To breathe or not to breathe

Rafiqul Islam
Thursday, May 7th, 2015


The government has decided to introduce a national Air Quality Index (AQI) to identify the level of air pollution in the country’s major cities, including capital Dhaka, and thus help people stay aware about ‘bad air’ days.

 

“We’ve already sent a draft of the Air Quality Index to the Ministry of Environment of Forests to assess it,” Dr M Nasir Uddin, project director of the Department of Environment’s Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project, told UNB, Dhaka Courier’s sister newsagency.

 

The AQI is a tool for reporting daily air quality of any city or country. It provides a measure of how clean or polluted the air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for public. The AQI focuses on health effects that one might experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air.

 

Globally, AQI is used as an effective tool to build public awareness and support for aggressive action for pollution control and bring down daily peak pollution levels. “Bangladesh is working to launch the index at a time when the air quality in major cities is fast deteriorating in absence of a national policy to combat the rising pollution,” Dr Nasir said.

 

The DoE is seriously considering launching a national AQI for the country seeing that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the National Air Quality Index (AQI) and health alert for public information for neighbouring India on April 6 in 2015, according to a senior official of the DoE.

 

He said the ministry is assessing the draft of AQI and it will finalise the index after holding meetings with various stakeholders. The government with support from the World Bank is implementing the CASE project, which prepared the draft AQI, to improve the air quality and safe mobility in Dhaka.

 

Dr Nasir Uddin, also joint secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, said the CASE project is currently releasing AQI daily on experimental basis. The project has established 11 Continuous Air Monitoring Stations (CAMS) in the country’s eight major cities, including Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet, to keep track of air pollution levels.

 

The CAMS operates round the clock with expected data capture rate of 85 percent. The DoE is now preparing the daily AQI based on the data generated from the CAMS. AQI effectively describes ambient air quality relative to national air quality standards. The data generated by CAMS is also being used in the planning and implementation of other development projects, official sources said.

 

According to experts and environmental activists, the AQI can be used to inform people about the daily air quality and provide advisories on health consequences.

 

Environmental expert Dr Atiq Rahman, also the executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies (BCAS), welcomed the launching of an integrated air quality index may be launched, which will caution people about possible health consequences. This can help build public awareness as well as public support, which will push the authorities concerned to take hard decisions to ensure cleaner air.

 

Dr Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa), said air pollution is increasing fast in the country due to unplanned industrial growth, development works and unfit vehicles plying on city streets. So an air quality index should be launched considering public health.

 

“Once the AQI is introduced, the standard of air would be ensured that will help the government take effective policies. Both the government as well as general people will be benefited from it,” he added.

 

As per global standards, air pollution levels have been classified in six bands with simple descriptions to help people understand them. Each band has cut-off points of concentration with a colour code to visually express the level of severity, that people can comprehend easily. Air quality is classified as good if the pollution levels are at least 50 percent below the regulatory standards.

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