With Dhaka battling every day with toxic air, environmental and rights activists think the ‘ineptitude’ of the authorities concerned to protect people from exposure to ‘hazardous’ and ‘unhealthy’ air is a serious violation of human rights.
According to the United Nations clean air is a human right.
In a message on World Environment Day in 2019, UN’s special representative on human rights and the environment David Boyd said the failure of governments across the world to ensure their citizens breathe clean air is a “violation of the rights to life, health and wellbeing”.
Talking to UNB, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Ain O Salish Kendra executive director Sheepa Hafiza and general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (Bapa) Dr Abdul Matin said the air has become very harmful due to discharge of dust from unplanned construction works, metro-rail project, road repair, installation of utility lines, smoke from vehicles and brick kilns.
They said the two newly-elected Dhaka city mayors should take effective action plans urgently to ensure clean and healthy air for the city dwellers, leaving up to their election promises.
In Air Quality Index (AQI), an index for reporting daily air quality, Dhaka has regularly ranked among the top five worst cities since the beginning of the dry season, highlighting its ‘unhealthy’ and ‘poor air quality’.
On Monday morning, the city topped the list with an AQI score of 306 at 08:10am. The air was classified as ‘hazardous’. Dhaka also ranked the worst in the AQI for at least five days in this month.
Rizwana Hasan said living in a healthy environment is the human and constitutional rights of people, but the authorities concerned are hardly concerned at the violation of such rights.
She said there is no improvement in Dhaka’s air quality only for lack of the government’s sincerity and lack of its political commitment and proper action plans.
Rizwana said air pollution in the city can be drastically improved if the government takes a short-term and effective plan and properly execute it.
She said every construction farm usually signs an agreement with the government that it must implement the development project without harming the environment, but most companies breach the deal for lack of monitoring and punitive action.
The noted environmentalist said the government must force construction farms to implement their projects without polluting the environment maintaining the building code. “They must cover the construction sites and keep the materials under cover. They will have to spry water regularly so that dust doesn’t originate from their sites.”
Besides, she said, the government must remove the brick kilns from the surrounding areas of the city and withdraw unfit vehicles from the streets.
She said two newly-elected mayors should take plans as per the directives given by the High Court on January 13 this year to check the pollution.
“We’ve long been talking about the issue and the court is also giving various guidelines, but the government is not taking the issue seriously,” Rizwana added.
Sheepa Hafiza said it is the responsibility of the government to ensure a healthy, habitable and safe environment for its citizens, but it is regrettable that Dhaka has become a least liveable city only because of manmade pollution.
“I can’t understand as to how the government allows a small number of people to pollute the environment, violating the human rights of millions of people,” she said.
The right activists urged the government to take the environment pollution issue seriously from the people’s human rights aspect and take action against those responsible for it.
“It’s unbelievable that only a few construction farms, brick kilns, unfit vehicles and land grabbers and industrialists are destroying the environment, but the government can’t take action against them. I think the government can’t understand the damage done to people because of pollution. They should act properly,” she observed.
She also focused on making people aware of their rights to fresh air and healthy environment so that they can mount pressure on the authorities concerned to realise their rights.
Dr Abdul Matin said it seems Dhaka city has become a big ‘pollution pocket’ as the authorities concerned could not yet come up with any comprehensive guideline to overcome the problem.
Matin also a physician said city dwellers are seriously suffering from various diseases, mainly the respiratory ones, for the serious dust pollution. “It’s surely a serious violation of human rights.”
He observed that air pollution originating from the construction work-related processes like concrete crushing, cement-batching and road stone plants, is destroying the environment and clean air, contributing to the rapid rise in lung diseases.
“We, the environmentalists, have failed to encourage government to protect Dhaka from pollution. I think the human rights activists should now be vocal about the issue as people’s rights to live in a healthy and safe environment is being violated,” Matin observed.
Dr Imrul Haque of ENT department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University said heavy exposure to air polluting particles, including cement and sand and dust can result in severe health risks including asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections, disorder in urinary tract, heart problems and shorten life expectancy.
He also said the number of patients suffering from these diseases and cold and cough problems have increased in the city due to the growing dust pollution.
An unusual tidal surge in the Kabodak River right after the winter season is threatening a huge portion of the embankment in Koyra Upazila, causing sleepless nights to the residents of five unions.
