The “Anthropause” in Bangladesh

One of the reactions that  COVID-19 has had in the world today is the rejoicing of so many in the early days of the pandemic that much more wildlife was to be seen in urban areas, many more birds were flying above us, and the sky was much clearer and without the usual haze that has now become a permanent feature in many developing nations.

 Much has been repeated about how developing countries are not the polluters for decades, but more recently attention has turned to China as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for over a quarter of measured global emissions. India or Indonesia fall on this list of large emitters as well. They are therefore asked to have mitigation strategies to lower their carbon emissions. During COVID-19 lockdowns it was estimated that reductions in particulate matter emitted ranged from 47% in Milan, Italy to 37% in Wuhan, China. The effect of what is called the “anthropause” or a pause in human activity, which causes detriments to the air, soil, and water, included a reduction or halt in industrial activity. The lockdown improved air quality, water quality, noise intensity, municipal waste generation, and improved forest ecosystems. At the same time, ozone levels increased because of the reduction of NO in the air, biomedical and plastic wastes increased, as did deforestation, illegal extraction of resources and poaching of wildlife1.

 For Bangladesh, it is curious to see where the emissions are coming from. While we would expect transportation and brick fields to be the biggest culprits, a report from USAID shows us that nearly 40% of the country’s emissions are attributable to agriculture. It appears that the main culprits are enteric fermentation and manure (or cows) and rice cultivation (through irrigation and diesel motors). This also corresponds to the fact that Bangladesh emits only 0.4% of the world’s GHG, even though it has 2.1% of the world’s population (and 0.8% of world GDP).

 Deforestation, urbanization, and the associated increase in transportation are the primary sources of increases in carbon emission in Bangladesh, as is true for most “lower middle income” countries nowadays. Industrial pollution only accounts for 2% of GHG in the country, and waste (landfill gases and burning of waste) accounts for five times that amount.

 In Bangladesh itself, the anthropause during lockdown caused particulate matter (PM2.5) to be reduced by 27.7% 2. The average SO2 and NO2 concentrations decreased by 43 and 40%, respectively, while tropospheric ozone (O3) increased just under 7%. Among the major cities, Dhaka, Gazipur, Chattogram, and Narayanganj experienced the primary reductions, with NO2 and SO2 concentrations in Dhaka decreasing by around 69 and 67%, respectively. While other parts of the world have seen increases in deforestation during this time this was not so in Bangladesh. Of what little is left of the forests in the country, a large swath got destroyed recently, primarily due to the settling of Rohingyas in the Southeast hill forests.

 On the other hand, wildlife killings doubled in 2020 from the previous year, and the number of rescued wildlife fell by 40%. There were killings of birds by villagers after the ‘Amphan’ cyclone, as food relief was not available. Many suffered economically due  to the anthropause, including  temporary and casual workers and many categories of service workers. One such group was those who worked in the tourist industry – about 10,000 local  and other people used to visit tourist sites in Bangladesh every day prior to the pandemic. Communities such as those living in the coastal areas and nomadic people such as the ‘bede’ were rendered even more vulnerable and were in dire need of livelihood assistance3.

 A major pandemic such as the one we are in has brought great harm and suffering to many, including the early demise of many loved ones, but because of the changed patterns of mobility, work organization, and slowdowns in production, this could be an opportune moment for societal changes that would provide us new energy, commitment, and ways to save our environment in an equitable manner.


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Dr. Farida Chowdhury Khan is Professor of Economics at University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She has been a member of BEN since 2005 and is specifically interested in the effect of environmental change on the livelihoods of indigenous groups in Bangladesh. She is also the Editor of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies.

  1. Chowdhury, R. B., Khan, A., Mahiat, T., Dutta, H., Tasmeea, T., Binth Arman, A. B., Fardu, F., Roy, B. B., Hossain, M. M., Khan, N. A., Amin, A. T. M. N., & Sujauddin, M. (2021). Environmental externalities of the COVID-19 lockdown: Insights for sustainability planning in the anthropocene. The Science of the Total Environment, 783, 147015-147015.
  2. Bonardi, J., Gallea, Q., Kalanoski, D., Lalive, R., Madhok, R., Noack, F., Rohner, D., & Sonno, T. (2021). Saving the world from your couch: The heterogeneous medium-run benefits of COVID-19 lockdowns on air pollution. Environmental Research Letters, 16(7), 74010.
  3. Rahman, M. S., Alam, M. A., Salekin, S., Belal, M. A. H., & Rahman, M. S. (2021). The COVID-19 pandemic: A threat to forest and wildlife conservation in Bangladesh? Trees, Forests and People, 5.

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