Tamara Yesmin Toma

Researcher, Dismislab
Rajshahi is not the cleanest city in Asia
This article is more than 1 year old

Rajshahi is not the cleanest city in Asia

Tamara Yesmin Toma

Researcher, Dismislab

On March 19, Bangladeshi news broadcaster Ekattor Television reported that Rajshahi, a city in the country’s northwest, is the cleanest in Asia. The report did not cite any sources or research in support of their statement. But then overnight, the news spread on social media (1, 2, 3, 4). On March 20, Dainik Jugantor, a national daily, also published a graphic on their Facebook page claiming Rajshahi as the cleanest city in Asia.

Later it has been verified by Dismislab that Rajshahi is not on any of these rankings or indices of the cleanest cities in the world. Although several news reports in 2016 said that Rajshahi has done the best in the world in reducing particulate matter and air pollution, the report does not mean that Rajshahi has the lowest particulate matter among Asian cities. Rather, the Air Quality Index of the Swiss firm IQAir lists Rajshahi’s air as “unhealthy”, and the index includes many cities or towns in Asia with better air quality than Rajshahi.

How the claim spread on social media from news

In the first 20 seconds of the video report titled “Asia’s cleanest city, Rajshahi” on Ekattor Television’s YouTube channel, the presenter said, “While Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, has been identified as the most polluted city in the world, Rajshahi city is being recognized as the cleanest city in Asia. Rajshahi has become a green city without pollution, traffic jams, water clogging, or mosquito infestation. The mayor said that Rajshahi has become the best city in the country with the help of some of his various initiatives and the cooperation of the city dwellers.”

However, in the report, there is no mention of any person or organisation that has acclaimed Rajshahi the status of the cleanest city in Asia. Even Rajshahi City Corporation Mayor A. H. M. Khairuzzaman Liton’s statement (from one minute and 7 seconds to one minute and 27 seconds and from two minutes and 49 seconds to three minutes 25 seconds) has no such information. That is, such a claim is only made in the news title and the presenter’s speech.

As soon as the news spread, the claim that Rajshahi got the title of “cleanest city in Asia went viral on social media. Many people shared the post with the source, Ekattor TV. As a result, it quickly became viral in different groups. Daily Jugantar did not publish any news on this, but did upload a graphic repeating the assertion on their official Facebook page.

Debunking the claim

There is no recent list or research from reputable groups about which cities or towns in Asia are the cleanest. The Global Power City Index (GPCI)—2022, published by the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategy (IUS) does not include Rajshahi or any other city of Bangladesh.

It consists of six functions, including the Environmental Index, which examines how sustainable a city is. Commitment to climate action, renewable energy rate, waste recycling rate, CO2 emissions per capita, comfort level of temperature, water quality, urban greenery, and satisfaction with urban cleanliness are analysed as indicators. Sweden’s Stockholm tops this list. Asia’s leading cities include Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei, which are ranked 12th, 13th, 14th, and 19th, respectively, among the top 20 cities in the world.

Although citing the data of the World Health Organization, a 2016 report by the British newspaper The Guardian said that in 2015, Bangladesh’s Rajshahi had the most success in removing airborne particles harmful to human health compared to other cities in the world. These findings were also done in comparison to other cities, not only in Asia but around the entire world.

Around the world, one of the main indicators of how “clean” a city is the presence of particulate matter in the air. But the Guardian report does not say that Rajshahi has the lowest levels of particulate matter (PM10) in the air, but rather Rajshahi has the best rate of reducing harmful particulate matter compared to other cities in the world. That was also for 2016.

At the time this report was written, AccuWeather, a reliable site for weather information, said that there were 62 micrograms per cubic meter of harmful PM10 particles in the air in Rajshahi. At the same time, the amount of the same particulate matter in two other cities in Asia, Ahvaz, Iran, and Panzhihua, China, was at 38 and 7 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively. The amounts of PM10 particles in Delhi, Panaji, and Tezpur, India, were 39, 42, and 10 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively. All these cities were on the list the Guardian mentioned. In other words, these Asian cities have better air quality than Rajshahi.

Not in Asia; if we look only at Bangladesh, there is barely any information to say that Rajshahi is the best. The Department of Environment of Bangladesh put out an Air Quality Index (AQI) on March 20 (the day before we wrote this article) that said Rajshahi had an AQI of 179, which is unhealthy in terms of air quality. Rajshahi had higher AQI values than even Dhaka and Chittagong which means Rajshahi’s air quality is in some cases worse than that of these two cities.

Looking at other indicators of living conditions, there is no data to place Rajshahi among the best in Asia. For example, in March last year, in a report by the United Nations Environment Program, it was reported that Rajshahi was ranked fourth on the list of the most noisy cities in the world. Dhaka was at the top of this list.

According to the guidelines of the World Health Organization, it is said to keep the noise level at 55 decibels in outdoor living areas and 70 decibels in industrial, commercial shopping, and traffic areas. But according to the report, the level of noise pollution in Rajshahi was 103 decibels, higher than the levels in Delhi (83), Colombo (84), Karachi (89), and Kolkata (89).

Earlier in 2012, England’s Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and the German company Siemens published The Green City Index with more than 120 cities in the world, while there was a separate list of Asian Green City Index cities with 22 cities in Asia. The list is made on the basis of 30 indicators, including carbon emissions, waste management, vehicles, land use, water pollution, and air pollution. Singapore topped the list in Asia on average in all six categories. There was no city of Bangladesh on this list either.