Villagers say they fear a 21-km stretch of 154-km 13-14/1 and 13-14/2 No Polder of Water Development Board's embankment, surrounding five unions of the upazila, can collapse anytime and the areas might be flooded.
The risky areas are No-2 Koyra Sluicegate area, Ghatakhali, Harinkhola, Gobra, Madinabad Launch Ghat, No-4 Koyra and No-6 Koyra in Koyra Sadar union, Dashhalia, Loka and Mathbari of Moharajpur union, Tetultolar Char, Gilabari, Sheikh Sarderpur and Noyani of Moheshwaripur union, Kathkata, Gazipara, Kashirhat, Gabbunia, Gatirgheri and Shakbaria of Uttar Bedkashi union, and Matiabhanga, Jorsing, Mederchar and Angtihara areas of Dakhshin Bedkashi union.
GM Shamsur Rahman, chairman of Dakhshin Bedkashi union, said water level increases here at the end of winter season. “Local residents are passing days amid panic as risky portions of the embankment can collapse any time.”
“The embankment will collapse and the whole area will be inundated if it is not repaired before monsoon,” he added.
Mosiul Abedin, deputy assistant engineer of WDB, said the higher-ups have been informed and the repair work will start soon.
Md Nur-e-Alam Sidiqui, acting upazila nirbahi officer of the upazila, said a sustainable embankment is urgently needed here. Higher officials at WDB have been alerted about the situation.
Md Akhteruzzaman Babu, Member of Parliament from Khulna-6 constituency, said he had informed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about the suffering of Koyra residents.
“She has assured me that the problem will be solved soon. Already, the state minister for water resources visited the areas. The ministry has taken a megaproject for building an embankment. The construction work will start soon,” he said.
A Dakhil examinee in Burichang upazila has been barred from sitting for the examination due to wrong photograph pasted on his admit card.
M Billal Hossain, a student of Shankuchail Islamia Dakhil Madrasa in the upazila, was allowed to take part in tests for eight subjects on special consideration.
However, he was driven out of the examination centre at Burichang Ershad Degree College halfway through the Bangla second paper test on February 22.
Billal’s mother, Ruby Akhter, said her son is paying for the mistake he did not commit. “The academic life of my son is set to be ruined.”
She also said although they approached the superintendent of the madrasa, he could not settle the issue.
Ruby demanded that special steps be taken so that her son can appear at tests for all the subjects.
Superintendent of the madrasa Maulana M Mir Hossain said they went to the Madrasa Education Board to resolve the matter. “However, Assistant Controller (Exam) Jalal Uddin Talukder didn’t pay any heed to us.”
Altaf Hossain, in-charge of the Cumilla office of the madrasa board, blamed negligence of the madrasa super for the mistake. “There would have been no problem had he corrected the mistake in time.”
Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Burichang M Imrul Hasan said he would have taken step had he been informed earlier.
He, however, said he will try to settle the issue after talking to the education officer.
Bladder cancer mutations in a specific gene can be detected in the urine up to 10 years before clinical diagnosis of the disease, according to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) researchers.
The test is based on detecting mutations in the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene – the most common mutations in bladder cancer, according to the report conducted by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and international partners.
The new evidence is detailed in an article published by The Lancet on Feb 17, which highlights the potential of early detection through a simple urine DNA test.
“A simple urine test has recently been developed, and these new results are another exciting step towards the validation of a non-invasive early detection tool,” said Florence Le Calvez-Kelm, IARC scientist and principal investigator of the study.
“This test could significantly improve and simplify the way in which bladder cancer is detected.”
Bladder cancer is where a growth of abnormal tissue develops in the bladder lining. In some cases, the tumour spreads into the bladder muscle. The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in urine, which is usually painless.
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In 2018, an estimated 549,000 people were diagnosed with bladder cancer and 200,000 of them died from it. Bangladesh has an estimated 1.5 million cancer patients. Of them, approximately 150,000 die every year.
IARC data showed that the country recorded 150,781 new cancer cases and 108,137 deaths in 2018. Of the new cases, 1,626 were bladder cancer cases while 992 people died from it that year.
Researchers said the absence of appropriate and reliable screening methods, the invasiveness of diagnostic modalities and high recurrence rates (50–70 percent) after the initial treatment make it one of the most challenging and expensive cancers to diagnose and treat.
Early detection could significantly contribute to reducing mortality, morbidity and economic burden of bladder cancer, they said.
