The country with the worst air quality

The below article talks about the country with the worst air quality as of February 2022, the factors that contribute towards the poor air quality, what needs to be done, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality in the world. 

Which country has the worst air quality?

Analysis of air quality data shows us that Bangladesh currently experiences the worst air quality and that its capital city, Dhaka has emerged to be the second most polluted city according to the 2019 World Air Quality Report (Ali M. & Devnath B., 2020). The below article talks in detail about air quality in the country, what has contributed to poor air quality in Bangladesh, its effects, and what requires to be done to address these concerns. 

The below image is a representation of the world’s air quality conditions provided by the World Population Review in 2022 and shows us that Bangladesh is the world’s most polluted country in terms of air quality.

Source: WPR, 2022

About Bangladesh 

World Population Review states that the current population in Bangladesh is well over 167 million people, and with current rates of growth, population projection for 2053 could be well over 192.78 million citizens. While the population growth rate has decreased from 3.23% in 1967 to just 1% currently, we do observe that the existing growth in the country has had several debilitating effects on the environment, and physical health of citizens in the country. Even with the lowered population growth rate, the increase observed can be attributed to the low usage of contraception, child marriages, high fertility rates, etc. The birth rate in Bangladesh is said to be 17.88 births per 1,000 people, and the death rate is just 4.8 deaths per 1,000 people. 

The population growth in Bangladesh was the highest in the 1960s and 1970s and didn’t slow down until the 1980s. Researchers have observed a steady decline in population growth over the years, however, significant changes that would also affect their environment will go on until much into the 21st century. The current growth rate of 1% per year isn’t expected to be cut down by half until 2040. World Population Review estimates that there is one birth every 11 seconds, one death every 34 seconds, one net migrant into Bangladesh every 2 minutes, and a net gain of one person every 20 seconds (WPR, 2022). 

Below is a population density map provided by the World Population Review displaying the population density across Bangladesh. The graphical representation would show that the highest densely populated city in the country is Dhaka, with over 14.4 million citizens in this city. Bangladesh’s population contributes to 2.15% of the world’s population. The capital city, Dhaka was named the second most polluted city in the world and also named the Rickshaw Capital of the World. The sheer amount of citizens congregated in this city and the anthropological events that follow subsequently could be the reason for the air quality levels observed in the country. Dhaka is also the largest city in the country, the second-largest city would be Chittagong. The country ranks number 8 on the world population scale and number 11 on the world density scale. 

Source: WPR, 2022

Air Quality in Bangladesh

Source: Ali M. & Devnath B., 2020

Various news reports, research studies, analysis, etc. have repeatedly uncovered the poor air quality in Bangladesh. While the country has focused much on improving its citizen’s well-being, the state actors have many strides to take in terms of meeting the country’s environmental needs. As shown in the diagram above, Bangladesh has had unhealthy levels of air quality since 2017, and very little has been done to address these concerns. Even with varying state policies, Bangladesh has failed to meet pollutant standards as set by the WHO. IQAir currently estimates that PM2.5 concentration in Bangladesh is 15.4 times higher than the standards set by the WHO (IQAir, 2022). This is extremely unhealthy for citizens in the country and could have debilitating impacts on their health including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, cardiac issues, skin issues, etc. 

Understanding how the country reached these unhealthy values is quite important. Following its independence on March 26, 1971, the country has been extremely welcoming towards projects and proposals that would contribute to the tremendous economic boom that has been observed in the country. However, these came with severe repercussions for the country’s natural resources and environment. Observing air quality readings of Bangladesh would show anyone that the country has had a struggle in terms of balancing economic growth with environmental health, to the point that its capital city and the largest city in the country, Dhaka was even named the 2nd most polluted city in the world. The main sources of air pollution in the country could be attributed to industrial activities and vehicular emissions, both of which are rooted in the combustion of fossil fuels.  

These readings do not however indicate that there are clear and pristine parts of this country that experience good air quality levels. This would be towards the rural areas of Bangladesh to which urban development has not yet reached its tentacles in terms of anthropological activities and pollution. With rapid urbanization, these areas of pristine and clean air and becoming smaller, and a larger number of citizens migrate towards the country in hopes of a better life. While the whole country does not face terrible pollution levels, the capital city, along with the other developed cities make up for the pollution that is not present in the rural areas of the country. 

