Bangladesh saw around 234,000 deaths, including 80,000 in urban areas, due to environmental pollution and related health risks in 2015, making it one of the worst affected countries in the world, reveals a World Bank report.
The number was more than 10 times that of deaths the same year from road accidents, which was 21,286, it pointed out.
Some 18,000 lives and 578,000 years of potential life were lost in Dhaka city in 2015 -- the second least livable city in the world, showing the urgency to immediately address the city's environmental issues.
Deaths due to various causes totalled 843,000 in the country that year. Of those, nearly 28 percent were caused by environmental pollution -- the highest among South Asian nations, according to the report released yesterday.
The average rate of such deaths in South Asia is nearly 26 percent, while it is 16 percent worldwide.
The World Bank said this in this year's country environmental analysis report titled “Enhancing Opportunities for Clean and Resilient Growth in Urban Bangladesh” unveiled at a hotel in the capital.
Air pollution in South Asian countries is the highest in the world with fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 microgram both outdoor and indoor. This is by far the most leading environmental risk in Bangladesh, causing about 21 percent of all deaths in the country, according to the report.
Nearly one million people in Bangladesh, mostly poor, are at risk of lead contamination, which can lead to IQ loss and neurological damage, especially for children, and can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth among pregnant women, the report cited.
In greater Dhaka, the sites contaminated by heavy metals are mostly in poorer neighbourhoods.
The report focuses on three areas: cost of environmental degradation; clean and resilient cities; and institutions for clean industrial growth.
Based on data gathered from 11 air quality monitoring stations in eight urban areas, concentration of 2.5 microgram particulate matter from 2013 to 2015 was estimated five times the Bangladesh standard and eight times the World Health Organisation standard.
Household air pollution disproportionately affects women and young children, who spend most of the time inside houses. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to this hazard.
“Bangladesh pays a high price for environment degradation and pollution in its urban areas. This puts its strong growth at risk,” said Rajashree Paralkar, acting WB country director for Bangladesh.
Addressing the programme, Anisul Islam Mahmud, minister for environment, forest and climate change, said 58 percent of air pollution are caused by illegal brick kilns, 10 percent by vehicles, 20 percent by construction activities, and the rest by various other factors, including industries.
Anisul said his ministry is working on a new law likely to be passed during this government's tenure.
Kseniya Lvovsky, WB practice manager for environmental and natural resources, said environmental conservation is doable if there are strong will and planned urbanisation.
According to the WB report, parts of Dhaka city are more susceptible to flood inundation due to filling-up of wetlands and construction of high-rises on sand-filled areas.
Unplanned urbanisation is also taking a toll on smaller cities as well as towns like Pabna. Since 1990, Pabna lost half of its wetlands, and its lifeline, the Ichamati river, is dying.
The economic cost of the deaths and disability in terms of labour output has been estimated at $1.4 billion in all urban areas of Bangladesh and at 310 million in Dhaka city alone, equivalent to 0.6 percent and 0.1 percent of the country's GDP in 2015.
Given the growing environmental challenges that Bangladeshi cities face, the WB analyses the impacts and causes of pollution levels and degradation of natural resources in Dhaka and other rapidly growing cities.
Over the past three decades, Bangladesh has experienced dramatic increase in pollution linked to urbanisation. Rapid growth of readymade garment industry and increase in urban population from less than 40 million in 2006 to more than 55 million in 2015 had been key factors in exposing the growing urban population to environmental hazards.
Workers in the country's industrial establishments, including micro, small, and medium facilities that use harmful materials as inputs, face the risk of cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and other health impacts due to the lack of mitigation practices, including the use of personal protective equipment.
The WB report mentioned that occupational pollutants such as asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and silica are used as industrial inputs. The other pollutants include sulfuric acid, trichloroethylene, arsenic, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, diesel exhaust, formaldehyde, and nickel in the form of gases and asthmagens.
Women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of limited access to clean and safe water. Water pollution and water scarcity affect women's health, nutrition, workload, and, consequently, their opportunities to overcome poverty.
Poor sanitation, lack of safe water supply and arsenic contamination in groundwater lead to diarrhoeal and other diseases causing deaths.
Urbanisation and industrialisation have increased the amount of waste generation. Without proper collection and disposal, solid waste clogs channels, leading to urban floods. Unsafe recycling of hazardous waste such as used lead-acid batteries poses a growing public health hazard.
An estimated 22,000 workers in Bangladesh's ship-breaking industry are exposed to increased levels of asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, cadmium, lead, and mercury in the naval and merchant ships they dismantle.
DISAPPEARING WETLANDS, RIVERS
Dhaka, ranked as the ninth largest megacity in the world, has seen its population rise by about three times from 6.8 million to 18.2 million over the past quarter of a century, the report cited.
Continued unplanned urbanisation, filling-up of wetlands and rivers, and shrinking of a canal network across the city has exacerbated urban flooding and contributed to various environmental problems.
Flooded roads contribute to traffic congestion and health hazards from the spread of vector-borne diseases.
Dhaka's Detailed Area Plan identified and recommended protection of 30,252 hectares of flood flow zones and 2,240 hectares of water retention areas to reduce the risk of flooding.
But in just eight years since 2010, 41 percent of flood flow zones and 21 percent of water retention areas have been converted, raised, and used for other purposes, including settlements, industries and brick kilns.
At least 100 hectares of four rivers around Dhaka city -- Buriganga, Balu, Turag and Shitalakkhya -- have been encroached upon to make way for various commercial and residential settlements.
To put Bangladesh on a greener growth trajectory, the WB recommended that the government strengthen policies and institutions, and enforce environmental standards with a shift to cleaner technologies to contain the increasing air, water and soil pollution as well as industrial pollution.
Bangladesh had its first-ever legal framework “National Environment Policy” on governing environmental conservation in 1992. Since then, more than 25 laws, policies, guidelines, and regulations have been formulated to regulate the environmental footprint.