Urine tests are not currently recommended by urological societies because there is a lack of evidence on early detection efficiency, relegating the diagnosis of bladder cancer to relying largely on invasive and expensive procedures like cystoscopy.
Researchers said the ability to detect these mutations in pre-diagnostic urine samples has enormous possibility as a non-invasive tool for early detection and may also offer potentially cost-effective screening of high-risk individuals.
To assess the test’s ability to detect mutations in urine samples before any clinical symptoms of bladder cancer occur, IARC researchers collaborated with the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran and the United States National Cancer Institute to design a pilot study within the Golestan Cohort Study.
Researchers performed a nested case-control study within the population-based prospective Golestan Cohort Study of 50,045 participants (aged 40-75) and followed up to 14 years.
Their evaluation of the performance of TERT promoter mutations as early detection biomarkers for bladder cancer in urine samples revealed detection in 46.7 percent of the asymptomatic individuals who later developed bladder cancer.
This was up to 10 years before being clinically diagnosed.
Ismail Hosen, co-first author of the study, said that the results provide the first evidence from a prospective population-based cohort study of the potential of urinary TERT promoter mutations as promising non-invasive biomarkers for the early detection of bladder cancer.
“The Golestan Cohort Study is one of the few prospective population-based cohorts that provide the opportunity to assess urinary biomarkers for the pre-clinical detection of bladder cancer,” said Professor Reza Malekzadeh, the principal investigator of the Golestan Cohort Study and a co-senior author of the article.
IARC scientists are now collaborating with other large prospective cohort studies to confirm these findings.
“If the findings are validated, large trials conducted in individuals at high risk of developing bladder cancer should be designed to address the health and cost benefits of screening for TERT promoter mutations for the global bladder cancer burden,” said Mahdi Sheikh, a postdoctoral scientist at IARC and the co-first author of the study.
He was one of the Dhaka University (DU) students who joined the Great Language Movement in 1952 defying the section 144 to establish Bangla as one of the state languages of erstwhile Pakistan. He also hoisted the black flag for the first time on the DU campus.
Although almost seven decades have elapsed since then, Language Movement hero Mohammad Sultan is yet to get any national recognition. He was honoured locally but never awarded the coveted Ekushey Padak in the last 49 years since the country’s independence.
Born at Majhgram village of Boda upazila of Panchagarh district (then Dinajpur district) on December 24, 1926, Sultan was the fifth among children of police officer Shamsher Ali and his wife Gulzannessa. He passed away at Dhaka Medical College Hospital in 1983 at the age of 57.
He passed the entrance examination from Jessore Zilla School, received his graduation degree from Rajshahi College and completed his Master’s in political science from the DU in 1953.
Some of the roads in Dhanmondi area of the capital were named after the Language Movement heroes in 2007 to make sure that they are remembered every day. As part of it, Road-3 of the posh area was named after Mohammad Sultan.
But there is no initiative to recognise this language hero.
In 2013, Mohammad Sultan was honoured posthumously by the district administration. Then deputy commissioner Bonomali Bhowmik handed over the award to his two daughters -- Sushmita Sultana and Chandona Sultana.
Besides, Sultan Book Fair is being arranged every year in the district from 2012 following an initiative of the district administration.
Along with this, Boda-Mareya road has been named after the language hero but the announcement to install his mural is yet to be implemented.
If anybody wants to know about him, where they get the information as his name and contribution have not been mentioned also in any history book as well as textbook, questioned his family members.
Sultan’s nephew Quamruzzaman Rubel said his uncle was a dedicated language hero.
He was also imprisoned by Pakistani rulers for publishing a book during the Language Movement. But his contribution remains out of the sight, he said.
The present generation has no information about his contribution as there is still no recognition from the state, Quamruzzaman said. “If the government takes an initiative to install mural or memorial in recognition of his contribution, this will be a matter of great pleasure for the family.”
Halima Akhter Sampa, a student of Majhgram village, said they have only heard about Sultan’s name but did not know anything about him although he is a pride of the district. “It would have been easier to know about him had there been anything about him in the textbook.”
Sultan’s heath started falling following the death of his wife Nurjahan Sultan Nora in 1978.
Also the lifetime member of Bangla Academy and Vice-chairman of Bangladesh Book Publishers Committee, the Language Hero breathed his last at the DMCH on December 31, 1983.
He was buried by his wife’s grave at Jurain Graveyard in the capital. After his death, his students managed money for buying the land at the graveyard as there was no money of his own.