DYING TO BREATHE: Air Crisis in Kathmandu 

About time we seriously concern our dusty reality? 

February, a dry season, has seen some of the most polluted days in the last six months in the country. Naturally the pollution in winter is high as it is mostly human induced, contributing to air pollution as people tend to burn more wastes, garbages and open fires during this season….

Data from the country show an appalling situation. BBC World Service reported that for the month of January 2017, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Lumbini, was measured at a staggering 173.035 micrograms per cubic metre. The World Health Organization (WHO) safe limit for the pollutant is 25 micrograms per cubic metre and the Nepal government has set the national standard at 40 which means that the current air quality situation is much worse than we imagined. A study conducted by the IUCN and UNESCO found that the pollution had begun to threaten the Lumbini World Heritage site due to the increase expansion of carbon emission industries within the Lumbini Protected Zone.

The steady rise of vehicles and construction can be equally blamed for the pollution increase in Kathmandu.

However ,every cloud has a silver lining. The country of late adapted sustainable energy resources and development activities that experts believe will help the country deal with the contemporary issues.

Nepal government has reduced the tax approximately 11% which is a drastic change to encourage Electric Vehicle use as a long term solution. However, that alone won’t stop the problem unless we upgrade our public transportation system. “Electric Vehicle is a game changer to our economy.” says Bhushan Tuladhar, a technical advisor for South Asia, UN-Habitat. Nepal imports 60% of its petroleum from India which is mostly used up for transportation. When asked about his opinion towards the government’s announcement to import electric vehicles, Tuladhar says, “It is a great opportunity for Nepal to grab and sustain its environment and air quality.”

National Planning Commission was the first Nepali government agency to buy Electric Vehicles from China to promote sustainability in transportation system in Nepal. In October 2017, Gagan Thapa, Member of Parliament, Nepali Congress registered a 15 years electric vehicle transition policy in the parliament. It was the first time since electric vehicles was made so directly a part of Nepal development public health and transportation discourse. They have planned to impose a ban on the use of fossil-fuel based vehicles in Kathmandu by the year 2027, followed by a countrywide ban in 2031.

As Kathmandu is arising from its crisis in load-shedding, diesel generators which were not good for the environment emitting hazardous black carbon are now being replaced with high- tech solar powered technology. “If Kathmandu was still facing load shedding, we would have faced more pollution. During the load shedding crisis in Kathmandu alone, 150 MW diesel generators were being used for 8 hours minimum a day,” said Kashish Das Shrestha, an Independent Sustainable Development Policy Analyst and Environment Writer. “This allowed black carbon emitted by diesel generators adding to already polluted Kathmandu air. It is always good to see solar power and electric vehicles as a combination package and not just rely on expensive hydro project.”

Other contributing factors towards the valley’s worsening air quality are brick kilns and dust from construction sites and remaining debris from the devastating 2015 earthquake.

The Government of Nepal had taken a few steps to address the problems caused by brick kilns and had decided to ban these outdated industries in Kathmandu valley. But the law is not as proactive as it should be in this critical stage with the challenges we are facing in air quality

For the time being, the public can adopt the use of preventive masks for better protection and safety towards serious health concerns. Prof.Dr. Rajendra Khoju, Kathmandu University School of Medical Science (KUSMS) addresses that the air crisis of Kathmandu is a day to day concern where dust and pollution is affecting us every minute every second leading to long term risks and hazards to children, pregnant women, senior citizens and especially to cardiovascular patients. Children around the age of seven are mostly at high risk, where such pollutants existing in the air, stunts their brain development. Maintenance of individual’s vehicle every now and then can lead to proper functioning of vehicles as well as preventing tire burnings and open fires which leads to air crisis. He emphasized on the serious issue that forces immediate reaction by the government and the public should really focus on it seriously.


A text by Rhea Pradhan and Kreepa Gurung 


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