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This City Is The Tourism Gateway Of Nepal, And It Is Slowly Choking To Death

By Sagarika Bhatta:

Kathmandu_police_pollutionKathmandu, the capital of Nepal, has been ranked as the third most polluted city in the world according to a Serbia-based research website

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.

Air pollution and climate change

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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