Dhaka had the most polluted air in the world for eight days this month, observed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on Monday.
The air quality in Karwan Bazar area was the worst, followed by Mohammadpur and Gulshan. The air condition of most of the areas in the capital was unhealthy, according to the ministry.
Mohammad Shahab Uddin, environment minister said, "We have been in the most critical condition throughout the world regarding air pollution. We are working to remedy this."
The minister said this while speaking at a press conference at the environment ministry just before an intra-ministerial meeting on combating air and sound pollution.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, the minister said the secretariat and its adjacent areas will be declared a "silent zone" from December 17. No vehicles will be allowed to blow horns in the area.
He also said that the Department of Environment will devise short-term, mid-term, and long-term action plans to control air and sound pollution. The ministries and agencies concerned will implement those measures.
Meanwhile, Dhaka was ranked the worst in the Air Quality Index (AQI) on Monday morning, scoring 242 – which means the air quality was very unhealthy – at 8:00 am.
Delhi, Lahore and Ulaanbaatar occupied the next three slots with scores of 211, 198 and 198 respectively.
At 4:00pm, the cities of Kolkata, Mumbai, and Delhi in neighbouring India occupied the top three spots in the list of top 10 highest polluted cities, with scores of 172, 165, and 161, respectively.
Dhaka was in the ninth spot with an AQI of 145 and Poznan, Poland was at the tenth position with a score of 141.
The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.
As per the Department of Environment, an air quality score between 0 and 50 is considered good, that between 51 and 100 moderate, a score between 101 and 150 unhealthy for sensitive groups, that between 151 and 200 unhealthy, between 201 and 300 very unhealthy, and a score between 301 and 500 is considered hazardous.
Initiatives planned for curbing air pollution
As per the decisions adopted during the Monday meeting to curb air pollution in Dhaka, the government will formulate a central work schedule to ensure coordination among the government and private development works, like the repair of roads and utility services.
The environment minister said the government will take necessary measures to stop the emission of pollutants from brick kilns.
Both of Dhaka's city corporations have been asked to spray water on important streets twice a day – in the morning and at noon – to prevent dust.
The Bus Rapid Transit and the Mass Rapid Transit project implementers have also been urged to spray water on the construction sites of their own accord.
The two city corporations have been asked not to carry waste materials uncovered, and burn those.
According to the decisions, environmental safety must be ensured during the construction of metro rail, elevated highways, and other mega projects.
The construction sites must be covered by safety material and to prevent dust rising from the sites. This condition must be shown on the work schedule and the "dedicated" manpower of the city corporations will oversee the matter.
Soil, sand, and cement must be covered when are carried by truck or lorry.
Trees must be planted beside the roads, open spaces and surrounding homes to prevent dust pollution.
The Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) will have to oversee prevention of dust pollution by building owners.
The environment ministry has also urged the authorities concerned to stop running of vehicles that are 20 years old or over, and those which produce black smoke.
Initiatives planned for curbing sound pollution
According to the decisions made at Monday's meeting to control sound pollution, the government will stop the use of hydraulic horns.
The government will also find out the sources of unwanted and unnecessary noise in the city and will shut them down, said the environment minister.
According to the ministry, loud noises must be stopped during the construction of the building. Rajuk has been asked to mention this while approving the design of a building.
The meeting has called for coordinated efforts by the Department of Environment, the Bangladesh Roads and Transport Authority (BRTA), and the Bangladesh Police to prevent sound pollution.
The BRTA have been asked to check horn condition, and scrutinise if it is tolerable before issuing a fitness certificate to a vehicle.
No invited minister joined the meeting
The environment ministry had invited the Road Transport and Bridges minister, the home minister, the Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives minister, the industries minister, the Health and Family Planning minister, the Housing and Public Works minister, and the Dhaka South and North City Corporation mayors to the meeting.
However, none of the invited ministers or mayors attended the meeting. Finally, the environment ministry held the meeting with the deputy secretary-level officials from different ministries.
The environment minister presided over the meeting, while its Secretary Abdullah Al Mohsin Chowdhury moderated it.
Asked why the invited ministers and mayors did not participate in the meeting, the environment minister refrained from commenting in this regard.