High levels of air pollution across Bangladesh have significantly raised the risks of breathing difficulties, cough, lower respiratory tract infections, as well as depression and other health conditions, and has put vulnerable groups such as children under five years, the elderly and people with diabetes, heart or respiratory conditions in danger, according to a World Bank report.
The report found that air pollution led to the deaths of as many as 88,229 people in Bangladesh in 2019, the World Bank said in a statement on Sunday.
It recommended immediate action on the issue, including “improving public health services and response mechanisms, improving air pollution data monitoring systems, investing in early warning systems, and engaging in further research”.
Urgent action is necessary to improve public health service platforms to provide curative care and promote preventative care, the study said. The government can also address emerging health issues by community screening for persistent coughs and breathing difficulties for people living in hotspots of air pollution. Monitoring data on air quality and further study would also help to develop effective measures to cope with the health impact.
The highest level of air pollution was found in parts of Dhaka city that are undergoing major construction and persistent traffic. In these areas, fine particulate matter (PM2.5), considered most hazardous to health, is on average 150 percent above the WHO guidelines on air quality. The effect is equivalent to smoking about 1.7 cigarettes a day, the study said.
Dhaka was the most polluted division and also ranked from 2018 to 2021 as the second most polluted city in the world.
Children who lived near major construction and traffic sites experienced significantly higher rates of lower respiratory tract infections.
The Sylhet Division, which has the cleanest air in the country, still has PM2.5 levels that are, on average, 80 percent above the WHO guidelines. The effect is equivalent to smoking 1.2 cigarettes a day.
“Ambient air pollution puts everyone at risk, from a child to the elderly. In 2019, air pollution was the second largest cause of deaths and disability in Bangladesh and cost about 3.9 to 4.4 percent of the country’s GDP,” said Dandan Chen, acting World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“Addressing air pollution is critical for the country’s sustainable and green growth and development. Through analytical work and new investments, the World Bank is helping Bangladesh reduce air pollution.”
A one percent increase in exposure to PM2.5 over the WHO’s guidelines can result in a 12.8 percent increase in the probability of a person experiencing breathing difficulties, a 12.5 percent increase in the probability of having wet coughs, and an 8.1 percent higher risk of contracting lower respiratory tract infections, the World Bank said.
Mental health is also affected by air pollution and areas with major construction and persistent traffic also reported the most cases of depression. The study found that a one percent increase in exposure to PM2.5 above the WHO recommended level is associated with a 20 percent higher probability of being depressed.
These effects will grow worse over time, warns Wameq Azfar Raza, World Bank health specialist and the lead of the report.
“Air pollution causes the climate to change, and climate change worsens the air quality. Over time, climate change and urbanisation will further intensify air pollution,” he said.
“The health sector needs to be well prepared to deal with the imminent health crisis arising from air pollution and climate change.”