French Naval officer and ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910 - 1997) once said, “Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” Still the astuteness is outwardly valid. Bangladesh has shown outstanding development. In spite of tremendous progress of Bangladesh, still there are some major problems to solve. Bangladesh is one of the most polluted countries in the world in terms of air pollution. Shocking facts show us that we are in danger. According to Environmental Performance Index (2018), Bangladesh is ranked 179th out of 180 countries with EPI score at 29.56 (where 100 means best). In terms of environmental health, we ranked 178th and in terms of air quality we ranked 179th. This article concerns the children’s health. According to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, definition of child is “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. And, WHO defines a “child” as who’s age is under 19 years. Nevertheless, this article concerns those especially up to 12 years old. Moreover, air pollution consists of pollution from indoor (household pollution) and ambient (outdoor pollution). However, this article focuses on ambient (outdoor) pollution especially from vehicles. Evidence shows that air pollution damages children’s health.
According to WHO, the transport sector is not only a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is also accountable for a large proportion of urban air pollution. Noticeably, traffic congestion in morning (school going period), especially after 7:00 AM is substantively high as people commute for work, educational activities, business purposes etc. That means pollution particles and gases from vehicle exhaustion get high in density. Similarly, at the time (returning from school period) generally 12-2:00 pm—the pollution in air is quiet high as pollution by vehicles coincide with time. It is worth to mention that traffic congestion in Dhaka is one of the worst in the world.
To explain the element, according to Air Quality Index data (available at Air Visual website), three normal working days’ data of Dhaka are given here.
It is clear that the intensity of pollution increases more with the time as we can judge by comparing AQI of 6 AM and 2 PM; no doubt, a significant level of pollution is from vehicles, and a noteworthy number of school-going children - especially up to 12 years old - are on roads at that time by the means of bus, rickshaw, private car or other modes of transport. Presumably, they are inhaling that polluted air during that period of time - the more traffic congestion the more inhaling of polluted air which is forlornly visible in megacity like Dhaka.
Deceptively, air pollution causes a great health problem. According to WHO, in every 10 people nine are inhaling polluted air resulting in death of ten million people per year. WHO also states that air pollution is liable for one-third of deaths from stroke, heart diseases, lung cancer. Regarding children’s health issue, WHO gives us a shocking and horrified fact, according to WHO report on air pollution and child health: Prescribing clean air (2018)- “Every day around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk. Tragically, many of them die”. The same report states that even lower levels of contact with air pollution damage children’s lung function. 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines in low income and middle income countries. WHO estimates that 600 thousand children died due to acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air in 2016.
Therefore, “wearing a good quality face mask’’ would be a prudent precaution for the children as we are not solving the air pollution problem hastily. Experts suggest use of face masks, but noticeably, we are not much vigilant. Solely, using face masks on the way to school and way back home significantly would diminish the inhalation of the volume of polluted air, deceptively -injurious pollutants and particles present in Dhaka city’s air. Disputably, children are more vulnerable than adults because children breathe more rapidly than adults. So they absorb more pollutants. In addition, the immunity of children is not strong like adults, as medical facts state that human’s immunity gets maturity with the age. Indisputably, adverse health effect of air pollution is precarious for people of all age groups.
Unquestionably, we have to enlighten our children on the importance of wearing air masks. Indeed, guardians and teachers have the most crucial task to perform. In Dhaka city there are substantial numbers of educational institutions, and obviously many students commute through main-roads to reach schools. So, we have to minimize the latent destruction, some further actions can be taken as follows:
- Authorities of private educational institutions should take necessary steps not to rent the free/open school space to any firm/producer who emits toxic gases.
- Educational institutions should be surrounded by green trees so that children inhale fresh air. Additionally, mini-gardens can be established within the premises.
- Checking at entrance at educational institutions to see whether the children are carrying face masks.
- Cultivating this healthy habit among children and ensure that they wear the masks while coming back home as guardians won’t be with children always.
Evidently our children’s health is vulnerable, we must lessen the air pollution and clean the air. However, as short term precautions we can use air masks as a shield against air pollution to save our children’s lives eventually. Guardians and teachers must work together for children’s well-being. This action would have a positive impact on reducing the cases of lung/chest diseases of children associated with air pollution. Long term actions to reduce air pollution should be implemented astutely and effectively, proper monitoring is needed.
Muhammad Iqbal Hossain is an Independent Analyst, and a former postgraduate of Dhaka School of Economics. He can be reached at email@example.com.