By Sagarika Bhatta:
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, has been ranked as the third most polluted city in the world according to a Serbia-based research website www.Numbeo.com.
It was rated average in air, water, land, noise and light pollution, with a dire shortage of open, green spaces and clean drinking water. In the last 20 years or so, Kathmandu has boomed from being a scantily populated city with a few houses to a congested settlement with a serious dearth of space.
Flawed planning and implementation from both government and private sector have turned the largest municipality in Nepal into a chaotic place lacking proper solid waste management and water supply (According to CBS in 2011 per capita water supply in Kathmandu was registered at 35 liters whereas the demand was much higher at 44 lpcd).
Instead, Kathmandu is now enmeshed in a tangle of electricity and telephone wires – a nightmare of unmanaged land and no definite settlement clauses.
Population and mismanagement are not the only things changing in Kathmandu. In these last 20 years, extreme climate change has also been observed. While summers never exceeded 30 degrees Celsius, it is now normal for the temperature to reach as high as 34 degrees. The green hills around Kathmandu valley have always been a treat for those trying to get away, but pollution effects have muddled the view considerably.
Atmospheric particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5, small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs, are causing respiratory problems and other serious health issues in cities and rural part of Nepal. The common health effects of PM10 are eye irritation, cardiovascular and throat infection and asthma. While exposure to PM2.5 is much more harmful as it might lead to lung cancer.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), major concerns for human health from exposure to PM-10 include: effects on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer, and premature death. Children, elderly, and those with chronic lung disease, influenza, or asthma, are especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter. Acidic PM-10 can also damage human-made materials and is one of the leading causes of reduced visibility. The smog in Kathmandu valley has created a layer that withholds sun rays from penetrating.
Besides Kathmandu valley, other cities of Nepal are also facing similar problems of outdoor air pollution while rural parts of the country are more exposed to indoor pollution due to smoke from woods, charcoal, agricultural residue and animal waste.
According to reports, those exposed to indoor pollution in rural parts of the country are the worst affected. Many of the deaths are due to acute respiratory infections in children while others succumb to cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. But these days the people of Nepal are heavily exposed to outdoor air pollution and cases of respiratory diseases in hospitals are at an all-time high. In fact, a report states that the worst affected are those traffic police who are exposed to air pollution for long stretches each day.
In Nepal, transport sector generated approximately 98% of the total PM10 and 69% of total emission loads in 2010, according to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Current construction work carried out in the city has added to the pollution, and the wind furthers the misery.
Nepal based NGOs CEN and ENPHO, working in environmental awareness and protection, estimated that a reduction in PM10 levels in the Kathmandu Valley to comply with international standards would reduce 1,35,475 cases of acute bronchitis in children, 0.5 million asthma attacks, 4,304 cases of chronic bronchitis and thousands of hospital admissions and emergency room visits.
To address this issue, initiatives and policies has been introduced by the government and private sectors over the years but have lacked proper implementation and monitoring of comprehensive plans.
The climate change policy of 2011 urged authorities to move towards lower carbon emissions to reduce air pollution. Apart from this, the Ministry of Environment and Population had also installed air monitoring devices which stopped functioning except in just three places – Bhaktapur, Putalisadak, and Machhegan.
Vehicle emission testing is only limited to Kathmandu valley for three and four wheelers, with the green sticker system being enforced in 1999 though it was hardly effective in banning vehicles that didn’t comply with the rules. Many initiatives have been introduced such as adding 0.5% tax for each liter of petrol and diesel, besides introducing Safa Tempo. Yet, we have not seen any effective implementation of plans.
As air pollution and climate change have a direct impact on each other, Green House Gases (GHG) not only propel air pollution but also threaten the environment by increasing global warming which is the result of GHGs trapping solar energy by denying it a natural outlet. The heat that’s enveloped into the earth’s atmosphere then gets reflected back onto the earth’s surface.
As air pollution increases, the impact of climate change also increases. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected “declining air quality in cities.” Further, the EPA concluded in 2009 that GHG emissions “may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.”
According to an INDC report submitted in 2016, the government of Nepal plans to formulate a Low Carbon Economic Development Strategy that proposes to promote economic development through low carbon emission with a particular focus on human settlement and waste. It also mentions that by 2025, Nepal will strive to decrease the rate of air pollution through proper monitoring of sources of air pollutants like waste, old and unmaintained vehicles, and industries.
We haven’t yet witnessed the implementation of effective plans in the recent years to reduce effects of climate change and air pollution. However, there is no dearth of planning as an entourage of ideas have been pitched and suggested in INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), as to what would be suitable for Nepal in the long run.
But with such severe health risks, facing the impact of air pollution and being exposed to harmful particles on a daily basis, 2025 might seem like a distant dream for the citizens of Nepal struggling to keep their lungs safe from all the muck.