People in Dhaka were able to inhale fresh air only 38 days in the last six years, revealed a study by the Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS) at Stamford University.
From 2016 to 2021, the air quality was acceptable for 510 days, sensitive for 577 days, unhealthy for 443 days, very unhealthy for 385 days and catastrophic for 37 days, it added.
Professor Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, director of CAPS, presented the findings at a press conference on "Dangerous levels of air pollution in Dhaka: Urgent action to address public health and disasters".
The Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) organised the press conference at the Dhaka Reporters Unity's Sagar-Runi auditorium on Thursday.
Professor Kamruzzaman said deficiencies in urban planning, weaknesses of laws, and limitations in the enforcement of the laws are some of the major causes of air pollution in Dhaka.
"Analysing six years of data on the air quality index in January, we found the average air pollution level increased 9.8% in 2021 compared to 2020," he added.
In the first 25 days of January 2022, the average air quality index stood at 219.52, which is very unhealthy, he said.
Noting that people in Dhaka did not get fresh air even for a single day this month, Professor Kamruzzaman said the air quality ranged from "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy" most of the time.
According to the study, the air quality in Dhaka city starts deteriorating after 4pm and reaches its peak between 11pm and 2am.
Analysing the air quality for the last six years, shows that at 1am, the index stands at 162 which is the maximum within 24 hours.
After 10pm a lot of freight trucks from North Bengal and South Bengal enter Dhaka city, causing a lot of air pollution at night, the study added.
"In 2021, Tejgaon (70 micrograms per cubic metre) was the most polluted area followed by Shahbagh (68 micrograms per cubic metre)," said the CAPS director while providing study data on 10 locations in the capital city.
According to the study, unplanned and uncontrolled road cutting and construction cause the most air pollution (30%) followed by brick kilns and factories (29%) and black smoke from vehicles (15%).
BAPA General Secretary Sharif Jamil insisted the general public be informed about air quality in the city in a timely manner.
"Air pollution is causing a humanitarian catastrophe in Dhaka and we do not want such development that puts life in danger," said Sharif, questioning the sincerity of the government in taking effective measures to control air pollution.
To overcome the horrors of pollution, they (Bapa) gave 15 short, medium, and long-term recommendations, such as using suction trucks to collect dust from roads, using advanced technology to stop illegal brick kilns, and increasing the circulation of alternative bricks.