While the covid-19 pandemic now occupies the centre stage when it comes to the issue of global health concern, fresh light has been shed on an old health issue, the air quality of a place. The health hazard that air pollution poses to a population has the potential to considerably reduce its life expectancy, a Chicago University-based energy-policy think tank has claimed in its recent research finding. That inhalation of polluted air for a long time can harm the respiratory organs is common knowledge. But what makes the finding significant is that it combines air-quality data with that of life expectancy thereby producing a new kind of index termed Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) which gives a whole new dimension to the rather dull air-quality index of a place. Interestingly, the authors of this research even give the same importance to the fight against the menace of air pollution to that of combating covid-19.
In Bangladesh, a densely populated country, fossil fuel burning industries, power plants and automobiles emitting toxic pollutant gases are growing in numbers by the day. Add to those the dirt and particulate matter ejecting from housing and infrastructure building activities. Though the pollution level did come down to some degree during the days of strict lockdowns in the early months of the pandemic, it has again started to catch up with the previous level after the pandemic control measures began to be relaxed for the sake of the people's livelihoods. That means mitigating the health and as such the life-expectancy-related concerns as expressed by AQLI should now get a renewed attention along with that given to combating the covid-19 pandemic.
Bangladesh along with other South Asian nations like India, Nepal and Pakistan face similar health predicaments in terms of AQLI arising from poor air quality and high population density, so adds the said report. Although the calculation of AQLI adds to our awareness about the old issue of air pollution's health impacts, it does not, however, suggest any new approach to address it. So, we have to go back to stressing the green alternatives to our prevailing practice of production and use of energy to power the means of transport and industries. The only way to do that is to make renewed efforts to conserve our forest lands and bring fresh areas under aforestation programmes to increase the country's present land-forest ratio at 17.5 per cent to a higher level to attain a more sustainable level to protect environment.
At the same time, the housing and infrastructure building projects are required to take necessary measures to arrest ejection of particulate matters in the air as well as control its backward linkage activities such as brick fields that expel noxious fumes. Suspended particulate matter in the air is a more serious health problem than the usual gaseous pollutants so far as it concerns their health consequences, hold health experts. In fact, those are as potent health threats as some communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and behavioural health issues like smoking. However, there is no shortcut answer to the question of air pollution leading to these health consequences as emphasised by research after research. Increased public awareness, effective pollution control measures, strict enforcement of the relevant laws are the tested methods to be applied energetically to reduce pollution-related health risks and thereby improve Bangladesh's Air Quality Life Index or AQLI.