Dhaka most polluted city on some days

Dhaka is officially one the world’s most polluted cities, according to the US Consulate’s monitors in the city. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 November 2019

Dhaka most polluted city on some days

  • Government agencies are mulling an “integrated approach” to address air pollution after accusations of bad coordination

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi capital Dhaka is officially one the world’s most polluted cities, according to the US Consulate’s monitors in the city. 

As the deteriorating air quality in Dhaka threaten the lives of its residents, government agencies are mulling an “integrated approach” to address air pollution after accusations of bad coordination. From Sunday to Tuesday, Dhaka’s air was the worst in the world. On Thursday, Lahore, in Pakistan, took the lead, becoming the most heavily polluted city, followed by Delhi, in India.

Officials at the country’s directorate of environment say their efforts are focused on preventing pollution from becoming even worse than “very unhealthy” during the dry season which runs from November through to January.

Under the US-based Air Quality Index (AQI), air quality is considered as “good” while the index score is between 0 and 50. It is “moderate” when the score is 51-100. If readings show 101-150, the air is “unhealthy” for sensitive groups of people, and when the score is 151-200, it is considered as “unhealthy” for all. If the score reaches 201-300, the air is considered “very unhealthy.”

“We are trying hard to maintain the AQI index during winter at 200–250. Our best efforts are focused on keeping the score below 300,” said Ziaul Haque, air quality director at the environment directorate.

The AQI reading is determined by the prevalence of particulate matter (PM) in the air. Particulate matter is a mixture of hazardous solid and liquid particles, ranging from 2.5 (PM2.5) to 10 (PM10) micrometers in diameter. They are so tiny that they can easily enter the bloodstream and lead to serious health conditions.

According to Haque, Dhaka’s pollution is worsening as brick kilns surrounding the city are mostly coal-fueled, emitting toxic pollutants. In two industrial towns on the outskirts a majority of production facilities do not comply with emission standards.

The situation is aggravated further by infrastructure mega-projects such as a metro rail system and an elevated expressway that produce huge amounts of dust, adding to emissions from old vehicles, private construction projects, and open trash burning.

The department of environment has scheduled a meeting with the ministers of environment, home affairs and public works, as well as the city’s mayors on Nov. 25, to suggest an “integrated approach” in addressing the problem, Haque said. He explained that coordination among different government agencies needs to be improved, especially with regard to development and maintenance works.

He also said that law enforcement will be strengthened at the brick kilns that pollute the city. More than 100 have already been shut down in the past few months.

Bangladeshi environmentalists blame miscoordination among different agencies for the government’s inefficiency in improving Dhaka’s air quality.

“All of the construction sites should be duly protected with a cover. City corporations should introduce modern waste management systems and vehicles emitting black smoke should not run on the city’s streets,” said Dr. Mohammad Abdul Matin, vice president of the Bangladesh Environmentalist Movement (BAPA).

According to Matin, monitoring of polluters needs to be improved.

Catalin Bercaru, World Health Organization spokesman in Dhaka, said the authorities need not only to develop a comprehensive monitoring framework for ambient air quality, but also to update the existing regulations to curb the air pollution. They also require “better enforcement of environmental and antipollution laws,” he said.

Bercaru also suggested that Bangladesh should develop green technologies for emissions control and “set new air quality standards for important polluters which are source-specific and health-based.”

According to the WHO’s report World Health Statistics 2018, air pollution in Bangladesh results in premature deaths of 149 per every 100,000 people, contributing to heart and respiratory diseases, stroke and cancer.


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.