Momena Begum and her mother Tahera Khatun were anxiously waiting outside a doctor's chamber at a private hospital in the capital.
A resident of Hajaribagh area, Tahera has been suffering from dust allergy for the last five years. Her condition deteriorates during dry seasons.
She also suffers from repertory problems due to the excessive dust caused by the dryness in the air.
“It has become common in our family. My brother and I are also facing the same problems due to air pollution,” Momena told this correspondent.
Like Momena, many of the city dwellers are also suffering from various forms of diseases caused by dust and air pollution.
It is almost impossible to pinpoint the main reasons behind Dhaka's deadly dust problems as there are so many.
Dry weather, waning greenery, unplanned heavy construction works are just a handful of them.
In addition, digging of roads for installing utility lines, uncovered construction materials lying on or beside the roads, transporting those materials in open trucks, using of stone crushers in the open and poor conditions of the roads continue to add to the already polluted air.
Every year, during dry season, the capital gets blanketed by a layer of dust.
Many of its key arteries including Rokeya Sarani, Banasree, Mirpur, Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Mazar road, Gabtoli, Mirpur Beribadh Road and Rayer Bazar witness massive dust pollution.
Commuters in those areas have complained of unbearable dust pollution. They said the air remains thick with dust due to various ongoing “development works” such as unplanned digging and construction.
Also, many of the locals in those areas alleged that the works are being done without spraying any water to minimise the dust.
According to a statistics of the Department of Environment (DoE), Dhaka's air quality index (AQI) on December 5 last year was 247, which is very unhealthy.
According to DoE, 0-50 is good, 51-100 is moderate, 101-150 cautionary, 151-200 unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy and 301-500 is severely unhealthy.
In addition, Dhaka was 17th in the list of 25 most air polluted cities among 1,600 cities in 91 countries across the world, according to a 2014 report of World Health Organization (WHO).
According to another report of WHO, published in 2016, some 3 million deaths a year worldwide are linked with exposure to outdoor air pollution.
“Exposure to toxic air and dust pollution can cause diseases like asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nasal allergy and rhinitis,” said Dr Kazi S Bennoor, assistant professor of respiratory medicine at National Institute of Diseases of Chest and Hospital (NIDCH).
Tahashin Alam Choudhury, a doctor at Anwer Khan Modern Hospital, said since November last year, patients with asthma, dust allergy and cold have increased at the hospital and it will continue till March.
Although doctors advise commuters to use face masks while outside, but it does not help much.
Dr Bennoor of NIDCH said cloth masks do not protect much against dust.
An N-95 mask, used by doctors in ICU, offers a better protection. As they are costlier, people do not use them much.
Air pollution also increases the risks of acute respiratory infections.
It can affect children alarmingly as lead affects the brain of a child and leaves a permanent damage, said Dr Bennoor.
Dr Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO, said, “Air pollution also takes a toll on pregnant women.”
At the same time, Dr Bennoor added, “The oxygen that a pregnant woman inhales also affects the unborn child, which can result in a premature birth or in some cases can even kill the child in womb.
A prolong exposure to dusty air may lead to lung cancer or interstitial lung disease (ILD), he added. ILD reduces the amount of oxygen in the body, and can cause death.
Abu Naser Khan, chairman of Save the Environment Movement, said a prime cause of dust can be attributed to the unplanned construction of buildings and road diggings across Dhaka.
According to Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995, building owners must prevent noise pollution, spread of dust or any other nuisance during construction works.
However, many developers do not abide by those directions to minimise the menace. This correspondent while visiting many of the construction sites saw only a handful of such sites were covered with nets to minimise dust.
When asked why they failed to cover the buildings, some of the developers, seeking anonymity, said they do not take the measures as it is “time consuming and expensive”.
The authorities concerned must take proper preventive measures against the spread of dust, said Abu Naser of Save the Environment Movement.
Both Abu Naser and Dr Bennoor stressed the need for spraying water on roads and especially at the construction sites to minimise the dust.
Contacted, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Sayeed Khokon they were spraying water on around 50-km road twice on a daily basis. He said they were covering the main thoroughfares but they could not do so in lanes as their vehicles cannot enter the narrow alleys.
However, he said, “It's not sufficient and we are trying our best to reduce the dust.”
Dhaka North City Corporation Chief Executive Officer Mejbahul Islam said they were spraying water at the construction sites in the DNCC area using water tankers.
“We will purchase 10 more water tankers soon,” he added.