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Air Pollution of Dhaka: A Consequence of Centralization

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Clean air is among nature’s most precious gifts, without which humankind would perish on the planet. However, air pollution is a serious concern.[i] Today, air pollution is slowly harming humanity all across the world, particularly in urban areas.[ii] Bangladesh has been plagued by elevated levels of particulate matter in its air for nearly three decades. Recently, Dhaka came in second on the list of cities with one of the worst air quality. The average air quality index (AQI) for the city was 162, which is deemed “unhealthy.”

In Bangladesh, we see various laws pertaining to protect air pollution. In example, the Bangladesh Environmental Conversation Act, 1995; Section 46 of the Road Transport Act of 2018 makes it illegal to drive a vehicle that emits more pollutants than it is allowed to emit; Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act, 2013 to ascertain control over brick manufacturing and brick kiln establishment, Section 3C of The Building Construction Act, 1952 to put restriction on cutting of hills etc. Despite the fact that these regulations seem to have even less impact on the climate. There are several causes of air pollution, in example- burning of fossil fuel, urbanization, construction activities, vehicle emission, deforestation, and centralization of this city.  This article is going to explore about how the centralization of Dhaka city is being one of the major causes of air pollution.

Dhaka, being the capital city, is the central focus for our economic and administrative activity, as well as infrastructure development.[iii] Dhaka’s population is growing by the day as people are moving in from all over the country to avail facilities of the city’s amenities. According to current estimates, at least 1,418 people are adding to Dhaka’s population every day, putting the city’s population at over 17 million, making it the world’s densest city. Dhaka, with a population density of 47,400 people per square kilometer, has been the world’s most densely populated city for several years. According to Prof Nurun Nabi who is the project director at the department of population sciences at the University of Dhaka, ‘Dhaka is the world’s fastest expanding megacity in terms of population.[iv] Now, if we ponder upon the fact of being overpopulated, why is Dhaka overpopulated? It is a small city in terms of size, yet in Bangladesh, Dhaka is the sole proper city with all of the industries. The major corporations and the headquarters of major financial institutions of Bangladesh are located in Dhaka as well as the economy of Dhaka contributes 40% of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product. It leads people to migrate from rural areas to Dhaka looking for a better life which can provide them opportunities to grow, to get jobs. Therefore, one of the key reasons for the increased population density is migration and a lack of policy for optimal land use, as well as poor coordination between ministries and divisions and endeavors to make Dhaka more appealing to people.[v] This centralization is leading Dhaka to a very critical environmental declination. In the below it has been lain bare about the consequence of centralization which is threatening the atmosphere:

Traffic Jam: As Dhaka is the only with city with major industries in Bangladesh, with the influx of migrants, the city saw a surge in different kind of motorized cars, resulting in an unforeseen traffic bottleneck on roads.[vi] It should come as no surprise that slower moving traffic causes more pollution than vehicles moving at highway speeds because when vehicles accelerate to get up to speed, they burn the most fuel.[vii] Air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds are produced when this fuel is burned. When some of the fuel used by engines evaporates without being burned, as well as when tires and brakes fail, more pollution is produced.[viii] Traffic-related pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone, also cause to smog.[ix] As per the Department of Environment (DoE) and the World Bank, outdated and unfit automobiles cause the majority of pollution in a city.

Overpopulation: When cities grew in population from 1 million to 10 million people, their contribution to air pollution from surface-level NO2 more than doubled.[x] Here in Dhaka, nearly 22 million people were exposed to an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 77.1 g/m3, which is more than 7 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) yearly average standard for cleaner air, which are 10 g/m3.[xi] Moreover, as Dhaka is an overpopulated, small as well as unplanned city, garbage pollution is produced by the mismanagement of solid waste from human and animal activities, waste collectors, and waste disposal contractors.[xii] The proliferation of hazardous bacteria in the environment and unpleasant smells, are all side effects of this form of pollution, which result in air pollution.[xiii] The water will also become contaminated, exposing humans to parasites and bacteria.[xiv]

Deforestation: A major indirect and underlying cause of deforestation in Dhaka is the influx of people from neighboring rural or urban areas. More people necessitate more food and space, which necessitates more agricultural and habitation land. As a result, more forest land gets eradicated.[xv] For the reason that of the high population density and limited land, green resources comprise both public and private green spaces. Except for private gardens, nurseries, agricultural land, and fruit and other trees on private property, the majority of green areas are controlled by the municipal authorities. In and surrounding Dhaka city, there are currently no privately held forests. According to researchers at Winrock International and the Woods Hole Research Center, deforestation produces an estimated 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, comparable to the emissions of 600 million cars.[xvi] Furthermore, deforestation raises the albedo of the land surface and the absorption of solar energy, affecting the region’s radiation budget.

