Dhaka most polluted city on some days

Dhaka is officially one the world’s most polluted cities, according to the US Consulate’s monitors in the city. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 November 2019

Dhaka most polluted city on some days

  • Government agencies are mulling an “integrated approach” to address air pollution after accusations of bad coordination

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi capital Dhaka is officially one the world’s most polluted cities, according to the US Consulate’s monitors in the city. 

As the deteriorating air quality in Dhaka threaten the lives of its residents, government agencies are mulling an “integrated approach” to address air pollution after accusations of bad coordination. From Sunday to Tuesday, Dhaka’s air was the worst in the world. On Thursday, Lahore, in Pakistan, took the lead, becoming the most heavily polluted city, followed by Delhi, in India.

Officials at the country’s directorate of environment say their efforts are focused on preventing pollution from becoming even worse than “very unhealthy” during the dry season which runs from November through to January.

Under the US-based Air Quality Index (AQI), air quality is considered as “good” while the index score is between 0 and 50. It is “moderate” when the score is 51-100. If readings show 101-150, the air is “unhealthy” for sensitive groups of people, and when the score is 151-200, it is considered as “unhealthy” for all. If the score reaches 201-300, the air is considered “very unhealthy.”

“We are trying hard to maintain the AQI index during winter at 200–250. Our best efforts are focused on keeping the score below 300,” said Ziaul Haque, air quality director at the environment directorate.

The AQI reading is determined by the prevalence of particulate matter (PM) in the air. Particulate matter is a mixture of hazardous solid and liquid particles, ranging from 2.5 (PM2.5) to 10 (PM10) micrometers in diameter. They are so tiny that they can easily enter the bloodstream and lead to serious health conditions.

According to Haque, Dhaka’s pollution is worsening as brick kilns surrounding the city are mostly coal-fueled, emitting toxic pollutants. In two industrial towns on the outskirts a majority of production facilities do not comply with emission standards.

The situation is aggravated further by infrastructure mega-projects such as a metro rail system and an elevated expressway that produce huge amounts of dust, adding to emissions from old vehicles, private construction projects, and open trash burning.

The department of environment has scheduled a meeting with the ministers of environment, home affairs and public works, as well as the city’s mayors on Nov. 25, to suggest an “integrated approach” in addressing the problem, Haque said. He explained that coordination among different government agencies needs to be improved, especially with regard to development and maintenance works.

He also said that law enforcement will be strengthened at the brick kilns that pollute the city. More than 100 have already been shut down in the past few months.

Bangladeshi environmentalists blame miscoordination among different agencies for the government’s inefficiency in improving Dhaka’s air quality.

“All of the construction sites should be duly protected with a cover. City corporations should introduce modern waste management systems and vehicles emitting black smoke should not run on the city’s streets,” said Dr. Mohammad Abdul Matin, vice president of the Bangladesh Environmentalist Movement (BAPA).

According to Matin, monitoring of polluters needs to be improved.

Catalin Bercaru, World Health Organization spokesman in Dhaka, said the authorities need not only to develop a comprehensive monitoring framework for ambient air quality, but also to update the existing regulations to curb the air pollution. They also require “better enforcement of environmental and antipollution laws,” he said.

Bercaru also suggested that Bangladesh should develop green technologies for emissions control and “set new air quality standards for important polluters which are source-specific and health-based.”

According to the WHO’s report World Health Statistics 2018, air pollution in Bangladesh results in premature deaths of 149 per every 100,000 people, contributing to heart and respiratory diseases, stroke and cancer.

