Dhaka’s air quality crisis demands urgent action

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On the dawn of the New Year, Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, woke up to an air quality crisis of catastrophic proportions, reaching an AQI level of 300.

In most countries, such a dire situation would trigger emergency health warnings and the immediate closure of educational institutions. However, Bangladesh seems to be complacent in the face of this recurring environmental nightmare.

The lamentable state of air quality is not a novel issue for Dhaka residents. In 2023, there were only eight days when the air was classified as “good,” a slight improvement from the solitary day of “good” air in 2022.

Despite this, 2023 still etched its name as the year with the worst air quality in Bangladesh over the past eight years, according to a study by the Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS). The annual average AQI skyrocketed to 171, marking a 15.20 percent increase from the previous year.

The consequences of this environmental neglect are dire. An AQI above 300 is considered “hazardous,” urging individuals to refrain from any outdoor physical activity. Shockingly, Dhaka residents experienced “extremely unhealthy” or “hazardous” air for 13 days in 2023, the highest recorded in the last eight years.

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Dhaka’s dubious distinction as the city with the world’s worst air quality, with an AQI score of 281, underscores the gravity of the situation. This dire reality places Dhaka among the top 110 most polluted cities globally, surpassing cities like Delhi, Lahore, and Shenyang.

Despite a High Court directive in February 2022 to identify pollution sources and formulate action plans, these directives have been largely ignored.

The Department of Environment, tasked with providing technical assistance, has not translated discussions into concrete actions. Similarly, a high-level national committee formed in November 2022 has yet to offer substantial recommendations.

As concerned citizens, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this crisis. It is time for decisive action. The authorities must heed the warnings, implement the necessary measures, and prioritize the health and well-being of Dhaka’s residents.

The people, too, must advocate for change, demanding accountability and a swift resolution to this environmental catastrophe. Our collective future depends on the actions we take today to secure a cleaner, healthier, and sustainable tomorrow.