Industrialization: Unregulated industrialization in Bangladesh has wreaked havoc on the environment over the years. Since the Dhaka division is main core industrial zone in Bangladesh, there has been a surge in critical levels of harmful pollution in the environment, coupled with the region’s rapid growth in industry.[xvii] Tejgaon, Hazaribagh, and Narayangang are residence to the majority of the textile, cement, leather tanning and fertilizer (urea) industries. These industries are notorious for spilling massive amounts of solid and liquid garbage. The majority of the residents in these locations worked in the industrial sector and suffered from a variety of health issues associated to hazardous industrial waste.[xviii] High-level AQIs were recorded mostly in the leather tanning and textiles plants.[xix] Apart from the industries, the mega infrastructures i.e., the metro-rail project contaminates the air by generating significant amounts of dust.[xx] Brick kilns in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Gazipur, and Manikganj contribute significantly to air pollution. According to reports, the brick kilns burn nearly half of the bricks with coal, making them the city’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, with several million tons emitted annually.[xxi] According to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Science Centre, the bulk of air pollution is caused by energy use and production.

Undoubtedly, the promotion of territorial fairness and equality is aided by centralization. Service standards are upheld by central authorities, who rationalize resource distribution and manage local growth.[xxii] Indeed, national plans are necessary, especially when resources are limited, and only the center can maintain territorial equity by providing funding centrally and overseeing the consistent application of national programs.[xxiii] But in drawing to a close, financial fragility, national elites, especially the bureaucracy, keen to preserve their interests above all other benefits as well as political instability all prop up centralization.[xxiv] Although it is not only about centralization, rather under this era of capitalism, manufacturing companies and major industries ruthlessly exploit natural resources, construct massively polluting industries, and pursue profits with unbridled greed, with no relation for anything else than material gain, and all of this is done with no regard for the harmful consequences that affect humans, animals, or the environment. It is undeniable that the path we have previously taken so far has been unsustainable.  As Dhaka struggles to support the bulk of the country’s economic activity, a considerable decrease in pollution might be achieved by moving things out of the city. Therefore, as a consequence of this analysis, decentralization of Dhaka is required to preserve the city from catastrophic air pollution.

Writer: Fariha Ahmed, LL.B (Hon’s), East West University. 

Endnote:

[i] MM Rahman and others, ‘Air pollution in Dhaka city and the policy responses: A review’ [2006] 7(1) Khulna University Studies 27-32

[ii] ibid

[iii] Alamgir sujaet rsm, ‘Overburdened City’ (The Daily Star, 19 November 2009) <https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-114738> accessed 6 December 2021

[iv] Rozario R, “The Dysfunctional Megacity: Why Dhaka Is Bursting at the Sewers” (The Guardian, 21 March 2018) <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/21/people-pouring-dhaka-bursting-sewers-overpopulation-bangladesh>accessed 6 December 6, 2021

[v] Al Amin, Dhaka remains the world’s most densely populated city, 2018

[vi] Ullah AKMA, “Reasons for Traffic Jam: An Observation” , (The Daily Star, 7 July, 2013 <https://www.thedailystar.net/news/reasons-for-traffic-jam-an-observation> accessed 6 December 2021

[vii] Hermes J, “How Traffic Jams Affect Air Quality” (Environment + Energy Leader, 5 January 2012)<https://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/01/how-traffic-jams-affect-air-quality/>accessed 6 December 2021

[viii] Canada H, “Government of Canada” (Canada.ca, 2 October 2020) <https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/air-quality/smog-your-health.html> accessed 6 December 2021

[ix] ibid

[x]Garner R, “NASA Scientists Relate Urban Population to Air Pollution” (NASA, 19 August 2013) <https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-scientists-relate-urban-population-to-air-pollution/> accessed 6 December 2021

[xi] “Empowering the World to Breathe Cleaner Air” (IQAir) <https://www.iqair.com/blog/air-quality/dhaka-suffers-record-air-pollution-2021> accessed 6 December 6, 2021

[xii] Change W4, “5 Kinds of Environmental Pollution Caused by Waste” (Waste4ChangeOctober 26, 2021)<https://waste4change.com/blog/5-kinds-of-environmental-pollution-caused-by-waste/> accessed 6 December 6, 2021

[xiii] ibid

[xiv] ibid

[xv] Sumit Chakravarty, S. K. Ghosh, C. P. Suresh, and A. N. Dey1 and Gopal Shukla (2012) (Global Perspectives on Sustainable Forest Management) <https://books.google.com.bd/books?id=n-KdDwAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PR11#v=onepage&q&f=false

[xvi] Masnovo A and G Gourmelon, “How Urban Consumption Lies at the Root of Deforestation”, (Greenbiz 2016) <https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-urban-consumption-lies-root-deforestation> accessed 6 December 6, 2021

[xvii] Sunny FA, Karimanzira T and Huang Z, “Environment Security: An Empirical Study of Industrialization and the Impact on Environment in the Dhaka Division, Bangladesh” (2012) 14 Environment, Development and Sustainability 885

[xviii] ibid

[xix] ibid

[xx] Saif S, “Metro-Rail Project Sites Pose Risk to Public Health” (The Business Standard September 21, 2019) <https://www.tbsnews.net/bangladesh/infrastructure/metro-rail-project-sites-pose-risk-public-health>accessed 6 December 2021

[xxi] Ahmed & nbsp; W, “Brick Kilns and Dhaka’s Air Quality &nbsp;” (The Financial Express, 2019)< https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/public/index.php/views/brick-kilns-and-dhakas-air-quality>accessed 6 December 2021

[xxii] Lois TE and Camburn MK, “Organizational Structure” in Charles  D Spielberger (ed), Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology (Elsevier 2004)

[xxiii] ibid

[xxiv] ibid

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