Be it a minister, political leader, head of foreign diplomatic mission, scientist, civil society member, student or journalist, all those living in Kathmandu valley breathe the same air, which is filled with poisonous particles enough to damage healthy lungs.
Concerned over the alarming trend of air pollution, a group of people consisting of former Nepali minister, head of a foreign diplomatic mission, head of a UN Mission, scientists, civil society members, government officials, experts and media persons sat for a brainstorming discussion to propose a way out to clean the atmosphere of Kathmandu.
Initiated by German Ambassador to Nepal Matthias Meyer, who has been actively supporting efforts to make Nepal healthier and cleaner and coordinated by former minister and leading environmental activist Ganesh Shah and UNESCO representative to Nepal Christian Manhart, the 2-hour long brainstorming brought various views on how to make the air clean.
“Since we are living in the same environment, everyone of us is suffering from the dust and pollution existing in the air. There is the need of solidarity for a common cause like air pollution,” said Dr. Jeeb Raj Pokharel, vice chancellor of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology.
As a tourist city, Kathmandu is a home to global citizens. Worsening air quality of Kathmandu is affecting all, irrespective of personality, nationality, age and gender.
Studies conducted by World Health Organization, and other organizations, reveal that outdoor air pollution causes over 9,000 deaths every year, with coronary artery disease and stroke, each killing more than 3,000 people in Nepal.
With over 900,000 motorbikes, 200,000 private cars, 30,000 taxis and 40,000 buses and trucks and 50,000 government and semi-government vehicles running, the 700 kilometers of Kathmandu roads are a sight full of dirt and smoke. These vehicles are releasing stuff that poisons the air.
Furthermore over 200 brick kilns, rampant burning of solid waste and agriculture residue is adding more smoke in the atmosphere of Kathmandu Valley and other parts of Nepal.
“It is a great pleasure to meet you all sharing the common goal that something has to be done to cope with the challenges of the high grade of air pollution we are all facing in the Kathmandu Valley and beyond,” said German ambassador to Nepal Meyer. "We hear so many complaints these days about the increasing level of congestion in the city and the risk inherent to our health. It is a range of issues from agriculture burning to waste burnings, brick kilns, and emissions from engines and road dust by movements of vehicles and construction works that contribute to the aggravating problems of air pollution in our daily life. According to recent statistics, Kathmandu is the third worst polluted city in the world. In the beginning of 2015 Kathmandu was still in the fifth position. This situation is moving fast in the wrong direction.”
With scientific evidence at hand, Arnico K. Panday, senior atmospheric scientist and Program Coordinator, Atmospheric Initiative ICIMOD proved that the level of air pollution is really bad.
Everyone knows that Kathmandu’s air quality is getting worse and it is deteriorating day by day. Broadcast daily by over 200 FM stations, and covered by newspapers and social media, the news of air pollution in the prevailing situation has reached an overwhelming number of common people.
“Dust, left out solid waste and practice of burning waste are adding more pollution in the atmosphere of Kathmandu Valley. With the limited capacity, only 70 percent of wastes are collected. I don’t have to tell where 30 percent goes,” said Santosh Shrestha, environmental expert Solid Waste Management Technical Support center.
Campaign has been going on for cleaning the air for long but what has not happened is action. With the public pressure, the government removed Vikram Tempo, Himal Cement Factory and Brick kiln and is now removing 20-year old vehicles.
All these movements were short lived. There are complaints and suggestions but only a few people really take actions to show to others the way to take action.
“Nepal needs to clean the air to keep its natural and cultural heritage in the good shape. Equally important is to keep clean air to lure the tourists,” said Christian Manhart,UNESCO’s country representative.
As the air quality deteriorated, patients of chronic respiratory diseases are at high risk. Experts say that during winter, the concentration of suspended particulate matters such as dust, smog, fog and smoke is significantly high and leads to higher exposure to air pollution than during the rainy season.
As the air quality deteriorated, the Department of Environment set up three air quality monitoring stations in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Kavrepalanchowk last month.
“We have already installed equipment for setting up the stations with support from ICIMOD,” said a senior divisional chemist at the department. The three stations would be set up at Ratnapark of Kathmandu, Pulchock Engineering Campus, Lalitpur and Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel.
These stations will monitor dust particles and four types of air pollutants and send the report to the central server in real time. Paudel said the data so collected would be automatically forwarded to the central server of National Information Technology Center and posted on the Department of Environment’s website.
Though air pollution monitoring began in Nepal since 2002, almost all the existing stations have become dysfunctional. The Danish government had installed seven air quality monitoring stations in the Valley in 2002.
“Altogether we are planning to install 56 stations throughout the country with support from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development and Kathmandu Sustainable Urban Transport Project have been supporting the department to procure equipment and to install them.”
To avoid disruptions in sending the data to the central server due to power cuts, the department has also been seeking support from various organizations to install solar power system.
According to the Environment Performance Index 2016, Nepal ranks 149 among 180 countries in terms of air quality. While countries around the world have taken stringent actions to improve air quality, Nepal has yet to take any concrete initiative.
While Nepal’s national air pollution standard is 40 microgram per cubic meter, existing data show that the pollution levels in the Valley remains above 200 microgram per cubic meter.
Department of Environment figures, average PM10 was measured at 190 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) last fiscal, compared to 168 in the fiscal year 2013/14. WHO considers air unsafe when average exposure to fine particulate matter exceeds 10 µg/m3. The air pollution also exceeds the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 120 µg/m3 prescribed by the government.
Vehicular emission is the major cause for deteriorating air quality in the urban areas where vehicular emission is much aggravated by substandard or adulterated fuel, narrow and poorly maintained streets, poor traffic management, old vehicles and poor vehicular maintenance.
“In my eyes, we have to address this challenge by supporting all kinds of steps that assure scientific results are heard and taken into consideration by decision makers on all levels. At the same time we have to define ways how to increase public awareness of the great risks inherent in the air pollution of the Kathmandu Valley these days,” said Ambassador Meyer.
“Health risks could pose a heavy financial burden on future societies, at the same time, an increasing level of air pollution could noticeably harm the tourism aspirations of the country. During our bilateral negotiations on development cooperation, I recently pointed out that since my arrival in 2014 (even from the tallest perspective) I was rarely in a position to spot the beautiful Himalayan Mountain range the same way I did when I first came to the country in 1979. Usually, if no clouds cover the view, levels of dust and pollution back the marvelous panorama. Nepal’s reputation depends on a clean environment on free views on its snowcapped peaks and healthy air for visitors,” said Ambassador Meyer.
This is just a beginning, and we will hold series of brain storming meeting of wider stakeholders to take necessary actions to clean the air,” said Shah. “There is no other way than to reduce the emission.”