Special Feature

Rajshahi world’s best in curbing air pollution

18 Jun,2016

 

Special Report (BdChronicle):

Rajshahi, a metropolitan city in Bangladesh and a major urban and industrial centre of North Bengal, did more than any other worldwide to rid itself of air particles so harmful to human health, said a report of The Guardian.

Quoting a WHO data, the Guardian report published on Friday, stated: “Once, Rajshahi’s sweltering summers were made worse by a familiar problem on the Asian subcontinent: windows would have to be shut, not because of the wind or monsoon, but because of the smog.

“Dust blown up from dry riverbeds, fields and roads, and choking smog from ranks of brick kilns on the edge of town helped to secure the place a spot in the top tier of the world’s most polluted cities.”

“Then suddenly Rajshahi, in Bangladesh, hit a turning point so dramatic that it earned a spot in the record books: last year, according to UN data, the town did more than any other worldwide to rid itself of air particles so harmful to human health,” added the report.

According to the report, levels of larger PM10 particles in the divisional city went from 195 micrograms per cubic metre in 2014, to just 63.9 in 2016, a reduction of about two-thirds, and the largest in the world in absolute terms.

“Smaller PM2.5 particles have been nearly halved to 37 micrograms per cubic metre from 70.”

According to the locals and environment experts, all credit should go to a mass tree-planting drive that began more than 15 years ago.

Dust still hangs heavy in the air on occasions, but the transformation has been welcomed by local residents in a country where urban authorities more often generate frustration and resentment.

The city began tackling transport issues in 2004, importing a fleet of battery-powered rickshaws from China, and banning large lorries from the city centre in daytime.

 


The three-wheelers are the main form of public transport, and their batteries keep the air free of the petrol and diesel fumes that hang over other cities.

Quoting Ashraful Haque, the city’s chief engineer, the Guardian reported: “Upgrades to the brick kilns, such as changing chimneys and fuel, have reduced the amount of pollution they spew out around the city.”

Ashraful, who has personally designed and overseen a project to make the city centre greener while reducing the amount of dust kicked up by people and vehicles, added further: “We have a zero soil programme in the city, with lots of planting and green intervention. When it works, there should be no part of the road that will be dirt. It will be all grass, flower or pavement.”

He became convinced that the city needed more pavements after trips to study urban planning abroad. At the time the asphalt surfacing of the city roads mostly ended in a dusty verge, sometimes with open drains, dangerous and unappealing for walking along, he said.

“In 2010, after a visit to London, I started creating pavements. I couldn’t believe it, everyone has to walk at least 2km a day [in London], but here people finish lunch and look for a rickshaw. Even in the good neighbourhoods, there are no pavements.”

Apart from encouraging a healthier lifestyle, they are vital for controlling dust in the air, he says. “If you have them, no soil will fly during the summer seasons.” So far they have built about 9 miles (15km) of pavements, but soon hope to expand to 30, he said.

The road transformation will go beyond pedestrians this month, when city workers start building the city’s – and the country’s – very first cycle lane.

Take-up is likely to be slow in a city already sweltering in the summer heat, and where the only people on bicycles are those too poor to afford other transport, Haque admits. But inspired by trips abroad, he hopes to sow the first seeds of change.

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