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Air Pollution-The Silent Killer

What do you do when the air you are breathing in, becomes your mortal enemy? Well, there are parts of the world where this horror has become a reality. A breath of fresh air is becoming a distant memory for people living in cities like Dhaka, Delhi, and Seoul. If you are not in any of these cities, good for you. But before you let out a sigh of relief, you should know that 92% of the world population is currently breathing unclean air. So it’s not a matter of whether or not the air around you is polluted. The concern now is the level of pollution. Every year, 7 million lives meet an untimely end due to air pollution.  The global economy loses $ 5 trillion to welfare cost. Poor quality of air is taking 1 in every 9 lives, making it one of the most imminent threats to public health.

The so-called growth of civilization is also ushering the end of it. Emission from fuel combustion by vehicles, industries, and energy generators are yet to be managed in a sustainable manner. The emission is adding ozone gas into the atmosphere, as well as oxides of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Traces of some heavy metals like lead and mercury are also present in the air we breathe. These elements do not remain limited to air but gradually deposit in other realms of nature. Ground level ozone pollution is anticipated to bring down the global staple crop yield by 26% within 2030.

Gas emission is not the only peril, as the air we breathe also contains fine particles. Dust particles from the construction site, when mismanaged, will mix into the air and directly make its way into our lungs. Add that with our foiled water cycle and climate change. Lack of rain helps air retain the microparticles, turning it slowly into smog. Which is the picture in most capital cities of the world, especially the third world.

Cramming about 18 million people within a mere 300 square kilometers, Dhaka has become one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Dhaka secures a close to top position in another list, the ranking of the cities with most polluted air. AirVisual, a service that measures the air quality of a location in real time, has repeatedly classified the air of Dhaka has unhealthy, even hazardous at times. Pure breathable air score below 50 in Air Quality Index (AQI). On February 19, when Dhaka was the top-ranked city for polluted air, it scored a whopping 361. The huge population of this mega city live their lives accepting the constant risk of eventually suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, that is if they are not already. Not to mention, that the situation is ideal for an airborne disease to spread out like wildfire.

So how did it get this perilous? Well, if we mapped out all the pressing issues that are causing the deterioration of the air quality in Dhaka, it will be as intricate as the map of the city. Absolutely every sector is contributing to the downward progression in its own way. The mere density of population is a huge contributor. The city faces a traffic jam that would be considered a deadlock in the first world, on a daily basis. The vehicles, which are rarely repaired or regulated, compete with one another to simply occupy space on the road, with no concept of personal space. The exhaust from these vehicles is one of the primary sources of fine particles in the air. Micropollutants like PM2.5 and PM10 can have severe health impacts as they can easily access our airway to a much deeper extent, and blend with our bloodstream. Working people in Dhaka spend around 50 hours a week on the road, thanks to the dreadful traffic. They spend most of this time stuck in an endless stream of vehicles, exposed to combustion and microparticles. As they laugh at memes about the traffic jam, they breathe in some more of these pollutants.

Dhaka has experienced constant growth in terms of industries, construction work, vehicles, and inhabitants. Which has ensued a spike in emission and density of pollutants. Over the last decade, Dhaka has undergone roadwork ceaselessly. Several flyovers have been built throughout the city to alleviate the distressing traffic condition, and currently, a city-wide metro rail is under construction. The massive structure is being built since June 2016, and the dust pollution is growing alongside it. The entire scenario gets worse during the dry months of winter. The metro rail construction required clearing up space for it, which translates to cutting down every tree in the way. Chopping a huge number of trees undoubtedly threw off the balance of the city, but no significant step has been taken yet to compensate for green that has been turned gray. The upcoming years could exhibit unpredictable changes in how the monsoon is usually scheduled, and that will consequently lead to a higher concentration of microparticles in the air.

More industries keep popping up in the other parts of the district. Narayanganj, a municipal of Dhaka district, has the most polluted air in the country. Though there has been an increase in industries, the same can’t be said about governmental regulation. Public transports do not go through a regular fitness test, industries often don’t have to answer for their fuel emission, brick kilns are built near residential areas making the entire place inhabitable and getting away with it. But there aren’t enough policy changes and implementation to combat this situation. A few times when the inspection is carried out, the industries get away with it with a slap on the wrist.

The quality of air in Dhaka has already alarmed the human rights workers of the city. On January 2019, Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh filed a writ petition stating the severity of air pollution with all necessary facts attached. The High Court considered all the factors and the implications of the attached reports and decided in favor of the petition. They made an order that required an inclusive effort from the mayors of both city corporations. The mayors were given a deadline within which, they were to submit their report on air pollution control of the city. It further stated that all construction site needs to be covered up, and particularly dusty areas are sprayed with water twice a day. The court order demands that the Department of Environment carry out inspection twice a week. The parties responsible for air pollution will be facing penalties decided by the mobile court. But the success of this effort by the human rights workers and the court depends entirely upon implementation.

Nature has amazing capabilities of healing itself. The air also could slowly clean itself if we stopped emitting so much toxic material into it. The air is visibly unclean. Sitting around for the policies to kick in means waiting until each of us suffocates or meets a crippling death. In all its worth, change is something that starts at home with every individual. Being conscious about the impact you have on the air you breathe is the least you could do. All we know as the human achievement was possible thanks to the human collective. In working together lies the greatest superpower humans have. So when we are faced with a menace that can harm us in our beds as we sleep requires collective action. Changing the way a collective thinks is only possible by altering the individual. That individual is you, be you a worker, a student, or an official. We all breathe the same air. No matter how much we try to sit in rooms with state of the art filtration systems – our children will learn to play in an open field under an open sky. Air is more precious than gold or any other ore we covet. Time is running out to treat it accordingly. So when are you going to take a step towards making the air cleaner?

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