Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Technical

Air Pollution in Dhaka

Air pollution in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Air pollution and health hazards in Dhaka city in particular and the whole country in general are persistent and perennial. The dwellers of the city, nearly 21 million living in an area of approximately 310 sq. km, had to endure very high health hazards and strangely there were no serious attempts by the government to reduce them. This deplorable situation is known not only to city dwellers but also to Bangladeshis living abroad such that they are seriously deterred from visiting the motherland, particularly in the winter months, when there is no rain and the pollution levels are at highest levels.

Air quality is normally estimated by the concentration of particulate matter (PM) and gaseous substances per unit volume that are present in the air that we breathe. Particulate matter, as the name suggests, is solid matter as well as some water droplets that floats in the air. Obviously large and heavy particulates cannot float in the air. Particulates with 50% having the maximum diameter of 2.5μm (1μm is millionth of a metre) are identified as PM2.5 and are most extensively used as the indicator to measure air pollution. Other indicators such as PM10 as well as gaseous substances such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and NOx and many more are also used. It has to be stated that PM2.5 is used because it can pass through the human respiratory system relatively easily and settle at various human organs, whereas bigger sizes like PM10 are normally filtered away by human’s filtration system. Once the materials are lodged inside the body, they either stay there intact and build up or get absorbed in the blood stream within the body.

The PM2.5 is taken as main source of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as they reach terminal bronchioles and alveolar structures; whereas gaseous substances pass through the respiratory system harming the body and eventually get out of the body. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the average annual limit of PM2.5 concentration (μm/m3) should not exceed the target of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The higher this concentration is, the higher is the health risk. In Bangladesh as a whole, as reported by the World Air Quality Report 2020, the concentration was 77.1μm/m3, which was more than twice the WHO target. It was not only that particular year that Bangladesh exceeded the target, Bangladesh consistently exceeds the target very badly and is almost always nearer the top of the offenders’ list in the world!

The quality of air in day to day speak is specified by Environmental Agencies in terms of Air Quality Index (AQI). All the above-mentioned items such as PM2.5, PM10 and obnoxious gases are taken into account and their relative harm to human health is considered to come to the final quantity called the AQI. Thus, AQI is an indicator of how hazardous the air is for humans. The AQI of below 100 is considered satisfactory and admissible. People can carry out indoor and outdoor activities without any concern from air pollution. An AQI of 101 to 200 is considered to be ‘unhealthy’ for sensitive groups; AQI of 201 to 300 is considered as ‘poor’, whereas AQI of 301 to 400 is considered to be ‘hazardous’ meaning serious health risks to residents.

Brick kiln polluting the air

Road dust, chemical and cement factories, brick kilns, construction works with no dust-dampening measures, are the polluting offenders. Of course, vehicles using petrochemicals are polluting air all the time. The badly maintained vehicles emitting fumes and obnoxious gases are serious offenders in city roads. Breathing polluted air increases a person’s risk of developing heart diseases, lung infection, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer. No wonder that large fraction of human population living in Dhaka suffers from these ailments.

In Dhaka AQI of 184 was recorded yesterday (22 May 2022) making it the most polluted city in the world now, followed by Riyadh in Saudi Arabia (180) and Wuhan in China (173) as the second and third polluting cities. An AQI of 215 was recorded in Dhaka on 21 Dec 2019. Dhaka is the 3rd least liveable city in the world, immediately after Damascus and Lagos.

It is estimated that air pollution takes away on the average 3.05 years of life expectancy in Bangladesh, according to the report by US Health Effects Institute, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The life expectancy in Bangladesh is 72.6 years and thus air pollution takes away 4% of human life. This figure in Bangladesh is higher than the neighbouring countries such as India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only Nepal exceeds this with 3.05 years of life expectancy loss. The economic burden of air pollution in Dhaka city alone is estimated as US $192 million per annum.

The government must take urgent steps to tackle this menace of air pollution in Dhaka in particular and Bangladesh as a whole in general. It must be stressed that for the sake of health and prosperity of the population of the country and for the world climate, the government must take immediate steps.

  • A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary

Rabindranath Tagore’s Birth Anniversary

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, one of greatest Indian poets, novelists, philosophers and myriad-minded men, was born at No. 6 Dwarkanath Tagore’s Lane, Jorasanko, Calcutta (now called Kolkata) on 7 May 1861 (25 Baishakh 1268 BS) as the thirteenth child of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore and mother Sharada Devi. Rabindranath’s twelve siblings – seven brothers and five sisters – were all bright and brilliant people. Some of the elder brothers and sisters were old enough to have wives and husbands and they all were living in the same extensive house. The house itself, more like a palace, was large enough to accommodate all of the siblings with facilities such as courtyard, roof garden, prayer hall and so forth. This day of 7 May is celebrated by all Bengali and Indian cultural organisations round the world as the 25th Baishakh (২৫শে বৈশাখ).      

