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Combating Air Pollution: $2.3b int’l fund fails to improve situation

Global report says Bangladesh 3rd top recipient of funds; air quality remains hazardous half a year

The air quality in Bangladesh remains toxic nearly half the year even after the country received a whopping $2.3 billion to curb air pollution.

Bangladesh received the fund in several phases between 2017 and 2021 to curb air pollution, becoming the third top recipient of international funds after China and the Philippines for clean air projects, says a global study.

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The study titled "The State of Global Air Quality Funding 2023" has been conducted by Clean Air Fund (CAF), a UK-based global, philanthropic organisation working with governments, funders, business and campaigners to create a future where everyone breathes clean air.

"It's encouraging to see that $2.3 billion of outdoor air quality funding has been channelled to Bangladesh between 2017-21. However, that does not match the level of air pollution to be addressed or the harm it inflicts," Clean Air Fund CEO Jane Burston told The Daily Star recently.

On top of that, this air quality funding is far outweighed by the $6.4 billion that went to air-polluting and fossil fuel-prolonging projects in Bangladesh during this same period, he noted.

"We need to ensure that international development funders and policymakers put more and better funding into air quality, otherwise our interventions will not keep pace with increases in air pollution and continued fossil fuel funding," he added.

Outdoor air pollution, which was the focus of the Clean Air Fund report, caused 240,000 deaths in Bangladesh and 4.2 million premature deaths in 2019, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are many different sources of air pollution in Bangladesh, including emissions from brick kilns, vehicles, construction sites, and transboundary air.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury, special envoy of the prime minister on environment and climate change, said he was not aware of the size of the fund but he was aware that Bangladesh had received some financial support.

"We have identified sources of both indoor and outdoor pollution. We now have clean air rules in place, we have a revised timeline and action plan to move away from brick kiln fires to blocks. We also recognise that air quality has transboundary aspects and we are open to working with other countries in the region. Preliminary discussions have been held in this regard," he said.

He, however, said of course much more needs to be done to combat this silent killer, which is also severely impacting the quality of life and taking away years from the lives of Bangladeshi people.

Experts have said that as there are multiple sources of air pollution, a comprehensive, multi-sectoral air quality management plan is required to address air pollution in Dhaka and other parts of Bangladesh.

Air quality remains very poor for nearly half the year and hits extremely unhealthy heights in winter. As a result, the average life expectancy of Bangladeshis is being cut short by 6.8 years due to their continuous exposure to polluted air, according to a report from the Air Quality Life Index of the University of Chicago.

Md Ziaul Haque, director of Air Quality Management at the Department of Environment, said there is no denying that the air quality situation in Bangladesh is still not good but the government has taken up a number of initiatives whose positive impacts will be visible shortly.

The CAF study report also said for the first time in history governments, agencies, and development banks have spent more aid money on clean air than fossil fuels -- an estimated $2.3 billion was spent on tackling outdoor air pollution in low- and middle-income countries, compared to $1.5 billion on fossil fuel projects such as oil and gas extraction and production.

Although five of the top 10 countries with the highest levels of air pollution are in Africa, the African countries received only 5 percent ($0.76 billion) of all air quality funding in the same period (2017-2021).

The report, however, said spending targeted at clean air made up just one percent of international development funding and two percent of international public climate finance between 2015 and 2021.