Every year on February 20th, Bangladesh observes Social Justice Day-a day dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of social justice and promoting equitable opportunities for all its citizens. This occasion provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made towards achieving social justice and to address the challenges that persist in ensuring equality, fairness, and dignity for every individual in society. Every year, the theme of World Day of Social Justice highlights the urgent demand to address growing inequality in countries around the world. This year the theme for World Day of Social Justice is "Global Coalition for Social Justice: Bridging Gaps, Building Alliances". It serves as a reminder of the urgent need to bridge the gap between privilege and disadvantage. However, one crucial aspect of social justice that often gets overlooked is environmental justice. In Bangladesh, a country grappling with significant environmental challenges, the connection between social justice and environmental pollution is particularly salient. Bangladesh with its dense population and rapid industrialization, faces severe environmental degradation, with pollution affecting air, water, and land resources. The consequences of this pollution are far-reaching, impacting public health, livelihoods, and overall well-being.

Bangladesh, situated in South Asia, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Its rapid industrialization and urbanization have led to severe environmental degradation, with pollution emerging as a significant concern. The country faces various forms of pollution, including air, water, and soil pollution, as well as noise pollution and improper waste management practices. Air pollution in Bangladesh stems from a myriad of sources, including vehicular emissions, industrial activities, and brick kilns. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Dhaka, the capital city, ranks among the most polluted cities globally in terms of air quality. The high levels of particulate matter (PM₂.₅ and PM₁₀) pose severe health risks, contributing to respiratory illnesses and premature deaths among the population. The rapid urbanization and industrialization in Bangladesh have resulted in increased noise pollution levels, particularly in densely populated urban areas. Construction activities, traffic congestion, and industrial machinery generate excessive noise, which not only disturbs the peace but also has adverse effects on human health, including hearing impairment, stress, and sleep disturbances. The water bodies in Bangladesh, including rivers, lakes, and coastal areas, suffer from contamination due to industrial effluents, agricultural runoff, and untreated sewage disposal. The pollution of these water sources not only jeopardizes aquatic ecosystems but also undermines access to clean drinking water for millions of people. Waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrheal infections are rampant in areas with poor water quality, exacerbating public health challenges. Industrial activities, indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture, and improper disposal of solid waste contribute to soil pollution in Bangladesh. Contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and organic pollutants accumulate in the soil, posing risks to agricultural productivity and food safety. Moreover, soil pollution can lead to long-term environmental degradation, affecting ecosystems and biodiversity. Inadequate waste management practices exacerbate environmental pollution in Bangladesh. The lack of proper waste collection and disposal infrastructure leads to the indiscriminate dumping of garbage in water bodies, open spaces, and landfills. Plastic pollution is a significant concern, with single-use plastics clogging drains and waterways, posing hazards to wildlife and ecosystems.

The environmental pollution crisis in Bangladesh disproportionately affects marginalized communities, exacerbating existing inequalities and perpetuating social injustice. Vulnerable populations, including the urban poor, rural communities, and indigenous groups, bear the brunt of environmental degradation, experiencing adverse health outcomes, loss of livelihoods, and displacement. Exposure to polluted air, water, and soil increases the risk of respiratory diseases, waterborne illnesses, and chronic health conditions among disadvantaged communities. Limited access to healthcare services further exacerbates health inequities, as marginalized groups struggle to cope with the health burdens imposed by environmental pollution. Many marginalized communities in Bangladesh rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, including agriculture, fishing, and forestry. However, environmental pollution undermines these livelihoods, affecting crop yields, fish stocks, and biodiversity. Moreover, industrial pollution often contaminates water sources essential for irrigation and fishing, further marginalizing vulnerable communities reliant on these resources. Environmental degradation, including land degradation and water scarcity resulting from pollution, can trigger displacement and internal migration, particularly among rural populations. Forced displacement disrupts communities and exacerbates social tensions, as displaced individuals often struggle to access adequate housing, employment, and social services in urban areas. Children in Bangladesh are especially vulnerable to the impacts of environmental pollution, facing risks to their health, education, and overall well-being. Exposure to polluted air and water can impair cognitive development, increase the incidence of childhood illnesses, and hinder educational attainment. Moreover, children from marginalized communities are often disproportionately affected, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality.