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

Updated 43 min 15 sec ago

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

  • Many Myanmar citizens have been taking to the streets day after day
  • The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 wanted people

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar observed a “silent strike” on Friday, with many people staying home to mourn the more than 700 people killed in protests against a Feb. 1 coup and others wearing black held small marches in several cities and towns.
Many Myanmar citizens, infuriated by the return of military rule after five years of civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, have been taking to the streets day after day with activists thinking up new ways to show opposition as the security forces step up their suppression.
“Let’s make the roads silent,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on her Facebook page.
“We have to stage a Silent Strike to show our sorrow for the martyrs who have scarified their lives. The most silent voice is the loudest.”
Friday is the fourth day of the five-day traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, known as Thingyan. Most people this year are shunning the usual festivities to focus on their campaign against the generals who overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and locked up her and many others.
Streets in the main city of Yangon were largely deserted, residents said, while black-clad protesters held small rallies in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of violence but overnight, two people were shot and killed in the central town of Myingyan, Radio Free Asia reported.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 people wanted under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces.
Two prominent protest organizers were arrested on Thursday along with an actor and singer, both known for speaking out against the coup.
Late on Thursday, soldiers raided a famous Buddhist monastery in the second city of Mandalay and arrested two people, the Myanmar Now media group reported.
Opponents have been organizing both at home and abroad with the aim of stepping up their campaign.
A previously unknown group called the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army said on Facebook it aimed to fight the military to restore an elected government and protect the people and it called for volunteers.
It gave no details about how it aimed to take on the well-equipped and seasoned army, which has been battling ethnic minority insurgents for decades.
International pressure has also been slowly building on the military, particularly from Western governments, though the military has a long record of brushing off outside pressure.
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the coup and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target the two companies is the most significant response for the bloc since the coup.
EU diplomats said in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
The EU declined to comment and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

Updated 16 April 2021

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

  • Total coronavirus cases in India nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States

BENGALURU: India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday.
It was the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days. Total cases reached nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.
India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the data showed.

Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

Updated 16 April 2021

Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

  • Pakistani lawmakers’ plane turned back after ‘old explosive’ found at airport: Interior ministry
  • Furious Afghan MPs slam government for lost opportunity to open new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations

KABUL: The Afghan government has shot down claims that authorities deliberately prevented an aircraft carrying a Pakistani parliamentary delegation from landing in Kabul.

Pakistan National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on April 8 left for the Afghan capital with a nine-member delegation on the invitation of the chairman of Afghanistan’s lower house, Mir Rahman Rahmani, with a view to holding wide-ranging discussions, including on Afghan peace and cross-border trade.

However, his plane was turned back as it was about to descend to Kabul airport, over what was reported to be a security threat.

Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said on Wednesday that at least four other flights were also prevented from landing at the airport that day as officials had to shut the facility to disarm an “an old explosive.”

He told Arab News: “The airport was shut because an explosive was found. There was no other thing.”

The incident led to outrage among Afghan members of parliament, who summoned the chiefs of the country’s security establishment, including the interior minister, for a briefing on the matter.

Sadiq Ahmad Osmani, a lawmaker from Parwan province, told Arab News: “Their reasoning and explanations were not compelling to the lawmakers because they (Pakistani lawmakers) could have been informed about this (security threat) way ahead of the departure of his (Qaiser’s) flight.

“We had full preparations, high protocol for his trip here, but unfortunately the news of the security threat there totally damaged our national hospitality. There are some at the top who had created the problem. It was an improper move,” he said.

Allah Gul Mujahid, a lawmaker from Kabul, said no trips by visiting officials had been canceled in the past 20 years over minor security threats.

Herat lawmaker, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, openly blamed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the cancellation of Qaiser’s visit. Ghani’s office was unavailable for comment.

“He (Ghani) wants to damage further relations between the two countries,” Hanafi said, adding that the visit could have opened a new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations.

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Updated 15 April 2021

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

  • PM Scott Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in line with the US decision to end its military operations there
  • Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison choked back tears as he read the names Thursday of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan to mark the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year war.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in September in line with the US decision to end its military operations there.
Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.
Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan “a significant milestone in Australia’s military history” that marked the end of a costly chapter for the country’s defense force.
He then read out the names of the 41 Australian soldiers killed in the conflict, halting several times as he choked back sobs, especially when mentioning Brett Till, a 31-year-old sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense,” he said.
“These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom.”
While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.
Veterans groups have pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among Afghan veterans and other ex-servicemen and women.
The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.