An estimated 15,000 premature deaths, as well as several million cases of pulmonary, respiratory and neurological illness are attributed to poor air quality in Dhaka, according to the Air Quality Management Project (AQMP), funded by the government and the World Bank.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says vehicular air pollution is a major cause of respiratory distress in urban Bangladesh.

"If pregnant mothers come across excessive pollution, it may cause premature death of their children," said Soofia Khatun, a professor of paediatrics at the Institute of Maternal and Child Health.

According to the National Institute of Diseases of Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), nearly seven million people in Bangladesh suffer from asthma; more than half of them children. Cases of children suffering from bronchitis and chronic coughs have also shot up in recent years, it said.

"Children breathe more air relative to their lung size than adults. They spend more time outdoors, often during midday and afternoons when pollutant levels are generally highest," said Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, chief of Kochi Kanchar Mela, a children's welfare organisation.


According to the Department of Environment (DoE), the density of airborne particulate matter (PM) reaches 463 micrograms per cubic metre (mcm) in the city during the dry season (December-March) - the highest level in the world. Mexico City and Mumbai follow Dhaka with 383 and 360mcm respectively, the
DoE says.

WHO air quality guidelines (2005) recommend a maximum acceptable PM level of 20mcm; cities with 70mcm are considered highly polluted. Airborne lead is the worst of the harmful PMs.

"By penetrating the lungs and entering the blood stream, lead may cause irreversible neurological damage as well as renal disease, cardiovascular effects, and reproductive toxicity," Humayun Kabir, head of the medicine department of Barisal Medical College, told IRIN, adding: "Children are especially susceptible to impaired intelligence due to lead poisoning."

Main pollution sources

According to the DoE, old, poorly serviced vehicles, brick kilns (there are currently about 1,000 in and around Dhaka), dust from roads and construction sites, and toxic fumes from industrial sites are major sources of air pollution.

Environmental activists are encouraged by the creation of the government's Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project in Bangladesh which is funded by the World Bank and expected to start from 1 July 2009. The aim is to adopt sustainable environmental initiatives in key polluting sectors.

Category; Bangladesh