Rabindranath’s early childhood was rather a lonely, solitary and affection-deprived childhood. In a big house like the Jorasanko, there were surprisingly only a few children and most of the adults were all engaged in all sorts of cultural, literary and intellectual activities. Little Rabi used to hang around in the wide veranda alongside the rooms where piano was practised in one room, tunes of classical Hindustani music were emanating from another room and in yet another room Shakespeare’s Hamlet was rehearsed. The acutely sensitive boy was longing to be part of the artistic activities in the house, but was left out as too young to participate and had to satisfy himself to be in the veranda of the house.  

That is how Rabi described his childhood in My Reminiscences. Indeed, Satyajit Ray depicted Rabi’s childhood in a documentary film, Rabindranath, on Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961. A beautiful dreamy-eyed child clutching a flute aimlessly strolling along the veranda overlooking hive of artistic activities longing to connect with them, but with no success. But, probably, the air of this cultural atmosphere might have percolated to his inner sense so much so that he became in his own time the icon of cultural activities not only of Bengal but also of the whole of India and, dare I say, of the whole world.    

Rabi grew up in an impersonal non-affectionate regime under the supervision of servants, away from close loving relationship of the parents. His father was constantly away from the house, travelling in northern India and elsewhere. His mother was busy managing the large household. So, servants were assigned to look after the children. In My Reminiscences he termed this early period a ‘servocracy’ that ‘In the history of India the regime of Slave Dynasty was not a happy one’. When Rabi and other children sat down to eat, a wooden tray would be placed in front of them with a quantity of luchis on them and a few luchis would be dropped on the platter of the children. Then they would be asked whether anyone would like more. The children knew which reply would be welcome to the servants!

His father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, would occasionally come to Jorasanko, but to Rabi, it was as if he was not there in the house at all. Rabi used to watch his father perform his morning prayer on the roof of the house from a hiding place on the roof. Close personal relationships between parents and children were not encouraged by the Tagore family at that time. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore desired to inculcate British upper-class mentality. In Britain children of top government officials, dukes and duchess’, lords and ladies all went to public schools where strict disciplinary rules were imposed and certain games and sports, warfare techniques etc were taught. Rabi had to endure such impersonal upbringing at home. At the very early stage, Tagore children were given home-based physical and mental training. Wrestling was part of the home-based education. Rabi was not allowed to go outside the walls of Tagore house except for the school.

Subsequently, Rabi’s elder brother Hemendranath Tagore took the responsibility of Rabi’s early education alongside school education. Very early in the morning, Rabi clad in a loincloth used to be given a lesson in wrestling. Then dressed in kurta, he would take lessons in literature, mathematics, geography and history. Then he would go to school. On his return, lessons in drawing and gymnastics and finally in the evening, in a kerosene lamplight, lessons in English were given.

Rabi showed literary and poetic skills at a very early age. It is said that at the age of eight, Rabi wrote the poem, ‘jol pore, pata nore’ (“জল পড়ে, পাতা নড়ে”) (water drops, leaf shivers). However, Rabi himself said that at that time, like a deer with its newly sprouted antlers, he and his budding poetry made a nuisance of themselves. Rabi’s elder brothers recognised his talent to write and recite poems and encouraged him to do so.

Rabi was probably longing for friendship with others as he was growing up. When Kadambari, a mere girl of nine years old (only about a year older than Rabi) got married to Rabi’s elder brother Jyotirindranath in 1868 and came to Jorasanko, Rabi found a good companion and eventually a close friend, within the confines of Tagore house. Kadambari had a high literary sense and genuine appreciation. When she came to the Tagore family, initially she discouraged Rabi to come close to her and pretended that she did not like his poems and even his looks. Kadambari even chided Rabi by saying that “Rabi, don’t you have a male friend of your own?”. Long after the event, Rabi wrote in a poem in 1939, clearly autobiographical:

Hesitatingly I tried to come a little close

    To her in a striped sari, my mind in a whirl;

But there was no doubting her frown – I was a child,

     I was not a girl, I was a different breed.  

