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.
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.