Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is considered to be a role model of economic development. Unfortunately, it somehow fell behind on a crucial fragment essential for the quality of life: the air quality in the capital.
The air quality in Dhaka, to say the least, is deplorable. Dhaka currently ranks 168th on the Air Quality Index, making it one of the worst places to live on the planet.
Unfortunately, the capital of a country aspiring to become a developed economy by 2041 has a deplorable environment. More importantly, worsening air quality in Dhaka has real-life implications for its people, especially for future generations.
For starters, air pollution can affect lung development in children and is often linked to lung diseases like emphysema, asthma, as well as, ischemic heart diseases, strokes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other respiratory infections in children. Some even argue that the quality of air can affect fertility and the development of newborns.
But not everyone is equally affected by the poor quality of air in Dhaka. The working class probably are the ones most affected by poor air quality since their jobs often require them to remain exposed to the open air for longer periods daily.
Unless you are privileged enough to afford expensive doctors or remain in close quarters for most of the day, the deteriorating air quality in Dhaka should concern you. Then again, how long can you refrain from going outside?
And even if you do have the luxury to avoid breathing the toxic Dhaka air into your lungs, you should still consider improving the quality for the sake of your children and your future.
But why is air quality deteriorating in Dhaka? What factors are at play here?
The first one is probably uncontrolled rural-urban migration. As the economy of Bangladesh grew rapidly, the income differential between the rural and urban regions also increased. With it increased, the income inequality between the urban industrialised society and the rural agrarian one.
Persistent income inequality, coupled with other factors such as climate-related natural disasters, and internal displacements adversely affected the standard of living for the poor and the marginalised. The urban-rural income differentials encourage them to migrate to urban industrial regions looking for employment.
According to the World Population Review, about 23,324 people live in one square kilometre of Dhaka city. According to the UN, about 22 million people currently live in the city. All of these are overwhelming numbers for any city or country in the world, let alone the capital of a least developed country.
The pressure from overpopulation accompanied by unplanned urbanisation, industrialisation and a poor waste management system in Dhaka has led to not only the pollution of its air but also its soil and rivers.
It appears that the air quality of Dhaka will only get worse if we fail to decentralise the economy. Such an occurrence would only encourage migrants to keep coming to Dhaka or more factories to set up shop here, making the already deteriorating condition even more difficult to manage.
How to deal with this then? The authority has addressed the issue of air pollution with seasonal variability to even out the release of toxic substances into the atmosphere, development of sustainable infrastructure and transportation reform.
However, there is a more convenient remedy to this problem - the plantation of trees. While tree plantation initiatives cannot replace sound policies which address waste management, sustainable urbanisation among other issues, they can help a great deal to heal the environment.
Unfortunately, most of these initiatives are poorly managed, often arranged for show or are part of the tokenistic gestures by some so-called VIPs.
Instead of temporarily replacing withered away plants for VIP visits, the authority should devise comprehensive policies to increase the plantation of trees indefinitely. The policies should also try to boost modern infrastructure to sustainably increase the air quality in Dhaka.
The government may even incentivise large scale businesses along with local and international manufacturing businesses to increase greenery as an inclusive CSR policy to create a win-win scenario for all stakeholders and generate significant positive externalities.
Given the country's upcoming plans of growth such as LDC graduation, achieving the SDGs by 2030 and becoming a developed economy by 2041, the well-being of the future generations will be crucial. And unless we improve the air quality of our cities, we cannot ensure that.
Bangladesh is a role model of economic development, as well as, economic recovery in a post-pandemic era. She has walked thousands of miles with several roads being scattered with thorns in instances on her way from being a basket case to the economy she is today.
An AQI score, being the simple allocation of numerical data should not be posing the threat to bring her down. The authority must devise inclusive and sustainable policies to ensure that our aspirations of becoming a globally competitive economy do not go in vain, just for a dying capital.
Mohaimenul Solaiman Nicholas is a Sophomore at the Department of Economics and Social Sciences, BRAC University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.