Despite efforts by the government, Bangladesh's citizens continue to breathe in the most polluted air in the world exposing themselves to various diseases in addition to financial loss.

The situation is so bad that Bangladesh was ranked as the most polluted country in the world for PM2.5 exposure, according to 2019 World Air Quality Report by IQAir published Tuesday.

As Bangladesh has long been grappling with air pollution, the High Court, at one point, even observed that it was time to declare Dhaka, the sprawling overcrowded megacity, as an "ecologically critical area" due to widespread pollution, and issued a nine-point directive to bring down air pollution.

Experts say the air has become very harmful due to discharge of dust from unplanned construction works, metro-rail project, road repair, installation of utility lines, smoke from vehicles and brick kilns.

Experts, who spoke to UNB, suggested shutting down brick kilns, stopping unfit vehicles from running on the road, checking dust pollution during development works, and taking projects for afforestation to improve the air quality.

Though the United Nations says clean air is a human right, a 2018 report noted that Bangladeshis on average lose 1.87 years of their lives due to air pollution. Environment activists said most people are unaware of the effects of air pollution on human health and emphasised raising awareness.

Earlier this month, Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin said that air pollution has risen to 'intolerable level', while Environment expert Ainun Nishat blamed the government's apathy for the situation.

"The government has a big project to check air pollution under which footpaths and foot-over bridges are constructed. I don't understand the relation between air pollution and footpaths and over bridges," he said.

Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba) Chairman Abu Naser said the IQAir findings were not surprising given that the situation has been worsening for years. "Long-term planning is needed here," he told UNB. "We've to address the sources of air pollution."

A 2016 World Bank report said air pollution has emerged as the deadliest form of pollution and fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide. Deaths caused by air pollution cost the global economy a staggering $225 billion.

WHO estimates show that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air. In a report, the UN health agency said that around 93 percent of children under 15 breathe polluted air every day.

In low- and middle-income countries, 98 percent of children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. The report noted that air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer.

IQAir CEO Frank Hammes said air pollution is contributing to nearly seven million deaths a year.

MA Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), told UNB that the situation is alarming.

"The government needs to take swift and effective steps," he told UNB. "If everyone works together, it'll be possible to continue development works and keep air pollution in check."

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