Toxic air in Bangladesh claimed 88,000 lives in 2019, says World Bank

The toxic breathing environment developed due to the unabated air pollution in Bangladesh claimed about 78,145-88,229 lives in 2019, according to a World Bank report published in Dhaka on Sunday. The ambient air pollution puts everyone at risk, from a child to the elderly, said the World Bank, adding that air pollution cost about 3.9% to 4.4% of the country’s GDP in the same year. Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka was ranked as the second most polluted city in the world from 2018 to 2021, with rising breathing difficulties, cough, lower respiratory tract infections, as well as depression and other health conditions. The major construction and persistent traffic in Dhaka have the highest level of air pollution, on average 150% above the WHO air quality guidelines, according to the report. The report titled “Breathing Heavy: New Evidence on Air Pollution and Health in Bangladesh” also assessed the impacts of outdoor air pollution on physical and mental health. “A 1% increase in exposure to PM2.5 (particulate matter) above the WHO air quality guidelines (AQG) is associated with a 20% higher probability of being depressed,” the report found. Worsening situation Abdus Salam, a professor at Dhaka University's Chemistry Department, who has been working and studying the country’s air pollution for the last two decades, believed the number of deaths due to air pollution could be much more than mentioned by the UN lender. Read more: Cyclone lashes Bangladesh killing nine, flooding low-lying areas “About a decade ago Bangladesh had taken some measures and cut the air pollution, but now the situation has worsened,” he told Anadolu Agency. The government agencies are not taking effective and visible actions to improve the situation, he added. “Brick kilns contribute 12-13% to the air pollution while gas emission from vehicles, uncovered construction activities, and transboundary air pollution are among the major causes of the worst air in Dhaka and other parts of the country,” he continued. Air pollutants are also transported to Dhaka city through different routes from countries like India and Nepal, Salam said, suggesting the use of well-refined fuels in vehicles, and diplomatic efforts to curb transboundary air pollution. “Addressing air pollution is critical for the country’s sustainable and green growth and development,” said Dandan Chen, acting World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “Air pollution causes the climate to change, and climate change worsens the air quality. Over time, climate change and urbanisation will further intensify air pollution,” said lead author of the report and World Bank health specialist, Wameq Azfar Raza. The health sector needs to be well prepared to deal with the imminent health crisis arising from air pollution and climate change, Raza suggested. On Friday, the World Bank approved a $250 million financing to assist Bangladesh in strengthening its environmental management and encouraging the private sector’s participation in green investment.

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