Air pollution causes 20% of premature deaths in Bangladesh: World Bank study

The report reveals that nine out of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia


Air pollution is responsible for about 20 percent of the total premature deaths in Bangladesh and Dhaka is one of the world’s 10 worst cities in terms of air pollution, a World Bank report has said.

The report, however, says that cost-effective solutions to achieve clean air in South Asia exist but it will require countries to coordinate policies and investments.

The report reveals that nine out of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia

The study, titled ‘Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia’, says concentrations of fine particulate matter such as soot and small dust (PM2.5) in some of the region’s most densely populated and poor areas are up to 20 times higher than the WHO standard of 5 µg/mᶾ.

Such extreme air pollution can cause stunting and reduced cognitive development in children and other health issues such as respiratory disease and chronic conditions, the study said. In totality it drives up the cost of healthcare, reduces productivity, and leads to more lost working days.

“Air pollution creates a serious threat to public health and has major consequences on economic growth,” said Abdoulaye Seck, World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.

“Evidence shows that with commitment, the right actions, and policies, it is possible to tackle air pollution. Bangladesh has already taken steps to improve air quality management, including the approval of the Air Pollution Control Rules. Along with strong national actions, trans-boundary solutions will be important to curb air pollution. Through analytical work and new investments, the World Bank is helping Bangladesh reduce air pollution.”

Air pollution can travel long distances and get trapped in ‘airsheds’. One such airshed spans Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, leading to cases where nearly two-thirds of the pollution in cities such as Dhaka, Kathmandu, and Colombo originate outside the city.

However, four South Asian nations – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan – have drawn up the Kathmandu Roadmap for improving air quality in the region.

“Air pollution is not limited to a city, state, or national boundaries- it is transboundary in nature,” said Cecile Fruman, World Bank director for regional integration for South Asia. “South Asian countries in the same airshed—common geographical areas that share the same air quality—can reduce the alarming level of air pollution only if they take a coordinated approach. By working together countries can get results better, faster, and cheaper.”

Even if fully implemented, the current policy measures focused on power plants, large factories, and transportation, will only see ‘partial success’ in reducing PM 2.5 concentrations across the region.

“To achieve greater progress, the focus of policymakers should expand into other sectors, particularly small manufacturing, agriculture, residential cooking, and waste management,” the report said.

The report includes a cost-effective scenario that calls for full coordination between airsheds that could “cut the average exposure of PM2.5 in South Asia to 30 µg/m³ at a cost of $278 million per µg/mᶾ of reduced exposure, and save more than 750,000 lives annually”.

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