Smart environment policy makes the city smart


— Andalusian Agency

Clean air is important for everyone’s health. Yet studies show that many people are disproportionately affected by air pollution, including those who live in low-income communities. Exposure to poor air quality has been shown to have both short- and long-term health effects, especially in the elderly, children, and pregnant women. The health burden of air pollution is higher for those who live in areas with poor air quality. Residents of low-income neighborhoods and communities may be more vulnerable to air pollution due to their proximity to sources of air pollution such as factories, major roads, and ports with diesel truck operations. They may also be more susceptible to air pollution due to social and economic factors. Air pollution in Bangladesh is the worst in the world, reducing the average life expectancy of Bangladeshis by 6.7 years, a study shows.

In the most polluted areas of the country, life expectancy is reduced by 8.1 years, according to the Air Quality Life Index study conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, which also ranked Bangladesh as the country with the worst air pollution in the world. every year since 2018. Air pollution levels here exceed national and global standards and have worsened over the past two and a half decades. This makes pollution one of the biggest killers of Bangladeshis.

Worldwide, an estimated 3.8 million people die each year due to household exposure to smoke from dirty stoves and fuels, while outdoor air pollution is responsible for 4.2 million deaths. per year, according to the World Health Organization. In Dhaka and Khulna, which include the largest and third largest cities in the country, pollution levels are more than eight times the limit set by the World Health Organization, reducing life expectancy people living in these areas for about eight years. In the second largest city, Chattogram, formerly known as Chittagong, residents are losing 4.8 years of their lives, even though the air quality there is better than the national average.

The situation is getting more complicated day by day, but the government has not acted for a long time, and so far little has been done to reduce pollution. A study published in April in Science Advances estimated that there were 24,000 premature deaths in Dhaka between 2005 and 2018 due to air pollution. It was the highest among the 46 cities studied. Among the 15 most polluted cities in the world, most in Asia, Dhaka has seen the highest increase in the number of premature deaths. Additionally, cars, trucks and buses, power plants and off-road equipment emit nitrogen dioxide, the second deadliest pollutant, according to the World Health Organization. NO2 emissions tripled in Chattogram and doubled in Dhaka during the study period. Emissions of another pollutant, non-methane volatile organic compounds, also increased in both cities. If the future mimics the past, the transition to NMVOC susceptibility could occur as early as 2025 in Chattogram and Dhaka, according to the study.

The density of lead in Dhaka’s air is 463 nanograms per cubic meter, which is 10 times the acceptable standard. A large number of children, street children, local walkers and rickshaw pullers in Dhaka city are particularly exposed to this air pollution. Young children are mainly exposed to cadmium through smoke inhalation and soil and dust contamination from industrial emissions and sewage sludge. In 1999, environmental scientists stated that high levels of lead in the environment from gasoline, paints, ceramics, batteries, etc. are factors of the increased risk of polluted air. Another study found that blood lead levels were very high and at toxic levels in children with psychomotor retardation and behavioral problems, indicating lead poisoning. There are two main sources of air pollution in Bangladesh: vehicle emissions and industrial emissions.

These are mainly concentrated in cities. There are also many brick kilns throughout Bangladesh. Most of these kilns use coal and wood as the main energy sources, resulting in the emission of particulates, sulfur oxides and volatile organic compounds. In addition, the rubber wheels of vehicles are burned, producing black carbon and toxic gases. These are harmful to your health. In order to meet the growing population, the construction of high-rise buildings is developing rapidly. Along with these buildings, the number of slums is also increasing. The enormous strength of the population has made it almost impossible to maintain a clean environment in the capital, Dhaka. About 80% of Bangladesh’s total land area is floodplain, and most of the country’s people depend directly and indirectly on agriculture.

Ecological and environmental patterns therefore have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Additionally, it is estimated that at current levels of climate change, by 2050, one in 50 people in Bangladesh will be displaced, and the country will lose approximately 11% of its land. With 28% of the total population living along the coast, the massive displacements would add to the already intolerable population density and cause an insurmountable loss of livelihoods. Thus, taking care of the environment and using technology to deal with these impending disasters are the biggest challenges facing the country right now. Almost every sector of the country is at the whims of the environment, and progress is only possible when these things are properly handled. Bangladesh’s interest in creating a smart environment can be roughly divided into two categories: protecting agriculture in rural areas and creating healthier and more sustainable urban areas.

Agriculture is one of the hardest hit sectors in the country in the event of climate change or natural disaster. The sector provides Bangladesh with around 13% of its GDP and employs around 40% of its total workforce. Thus, millions of lives will be at the vagaries of the environment and climate in Bangladesh if prompt action is not taken. Risk in the agricultural sector is multifaceted as it involves multiple supply chains and operates in almost all parts of Bangladesh. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. About 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry. That’s more than aviation, shipping and maritime industries combined. Bangladesh, as one of the largest producers of RMG, generates a significant amount of toxic waste, which is dumped into rivers and emits toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

Three rivers around the capital have been declared biologically dead due to pollution from surrounding factories and several rivers are virtually unrecoverable at this stage. Pesticide contamination is also one of the main sources of pollution of the country’s water bodies. A study found that about 18-24% of farmers were struck by different health problems due to occupational exposure to pesticides. Although the country has ensured access to electricity for 94% of its population, power cuts and load shedding due to shortages cause considerable losses to the economy each year.

Bangladesh loses $14 billion a year from air pollution alone. Apart from this, air pollution causes various chronic diseases, millions of hospital visits and billions of dollars in medical costs. The government has already announced a waste-to-energy plant as a joint project between the Local Government Division and the Electricity Division. The plant will be the first of its kind in the country and will use municipal solid waste collected from the municipal areas of Dhaka and Chattogram. Although the first project is being implemented in North Dhaka, there are plans for expansion across the country. In addition, the World Bank has already approved a $170 million sewerage improvement project that includes a state-of-the-art treatment plant. Projects like this hold great promise for a better and more sustainable environment in the country, and they also need to be taken to micro levels. Given the imminent impact of climate change and pollution on Bangladesh, time is running out to create a more sustainable environment.

More resources and funds need to be directed to technology-based environmental projects so that the country is as prepared as possible for this crisis. The idea of ​​an “intelligent environment” consists in creating an integrated environment with sensors, screens and computing devices for inhabitants to better understand the environment. It also gives them the ability to control and monitor different environmental factors such as pollution, waste, energy, etc. and create a more sustainable habitat. The impacts of creating a smart environment go as far as reducing carbon footprint, creating alternative energy sources, avoiding fossil fuels and protecting natural habitats. Now, targeted action is needed to better protect the poor, the elderly and children from environmental risks.

Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a researcher and columnist.


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