However, during the 1870s, a highly affectionate and somewhat loving relationship grew up between Rabi and Kadambari. They were both children, not even teen agers. After the death of Rabi’s mother, Sharada Devi in 1875, Kadambari was the deepest female companion on Rabi’s youth. When Kadambari poisoned herself on 19 April 1884 and died on 21 April 1884, aged about twenty-five, Rabi at that time, only twenty-three, was deeply shocked and distraught to the core. Death was Rabi’s constant companion since then. He wrote so many poems and songs on death and mental suffering of death that Elisabeth Kūbler-Ross on her classic study On Death and Dying mentioned that nobody had thought more deeply about death than Rabindranath Tagore and every chapter of her book was headed by a quote from Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore made Bengali one of the richest and poetic languages of the world. He received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. His songs are sung as national anthems in two sovereign states – India and Bangladesh – and Sri Lanka drew inspiration from his song in their national anthem. Rabindranath Tagore is the epitome of Bengali identity. In the book ‘Keeping up with Time’ by Anisur Rahman it is stated that “If there is one person who embodies Bengal, Bengali language and culture that must be Tagore”  

  • A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Religious

Life and Works of Humayun Azad

Humayun Azad – a poet, novelist, short story writer, columnist, critic, linguist and above all a humanist and a social reformer – was born on 28 April 1947 (14 Baishakh 1354 BS) at maternal grandad’s house in the village of Kamargaon, Bikrompur in the district of Munshigonj, However, Humayun Azad used to think that the place where he was brought up in the village of Rarhikhal in Bikrompur was his birth place. His father, Abdur Rashed, was a teacher at the early part of his life and then a postmaster and finally he became a businessman. His mother Zobeda Khatoon was a house wife. Humayun Azad was the first of the siblings, there were three brothers and two sisters. The village had luminary like Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the world-renowned scientist.

Humayun Azad loved and adored the natural beauty and surroundings of his village. He started his primary education in the village. He passed his SSC from Jagadish Chandra Bose Institute in 1962 and then HSC in science from Dhaka College in 1964. He got acquainted with the Bengali teacher and most prominent writer, Mr. Shawkat Osman at the college. That might have influenced him to love Bengali as the chosen subject. He got BA(Hons) and MA in Bengali from Dhaka University in 1967 and 1968 respectively and got first classes in both. He obtained PhD in linguistics submitting his thesis titled ‘Pronominalisation in Bangla’ at the University of Edinburgh. Humayun Azad’s name at birth was Humayun Kabir, but he changed that name to Humayun Azad by affidavit on 28 September 1988 applying to the magistrate of Narayangonj District.  

His first published book was the collection of poems from 1960s to 1972 and called Alaukik Ishtimar (An Unreal Steamer), which was published in 1973. He published interesting and provocative novels called shobkichu nashtader adhikare jabe (Everything will go to the despicables) in 1985, Chhappanno hazar borgomile (Fifty six thousand square miles)(which is the area of Bangladesh) in 1994, Shobkichu bhenge pore (Everything breaks down) in 1995 and many more. His most prominent and comprehensive feminist book was Naree (Women). In this book, he was even fearless to criticise Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate in literature in 1913; although he praised Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The theme of the book was critical of the patriarchal and male-chauvinism of the Indian subcontinental society towards women. Both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists were very critical of the book. Under constant agitation and threats of violence by the extremist mullahs, Bangladesh government banned the book in 1995. The ban was, however, forced to be lifted in 2000 following a legal challenge in the High Court of the country, which Humayun Azad won. He produced more than sixty titles,

He viscerally hated a State based on religious doctrine. Humayun Azad was branded an atheist by the Islamists right from the early years of his literary contributions in the 1970s, mainly due to his free unbiased thinking and forthright vision. When Ziaur Rahman, Ershad and Khaleda Zia were in power from mid 1970s till about 2008, they had all been fanning and supporting Islamic fundamentalism for political expediency and financial opportunism. Humayun Azad was the voice of humanism, secularism and free-thinking. He rebelled against religious bigotry and wrote a number of articles pointing out sheer lunacy and inhumanity of religiosity.

His satirical novel called Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad (Pakistan’s national anthem) when published in 2003 and the Daily Ittefaq produced excerpts in the same year, he started receiving life threats from the Islamist fundamentalists. The book was regarded as an insult to the Pakistani mentality Bangladeshis for ridiculing political ideologies of Pakistan. On 27 February 2004, as Humayun Azad was going home after attending the book fair near the Dhaka University campus, two assailants hacked him several times with machetes on the jaw, lower part of the neck and hands. He was taken to the nearby Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Subsequently the then prime minister of Bangladesh Khaleda Zia ordered him to be transferred to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) for better treatment. He recovered from the attack, but remained grievously injured.