Addressing environmental pollution in Bangladesh requires a holistic approach that prioritizes social justice and equity. Sustainable development strategies must integrate environmental protection with poverty alleviation, human rights, and community empowerment. Several key interventions can contribute to advancing social justice in the context of environmental pollution. Enactment and enforcement of stringent environmental regulations are essential to curb pollution from industrial sources, ensure sustainable resource management, and protect vulnerable communities. Policies should prioritize the rights of marginalized groups, promote participatory decision-making processes, and incorporate principles of environmental justice. Ensuring equitable access to clean air, water, and sanitation services is fundamental to addressing environmental injustice in Bangladesh. Investments in infrastructure development, such as water treatment plants and sewage systems, can improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, particularly in underserved communities. Raising awareness about the linkages between environmental pollution, social justice, and human rights is crucial for fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and accountability. Environmental education programs should target diverse audiences, including children, youth, community leaders, and policymakers, to promote sustainable behavior change and civic engagement. Empowering communities, especially marginalized groups, to participate in decision-making processes and environmental governance is vital for promoting social justice. Community-based initiatives, such as participatory resource management schemes and environmental justice advocacy campaigns, can amplify the voices of affected communities and hold polluters accountable. Investments in green technology and innovation can facilitate the transition to sustainable production and consumption patterns, reducing the environmental footprint of economic activities. Promoting eco-friendly alternatives, such as renewable energy sources, organic farming practices, and zero-waste initiatives, can mitigate pollution while creating green jobs and economic opportunities.

Bangladesh is victim of Cross-border pollution that originates in one country but can cause damage in another country's environment, by crossing borders through pathways like water or air. Pollution can be transported across hundreds and even thousands of kilometers. Industrial emissions, vehicular exhaust, and agricultural burning in neighboring countries such as India contribute to air pollution in Bangladesh. Pollutants like particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can travel long distances through the atmosphere, impacting air quality in Bangladesh. As the saying goes, air and birds don't care about the border. Polluted air from across the border contributes to 30 per cent of air pollution in Dhaka, Chattogram and Khulna. However, polluted air from Bangladesh travels to India as well.

The transboundary rivers that flow through Bangladesh, such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna, are heavily polluted due to upstream activities in countries like India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Industrial waste, sewage, agricultural runoff, and untreated effluents discharged into these rivers upstream adversely affect water quality in Bangladesh, leading to contamination of drinking water sources and harming aquatic ecosystems.

International environmental law principles, such as the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and the duty to prevent transboundary harm, provide a basis for addressing cross-boundary pollution issues. Bangladesh can engage in diplomatic negotiations, utilize dispute resolution mechanisms, and seek recourse through international forums to address grievances related to transboundary pollution.

Addressing cross-boundary pollution requires international cooperation and diplomatic efforts between Bangladesh and its neighboring countries. Bilateral and multilateral agreements, such as the Joint Rivers Commission between Bangladesh and India, aim to facilitate dialogue and collaboration on water management and pollution control measures.

The World Day of Social Justice serves as a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness between social justice and environmental sustainability. In Bangladesh, addressing environmental pollution is not merely an environmental imperative but also a matter of social justice, human rights, and equitable development. By adopting a rights-based approach to environmental protection, prioritizing the needs of marginalized communities, and fostering inclusive governance processes, Bangladesh can chart a path towards a more just and sustainable future for all its citizens. On this World Day of Social Justice, let us reaffirm our commitment to tackling environmental pollution in Bangladesh. By prioritizing environmental sustainability, promoting social equity, and fostering inclusive development, we can create a brighter future for generations to come. Through collective action and unwavering dedication, we can build a world where every individual enjoys the fundamental right to live in a clean and healthy environment. To mitigate the impacts of cross-boundary pollution, Bangladesh can implement domestic policies and measures to reduce pollution from local sources, enhance monitoring and enforcement efforts, invest in clean technologies, promote sustainable land use and resource management practices, and engage in regional initiatives for pollution control and environmental conservation.

Writers are Chairman, Dept. of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh, and Advocate, Supreme court of Bangladesh respectively.

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