Bangladesh said Tuesday it will shut hundreds of soot-belching brick kilns around its capital Dhaka as part of measures to reduce thick smog enveloping the city and pushing air quality levels to among the world’s worst.

Residents in several other cities in South Asia, including India’s capital New Delhi and Lahore in Pakistan, have also been breathing toxic smog in recent weeks amid uncontrolled emissions and crop burning.

Air Visual, an independent online air quality index monitor, pegged Dhaka’s air quality as the poorest in the world on Monday.

“The situation is very critical. Just a few days ago air quality of Dhaka was the third or fourth worst in the world. But now it tops the ranking,” Environment Minister Mohammad Shahab Uddin told reporters.

Uddin announced a range of measures to combat the severe pollution levels, including shutting down illegal brick kilns and sprinkling water on major roads and construction sites twice a day.

Waste burning would be halted at dozens of sites and trucks carrying construction materials such as sand would have to be covered, he added.

The government was backed by the High Court, which ordered the closure of the illegal kilns by the next 15 days, deputy attorney general Abdullah al Bashar told AFP.

As part of longer-term efforts, the government said it would phase out the use of bricks in its construction projects.

Soot from brick kilns – which use coal and wood to bake bricks from clay – is a major air pollutant and the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.

The kilns in Bangladesh mostly run from November to April and have been identified by authorities as a key cause of air pollution.

“We have started phasing out use of bricks from this year and by 2025 their use will be completely phased out,” Environment Ministry secretary Monsurul Alam told AFP.

Construction – including the building of major bridges, metro railway lines and elevated highways – has been a key economic driver in the South Asian nation in recent years.

Leading environment group BAPA said the illegal kilns made up the majority of those in use in the country.

“We need comprehensive and urgent plan to tackle air pollution,” BAPA’s general secretary Sharif Jamil told AFP.

“We must shut down illegal kilns as they don’t abide by even the minimum emission standard.”

– AFP