Ominous: those are my thoughts about the current declaration that some researchers have declared Kathmandu the 3rd most polluted city in the world. Ominous I say not only because, were this factually correct, we will needheavy-duty gas masks before long. Fresh air, of course, will have to be rationed and I imagine that it will find its way on to the blackmarket!
I must admit that the declaration does not surprise me as much as it should. For one thing ever since, as a child, I learned about Henry Ford’s epic declaration about his great invention, the horseless carriage, viz; ‘ they can have any colour they like, as long as it’s black’, I suspected civilisation was doomed.
The declaration does not surprise me because, about 20 years ago, a group of young scientists from ICIMOD’s MENRIS division carried out a survey of the Kathmandu Valley. There was a lot of concern at that time among GIS advocates about the Asian Brown Cloud, a dark spectre hanging over Asia from Sri Lanka onwards. Hence there was a spurt of energetic interest about air pollution. In this particular study, it came as no surprise that areas where brick kilns were situated and Ram Shah Path where vehicles revved along nose to tail were highly polluted; in fact the air in those places was host to carcinogenic particles.
The study results were passed on pro bono to the government departments concerned, including the National Planning Commission, but lo and behold here we are two decades later and dah deeh dah more new motor cars, trucks and scooters, and no concomitant efforts to cull the roads of vehicles past their sell by date!
But is it a proven fact that we live in the third most polluted city in the world? How have the researchers defined pollution and from where did the data come? I would appreciate Nepal Television organising a face to face between them and some of our ownintelligentsia. As one who, as a child, walked past the sulphurous billows of the industrial North’s smelting kilns, coke ovens, and steel mills and as a young university student in Manchester stumbled home through the dark, coal-tasting smog, I wonder which comparatives were used. You see, as far as poor air quality goes there are still several cities in this world which can give Kathmandu a proverbial run for its money in terms of ‘most polluted’: several. There are several, which like Kathmandu, have cadres of ‘activists’ who burn tires, releasing noxious fumes into the air and carcinogenic particles into the air passages of passive recipients of all ages.
Now did they just mean polluted in terms of unkempt and mucky? If so maybe they have an axe to grind and a case to put. Consider the stinking garbage piling up at street corners, the sewage being heedlessly discharged into the rivers, and the dog faeces everywhere. Yes, even if we were declared anopen-defaecation free area tomorrow, who’s going to train the scores of stray dogs to use a doggy toilet? More pertinent, who is going to provide all the doggy toilets?
Years ago, more than I care to remember, an article I wrote for the then Rising Nepal entitled, ‘Spring Leaks on the Cobweb Trail’ more or less ended my career as a writer of features on issues of public concern. It still puzzles me why the high and mighty in the administration should have found it so threatening. There was the fact that the Queen of England was due to visit, so I suppose some big brain in the information ministry must have believed the article (about a hugecobweb that had envelopped an antique French ormolu clock in the Finance Ministry for months on end and a persistent leak in the roof over the desk of the Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy which dated back to the week the late Lain Singh Bangdel entered: thank heavens he had a decent umbrella!) was anti-national. I was washing the city’s dirty linen in public I was told and what if the Queen of England were to read that article and discover that we were less than perfect?
I think, she would have been very polite about it all on the surface and deep down inside have a hearty laugh. After all she has a sense of humour, one strong enough to watch the caricatures of herself on ‘Spitting Images.’
Through the years I piled up descriptions of situations, places and people. I even invented a country so that I could people it with ‘not quite real’ folks and satirise this oh so serious and important world where politicians full of self-importance make a monumental mess of everything and comfort themselves with the ‘fact’ that women are inferior. After shaping two bundles of situations into novels, I published one years ago and held the other back. They were meant for readers in our part of the world only and I reasoned that my cast of characters, especially the women, had reached middle age and whereas some readers would have a great giggle, there were still plenty of others who might think I was describing them accurately enough to merit my being sued or thrashed.
Before I close, let me remark, that at the other end of the pollution scale, the prime minister of Bhutan has been, to great adulation and admiration, hitting the utube lately with Gross National Happiness. I hate to be so sceptical, but at what cost has this GNH been bought? I know of two ethnic groups displaced so that about 700,000 can have GNH. What to say? The answer is nothing, say nothing. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen. People are people after all and overweening pride always brings about its own fall!