Dust threatens public health

Mominul Haque has been suffering from obesity, so doctors advised him at least an hour's walk every day. But he can't go for that must-do exercise. 

The banker is also allergic to dust, and much of the capital's Gulshan, where he lives, is covered with thick dust these days. So he is skipping his walk and, as a result, his weight gain continues.

“I feel irritation in my nose and start sneezing incessantly when exposed to dust,” said Mominul, 45.

Like him, lakhs of city dwellers, including many with lung and allergy problems, have to negotiate such thick dust as they go about their daily business, thanks to massive construction work by private companies, government agencies, two city corporations and Wasa.

City and project officials claim they regularly spray water to stop dust from flying, but evidence suggests otherwise.

In many parts of the city, people moving with their faces and noses covered with scarves or bare hands is a common sight as hovering dust clouds vision.

Mirpur, Gulshan, Mouchak, Malibagh, Moghbazar, Jatrabari, Beribadh, Rampura, Moddho Badda and Zahir Raihan Road near Dhaka Medical College Hospital are some of the areas where the menace is at its highest.

Dust particles small enough to be inhaled not only cause irritation of the eyes, coughing and sneezing, but also asthma and bronchitis. 

“Every 10 out of 100 children exposed to dust develop asthma while seven to eight percent of the adult suffer from chronic bronchitis,” said Prof Md Rashidul Hassan, former director of the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital. 

“Dust mixed with pollutant particles is responsible for lung cancer,” he warned. 

He added that the number of such patients was increasing in the country, and advised spraying water on construction sites regularly.

Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has recently dismantled some ramps of Mayor Hanif Flyover near Bakshibazar intersection. Thousands of people, including patients, cross this road each day through the concrete dust.

On January 26, Anisur Rahman took his six-year-old son to the DMCH for treatment of respiratory complications. On both ways, the boy was exposed to the heavy dust.

“He [the boy] is allergic to dust. Doctor asked us to keep him from dust. How can the authorities not see the dust in front of the hospital?” said Anisur. 

In Gulshan and Banani, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) is carrying out extensive road and divider repairing work. In Mirpur, Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTC) and Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) are working for Metro Rail and a water supply project respectively.

“On the one hand, there is heavy traffic. On the other, heavy dust covers the area. It's horrific,” said Mahmud Reza, who works in a bank in Mirpur.

“By the time I reach my office, I'm coated with dust. That's why I keep an extra shirt in my bag for office,” claimed Reza, who travels on motorbike from Kathalbagan.

Dhaka's dust problem, which leads to air pollution, is not new.

In 2011, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) and the Department of Environment in Bangladesh undertook a three-year project to improve local expertise in air quality monitoring and planning in one of the world's most densely populated cities.


As part of the project, a delegation from NILU had travelled to Dhaka to conduct an initial screening study.

“During the winter season, Dhaka is probably the most polluted city in the world,” said NILU scientist Scott Randall after the visit.

On the balcony of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka, the researchers were able to measure dust concentrations over a period of 24 hours. The results showed values that exceeded three times the legal limit for air pollution in the United States and Bangladesh, and nearly five times the limit in the EU and Norway, according to the embassy website. 

An official of the embassy told The Daily Star last night that test equipment still remain installed at the office though the official could not provide the latest data.

On January 25 last year, the High Court demanded an explanation from the government on the steps taken to remove dust, smoke and other deadly elements causing damage to public health in four city corporations -- DSCC, DNCC, Gazipur and Narayanganj.

Contacted, DSCC Chief Executive Officer Khan Mohammad Bilal said they sprayed water twice a day at their project sites. “We request other development organisations to do that too.”

Asked about the court order, he said they were doing their best to prevent air pollution.

His counterpart in the DNCC Mesbahul Islam said they had just two lorries to spray water and that another would be added soon. “But this is not enough to fight dust.”

But the DNCC has undertaken tree plantation projects to reduce the capital's air pollution, he added.

source: Daily star