Right to breathe clean air
How long do we have to wait?

WHAT do you say about a government that cannot ensure the citizens' right to breathe clean air? Worthless. What, however, do you say about a government that having failed to ensure clean air does not care about doing anything to improve it? Criminally negligent. We are forced to come to that conclusion after seeing how the ministry of environment has handled the US$ 4.75 million Air Quality Monitoring Project (AQMP). It is for several years now that we have known that the quality of air in Dhaka city has deteriorated to such an extent that it is a serious health hazard. Yet nothing has been done to improve the situation.


The lead content in our city's air is now the highest in the world. The percentage of other pollutants is also among the highest. Yet the ministry of environment has paid no attention to protect the rights of the citizens to breathe clean air. It was after years of newspaper reports that import of leaded fuel stopped. However, high degree of carbon and sulphur continues to pollute our air. The issue of phasing out the two-stroke engine auto-rickshaws remains in a limbo. Yes, some modification was made in the duty structure to make import of such rickshaws more expensive but the measure fell far short of what was needed to make any significant impact in reducing air pollution in the city. Meanwhile 65,000 auto-rickshaws continue to belch the hazardous fume in city air while plying its streets unabated.

We heard a lot about special environmental courts to try and punish polluting vehicles in the city. Absolutely nothing came of it even though parliament had passed the necessary laws early last year. Will the ministry please answer? The case of AQMP is another example of the environment ministry's utter callousness about the whole issue. The project envisaged setting up of 20 stations in the capital to monitor air quality. Just because it involved a lucrative contract many eyes fell on it and the whole thing got stuck in our bureaucratic web. The project was launched last December which followed nearly a year of delay. But now five months have elapsed and yet no recruitment of staff has been made to implement this nearly US$5 million project. Does our government relaise the damage that it has caused to the public by this delay? Each additional day of breathing the polluted air caused more people to contract disease. Talk to any paediatricians in the city and they will tell you that asthma and bronchial problems are on a quick rise and children are the biggest and severest victims of this polluted air.

We hold the environment ministry responsible for criminal negligence of public health concerns. We cannot understand why even after the World Bank had provided us with necessary funds our government did not move to remove the threats to our health and give us clean air to breathe?

Source: The Daily Star, 06 May ,2001