Kathmandu, March 25
Rohan Shrestha has been selling bed linen, cushions and blankets in Samakhushi for the last two years and was thinking of expanding the business for quite some time. He was glad to find a vacant store in Narayantar, near Jorpati, Kathmandu.
“I was looking for space near Jorpati area as it has good population density. Moreover, very few shops sell bed sheets and cushions there,” said Shrestha. When he found a store two weeks ago he considered himself lucky.
“Isn’t it sheer luck to find a store with monthly rental of Rs 15,000 against the going market rate of Rs 30,000?” he asked.
The reason for cheap rental has, however, gradually started to sink in. To get the answer, stand outside Shrestha’s store for five minutes: You’ll either be covered in dust if it is sunny or get patches of mud on your clothes if it is raining.
“The road condition is so bad that all the items in my store are usually covered in dust. This is reducing the life of goods, forcing me to incur losses,” Shrestha said. “I still have not been able to come to terms with the situation and hate the idea of visiting the shop every morning. This is probably the reason why former tenants left.”
People like Shrestha, who have set up shops along the 12.5-km Chabahil-Sankhu road segment, have to bear with the dust almost daily due to the lingering road construction work. This has not only affected their health, but has reduced business by 75 per cent in the last four years, according to Durga Nath Dahal, founding president of the Bouddha Trade Association.
Majharul Haq, who has been selling sweets, fast food and tea in the area for the last 10 years, used to earn Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 per day. “Now I hardly earn Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 a day,” said Haq, blaming the “pathetic road condition” for falling earnings.
The road construction formally began in September 2015 and was supposed to be completed in around two-and-a-half years. But as of now, only 35-50 per cent of the work has been completed, according to the Kathmandu Valley Road Improvement Project, which is overseeing the road project.
As a result, plumes of dust have become a normal sight on the stretch, affecting health of locals, pedestrians and commuters.
“The number of patients with upper respiratory tract infection has shot up by 75 per cent since the road construction began,” said Nila Thakuri, matron of Stupa Community Hospital in Bouddha. What is also alarming is the sharp rise in the number of tuberculosis patients. The community hospital is treating around 100 tuberculosis patients, of which, around 50 are new, according to Thakuri.
“If people are continuously exposed to high levels of pollution, they may have eight to 20 per cent chances of developing lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, hypertension and heart infections. This may also result in liver failure,” said Dr Kedar Narsingh KC, a chest physician and former director of the National Tuberculosis Centre.
A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.