largely food se­cure now. But all these mile­stones seem to be fad­ing away against the on­slaught of the global cli­mate change.

Cli­matic ab­nor­mal­i­ties, es­pe­cially those af­fect­ing the at­mos­phere, fore­shadow a bleak fu­ture for the in­hab­i­tants of this part of the world. The cap­i­tal and the hub of na­tional com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, Dhaka ranks highly amongst ma­jor cities of the world for its en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. Poor air qual­ity in the ur­ban habi­tat ac­counts for around 230 mil­lion cases of res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments an­nu­ally. Ac­cord­ing to the Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Pro­ject (AQMP) founded by the gov­ern­ment and the World Bank, around 15,000 pre­ma­ture deaths and sev­eral mil­lion cases of pul­monary and neu­ro­log­i­cal ill­ness are caused by sulphur diox­ide and par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the ur­ban at­mos­phere.

Sur­veys were con­ducted be­tween 1990 and 1999 to study the en­vi­ron­ment. These stud­ies showed that the con­cen­tra­tion of par­tic­u­late mat­ter in air ex­ceeds the red line. It had reached 3000 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter around the Farms­gate area in the cap­i­tal whereas the al­low­able limit was 400 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter. Sim­i­larly, sulphur diox­ide was found at the rate of 385 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter in the same vicin­ity while the per­mis­si­ble limit was 100 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter. It was also sup­ported by the fact that Dhaka ranked 169th out of 178 coun­tries on the Air Qual­ity In­dex in 2014.

Pres­ence of sulphur con­tent in both crude oil and diesel im­per­ils air qual­ity. It trades in sulphur diox­ide, a toxic gas, with other toxic out­comes through in­dus­trial and ve­hic­u­lar emis­sions. These emis­sions are chiefly re­spon­si­ble for at­mos­phere-

re­lated prob­lems in the coun­try such as acid rain, re­duced vis­i­bil­ity, acid­i­fi­ca­tion of soil, necro­sis (i.e. crop dam­age through leaf de­struc­tion) and res­pi­ra­tory stress. To cope with these prob­lems, the gov­ern­ment is ea­ger to take im­me­di­ate steps, es­pe­cially in ur­ban vicin­ity.

Gov­ern­ments have shown re­spon­sive­ness over the yearsin tack­ling the cli­mate fore­bod­ing. Pol­icy mak­ers in Bangladesh have for­mu­lated the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Pol­icy and the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Man­age­ment Ac­tion Plan to in­cor­po­rate the need for pre­serv­ing the nat­u­ral her­itage to pol­icy frame­work. Yet bat­tling the an­tic­i­pated catas­tro­phe re­quires more tan­gi­ble mea­sures taken in a right di­rec­tion. One of the steps would be lim­it­ing the sulphur con­tent in gasoil to avoid fur­ther dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment.

Tack­ling the is­sue promptly is the need of the hour and the gov­ern­ment has re­sponded to it by ad­her­ing to a global shift to­wards a cleaner fuel. The coun­try has de­cided to join other re­gional coun­tries in adopt­ing a cleaner fuel pol­icy to bring air pol­lu­tion lev­els down. The state-owned sole im­porter of gasoil, the Bangladesh Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion (BPC), has al­ready started im­port­ing cleaner fuel of 2500 parts per mil­lion (PPM) from 2016. It has pur­chased 2500 PPM gasoil from te Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC), the largest gasoil sup­plier to BPC, in con­trast to the 5000 PPM it used to im­port in the past. In the re­gion, Sri Lanka has al­ready moved to 500 PPM sulphur gasoil from 0.25% sulphur gasoil this year. Pak­istan too has pledged im­port­ing cleaner fuel of 500 PPM grade from next Jan­uary. This in­di­cates the alarm bells have rung and coun­tries are re­spond­ing.

The foggy air hov­er­ing over the hard­work­ing Ben­galis is the out­come of reck­less­ness. Both ve­hic­u­lar and in­dus­trial emis­sions are con­tam­i­nat­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of the coun­try. Brick kilns, su­gar, ce­ment, chem­i­cal, fer­til­izer and jute fac­to­ries, spin­ning mills and pa­per, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and other plants emit chlo­rine, hy­dro­gen sul­phide, am­mo­nia and smoke in large amounts. These pol­lu­tants in the air dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment and in­crease air pol­lu­tion, caus­ing many health re­lated is­sues such as bron­chi­tis and chronic cough.

The sit­u­a­tion is also af­fect­ing chil­dren’s health. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dis­eases of the Chest, nearly seven mil­lion peo­ple in Bangladesh suf­fer from asthma and more than half of them are chil­dren. “Chil­dren breathe more air rel­a­tive to their lung size than adults. They spend more time out­doors, of­ten dur­ing mid­day and af­ter­noons when pol­lu­tant lev­els are gen­er­ally high­est,” says Khond­kar Ibrahim Khaled, chief of Kochi Kan­char Mela, a chil­dren’s wel­fare or­ga­ni­za­tion. This shows how dread­ful the sit­u­a­tion has be­come for the dwellers.

With its grow­ing pop­u­la­tion Bangladesh’s ex­pand­ing ur­ban­iza­tion bring­ing in more ve­hi­cles and there are more lo­co­mo­tives pulling trains. This is fur­ther dam­ag­ing the mis­er­able state of the nat­u­ral habi­tat. The Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment has ap­pointed out that the two-stroke engine used in auto rick­shaws, mo­tor­cy­cles and mini trucks is the main pol­luter. Just in Dhaka, more than 65000 rick­shaws and 296000 mo­tor­cy­cles choke the streets with smoke and gases. Re­ports of the Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion of Bangladesh have also shed light on the grow­ing air pol­lu­tion in the coun­try and claim that in Dhaka alone, au­to­mo­biles emit 100 kg lead, 3.5 tonnes of par­tic­u­late mat­ter, 1.5 tonnes of sulphur diox­ide and 60 tons of car­bon monox­ide ev­ery day. No won­der, Dhaka ranks high among the most pol­luted cities in the world.

In its strug­gle to bet­ter its en­vi­ron­men­tal plight, Bangladesh is de­ter­mined and fo­cused in its ap­proach. Its im­port of cleaner fuel not only co­in­cides with the coun­try’s mis­sion of pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment but also sub­stan­ti­ates its en­deav­ours in this re­gard. If more such con­crete mea­sures are taken, the fu­ture of the coun­try’s young would of­fer en­cour­age­ment.

The cap­i­tal and the hub of na­tional com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, Dhaka ranks highly amongst ma­jor cities of the world for its en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

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