A week prior to Humayun Azad’s assault, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a member of parliament of Bangladesh, said in parliament that the book ‘Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad’  must be banned and the blasphemy law must be instituted in Bangladesh. (It may be noted that Delwar Hossain Sayeedi was a blatant Pakistani agent and caused death of many Bangladeshis during the 1971 war, but still managed to become an MP in Bangladesh. He was convicted of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh and was sentenced to death in 2013)   A week later Humayun Azad was very badly assaulted. In 2006, one of the leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist organisation admitted to the RAB that Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives carried out the attack on Humayun Azad (as well as carrying out other murders, bomb blasts etc).

Several months after that attack, he applied to the German government for a grant to carry out research on nineteenth century German romantic poet Heinrich Heine. The German government offered him the grant and he went to Munich on 8 August 2004. The other purpose was to get the medical treatment. However, on 12 August 2004, he was found dead in his apartment, just a few days after his arrival there. His dead body was brought back to Bangladesh and he was buried in Rarhikhal in Bikrompur on 27 August 2004.

It is a very sad story that the person who loved his country supremely, the person who fought for humanity and human justice had to suffer the inhumanity and religious barbarity and lay down his illustrious life in a foreign land. We salute you, Sir.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is

Russia-Ukraine War – News in the shadows

This Russian – Ukrainian war is on the tenth day today, the 5th March 2022 and there does not seem to be anything to bring it to a close very soon. The world is aghast with the outcome of this war – death and destruction of man and material throughout the country are unprecedented. The media throughout the whole world are having a field day condemning Russia for this wanton, aggressive attack, without any justification!

Before going to the rights and wrongs of this war, let us check what is happening in Ukraine right now. As of today, it is estimated that nearly 1.2 million Ukrainians have evacuated to neighbouring countries – nearly 700,000 to Poland on the north-west and the remaining 500,000 to Hungary and Slovakia on the west, Romania and Moldova to the south. The number of evacuees is going up not the day but by the hour. The whole world is watching with horror the unprecedented human suffering and migration not seen since the second World War.

The world is also watching the types of human evacuation that is taking place from Ukraine. Has anybody seen one single black or Asian or for that matter any non-white person descending from the evacuation buses to any neighbouring country mentioned above? No, none, zilch! The reason is that no non-white person is allowed to get on to the evacuation buses in Ukraine, although there are thousands or tens of thousands of non-white students, teachers, businessmen in Ukraine. The evacuation is only for whites, as if non-white lives in the war zones don’t matter. This is the blatant racist attitude which has come out in this atrocious situation. The Bulgarian Prime Minister blurted out that Asians and Blacks are not civilised or educated enough, like the Europeans, and that’s why this discrimination. How pathetic! (Didn’t Nazism follow the eugenics where Jews, gypsies, blacks and so forth were considered to be genetically inferior to white Aryans?)

Now the main question is, why did this war start in the first place? Ukraine was a republic in the erstwhile USSR, but it gained independence when USSR collapsed in 1991. Since then, many erstwhile USSR republics have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) designed to counter USSR and Warsaw pact countries during the cold war period until 1991. Although USSR and Warsaw pact have disappeared, but USA maintained and strengthened NATO as a way of perpetuating arms sales to the Member States.

Ukraine had been perpetually encouraged to join the NATO by USA and its allies. Hardly does this country realise that by joining the NATO it is committing itself to contributing full 2% of its GDP to NATO fund and that fund will supply them with American and British arms and ammunition. It becomes a captive market for the western arms industry. The right-wing Ukrainian government wanted to join the NATO, despite Russian repeated pleas and warning not to do so.  

Ukraine is right on the Russian border. Any nuclear weapon installed in the country as part of NATO is unlikely to be acceptable to Russia. The mirror image of this situation could be seen when USSR wanted to install nuclear warhead in Cuba in 1963 and John F Kennedy threatened to blow off the USSR missile carrier in international waters and start the third World War. Cuba is not even on the borders of the USA!

Nonetheless, world is expressing unrestrained sympathy to the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian government is basking on this sympathy. But at the same time, the government is showing without any shame or remorse its blatant racism. The lives of Asians and blacks are dispensable, but the lives of the whites are worth saving! How much such attitude is worth sympathising for? World should make a humane judgement of such a regime, as it exists now in Ukraine.    

– Dr Anisur Rahman is an author and columnist.

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Technical

The architect of utter chaos at SUST

Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) in Sylhet is a research-based   institution of higher education in Bangladesh. It was established in 1986 with the lofty goals of partaking research in physical sciences and engineering, and was the first university to adopt the American credit system. True to its name, during the first couple of decades, SUST secured the 610th rank in the world list of research-oriented universities.