The most dominant pollutants that are observed in the country are those that result out of vehicular emissions, including carbon monoxide (CO), ozone, nitrogen dioxide(NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), etc. Of these, nitrogen dioxide would be the most prominent in urban areas, given the traffic and the number of vehicles that run in the country, and these concentrations would rise during the peak traffic hours, mass commutes into and out of the city, etc. Besides these pollutants, when diesel fuel is burnt, there are emissions of black carbon and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, formaldehyde, and methylene chloride. These components, in their gaseous state, are extremely toxic and can cause adverse health effects to people that are exposed long-term to these emissions. 

Black carbon is emitted with these chemicals and is a major component of soot that is formed by the burning of wood or coal amongst other organic resources. Black carbon, just like any other pollutant, can have devastating impacts on human health including cancer, scarring of lung tissue, etc. Black carbon is also capable of absorbing solar radiation and emitting heat, which contributes to the increase in temperatures of the country. Other pollutants observed in the country from the combustion of various kiln fire materials include emissions of furans, dioxins, lead and mercury, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and polychlorinated biphenyls.

Improving the air quality in Bangladesh is no small task. It requires the combined efforts of public and private stakeholders, along with its citizens to make any kind of impact in the upcoming years. The state actors need to employ strict regulations and maintain commissions to ensure that these frameworks and environmental structures provided are being followed. Since the main sources of pollution in the country is vehicular emissions and industrial activities, the country will need to employ several tactics to encourage stakeholders to change their ways of action. For example, enforcing a state program similar to the California smog check program could do wonders for the state, as it would directly address one of the major concerns of the country head-on. Similarly, industries need to be carefully monitored and evaluated to ensure that their activities are in accordance to rules that have been set forward. A cursory perusal of industrial activity in the country would amply show us that state regulations are widely disregarded amongst the larger polluting actors of the country, and this needs to change immediately. An inclusive approach must be taken to address environmental concerns in the country, and it is necessary to inculcate a participatory approach in this matter. Otherwise, the country may just have one-sided growth with the constant trashing of the resources that brought the country to where it is today. It could also have significant impacts on citizens if immediate actions are not taken. 

Citizens of the country and relevant stakeholders of the country need to recognize that environmental protection and its safety is a right that is given to all humans on this planet. The constant disregard for the well-being of the surrounding environment and the planet, in general, is a violation of human rights and universal codes of protection and preservation of life and dignity. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Which country has the worst air quality?

Which cities in Bangladesh have the worst air quality?

Source: IQAir. (2022, February 03)

1Dhaka, Dhaka159
2Comilla, Chittagong53

What countries had the worst air quality in 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Source: IQAir. (2022, February 03)

#CountryUS AQI
10Bosnia Herzegovina113

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Ali M. & Devnath B. (2020, February 26). Bangladesh air world’s worst in 2019. The Business Standard. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

IQAir. (2022, February 03). Air Quality in Bangladesh. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

IQAir. (2022, February 03). Real-time Bangladesh Most-polluted city ranking. Live AQI city ranking. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

IQAir. (2020). Which country has the worst air quality in 2020? 2020 AQI country ranking. Viewed on 02-03-2022.  

Sakib S. M. N. (2021, February 28). Bangladesh: air pollution engulfs lives, environment. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

The Daily Star (TDS). (2022, February 01). HC blasts govt for failure to control air pollution in Dhaka. Star Digital report. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

The Daily Star (TDS). (2022, February 02). Curbing air pollution: HC blasts govt for its failures. Star Digital report. Viewed on 02-03-2022.

The Daily Star (TDS). (2022, February 03). Which district has the worst air pollution in Bangladesh? Star Digital report. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

World Population Review (WPR). (2022). Bangladesh Population 2022 (Live). Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

World Population Review (WPR). (2022). Most Polluted Countries 2022. Viewed on 02-03-2022. 

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