However, the state of affairs now at the university is far from happy and the academic atmosphere is on the decline. A grim situation of physical violence exists in the campus, too. The miscreants from the ruling political party, masquerading as students, have infiltrated the student community and violence by them, often sanctioned by the administration, had broken out within the campus. Altogether academic sanctity and human decency are unknown elements at the moment.

Most of the present turmoil, if not the whole of it, can be placed at the doors of the top administrators, particularly of the Vice Chancellor of the university Mr. Farid Uddin Ahmed, who had shown total ineptitude for governance and disregard for decency.

The utter chaos currently prevailing in SUST stems from the outdated system of selection of a Vice Chancellor (VC). Whereas Dhaka University (DU), Jahangirnagar University and many other universities in the country rely on their respective Senate to select the best candidate from a panel of candidates for the post of VC, SUST is conspicuous by the absence of Senate and relies solely on the Chancellor (the president of the country), who rubber stamps the individual hand-picked by the ruling party. Consequently, a political candidate, rather than an academically suitable one, is chosen for the post. Accordingly, the incumbent VC of SUST was selected in August 2017 for a four-year term and then given a second term last year, although he is grossly unpopular among students and teachers alike.

According to many articles published in this newspaper and elsewhere, Mr. Ahmed does not have the requisite qualifications required to be a full professor or the Vice Chancellor of a university. Appointment or elevation to the rank of a full professor in almost all the major universities in the world requires distinguished academic achievement―outstanding credentials in teaching, research and scholarly publications recognized by scholars within and outside the academic community.

While nothing to show for himself, not even a doctoral degree, earned or bestowed, Mr. Ahmed made his way to the top of the academic pole via the back door, using the greasy pole of academic shenanigan. In an American university, he can at best be hired as an adjunct faculty, also known as “freeway fliers” because they drive from one campus to another campus in order to patch together a mediocre salary teaching one or two courses per semester, usually without any benefit and job security.

A Vice Chancellor, on the other hand, must be an established executive with demonstrable leadership expertise in higher education, a deep knowledge of and ability in academic matters to promote the mission of the university and a clear sense of the diverse challenges of a public university with an outstanding undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Moreover, the VC should provide moral stewardship, possess uncompromising integrity and unstinted wisdom, with a record of and administrative experience of working in today’s complex, multi-ethnic and global environment. Mr. Ahmed lacks all the above-mentioned qualities and attributes and is, therefore, deemed unsuitable to hold the office of the VC.

The chaos that enveloped SUST should surprise no one. Mr. Ahmed essentially brought this on himself with his clumsy and self-defeating attempts to ignore the legitimate demands of the resident students of Begum Sirajunnesa Chowdhury Hall. They were unhappy, and even angry, because of the way he was running the university and how callous he still is in dealing with their legitimate grievances.

Shamefully, to wield his power and consolidate his reign, he used state terrorism by unleashing the cops who maimed and injured the students with lathi (bamboo stick) charge, rubber bullets and sound grenades. Alumni who donated money to the students for their sustenance were arrested, physicians who were involved in providing emergency medical assistance to those on hunger strike until death were ordered to stop their humanitarian work and mobile bank accounts of protesting students were shut down. He also used numerous ancillary individuals including his 34 cohorts (VCs)―the academic Harlequins at other public universities, and at times crudely manipulated his enablers, to launch a vicious campaign of disparaging the students with their inflammatory and clownish theatrics.

Mr. Ahmed’s lack of respect for those who disagree with him, as well as misogynistic remark about the marriage ineligibility of female students of Jahangirnagar University because they stay out late at night are reprehensible. It can very well be said that a person who lacks civility and self-respect cannot show respect to others.

The renowned science fiction writer and former popular professor of SUST, Dr. Zafar Iqbal aptly described this deformed personality as a “demon.” One could also call him the Tin Man of The Wizard of Oz because he does not have a heart. And there is no wizard behind the curtain to give him one. 

Mr. Ahmed’s second term as the VC may now be disintegrating, tumbling toward higher entropy, a term used in physics to describe disorder. There are dangers ahead if he does not resign or removed. The university may descend into utter chaos and be paralyzed by the student movement, rendering him head of a dysfunctional institution. Or there is the risk of an erratic, embattled, paranoid VC who feels that he may be going down the gutters anyway and thus will use all available weapons at his disposal to stay in office.

Finally, we feel that educators and education administrators must move away from the culture of sycophancy and presumptuous self-importance. Otherwise, it would only help to perpetuate a culture of corruption, servility and political subservience, which is endemic in Bangladesh.

Dr Quamrul Haider, Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York and Dr Anisur Rahman, a Nuclear Safety Specialist, Manchester, U.K.