Nepal | September 30, 2020

City of pollution: Artificial calamity

Mahesh Lamsal
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The Government has recently banned vehicles which are more than twenty years old. This initiative can be taken as positive but not enough to prevent the alarming rate of pollution

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

How many ounces of dust particles and smoke do we inhale in a day? This might be a common question that hovers in everyone’s mind of those residing in the Capital valley.

We are facing an artificial calamity that has been a greater threat to mankind, plants and animals than any other form of natural calamities. Kathmandu today is no doubt a city of pollution, smoke, dust particles and almost all sorts of health hazards.

This is not a problem for the people residing in one location of the valley, but is a common problem for all Kathmanduites who reside in every corner of the valley. There are many health-related problems related to the dust particles and smoke which might have a long-term effect on health.

Particulate matter, also known as PM, refers to a complex mixture of organic and inorganic particles in the atmosphere that can be hazardous to our health. The mass and composition in urban environments tend to be divided into two principal groups: coarse particles and fine particles.

The barrier between these two fractions of particles usually lies between 1 µm(micro meter) and 2.5 µm. The smaller particles contain the secondarily formed aerosols (gas-to-particle conversion), combustion particles and condensed organic and metal vapours.

The larger particles usually contain earth crust materials and fugitive dust from roads and industries.The smaller the particles, the deeper they penetrate into the respiratory system and the more hazardous they are to breathe. PM between 0.1 µm and 1 µm in diameter can remain in the atmosphere for days or weeks, and thus be subject to long-range trans boundary transport in the air.

The larger sized particles have a short-term effect while the smaller particles have a long-term effect as they escape the filtration process during respiration and reach the lungs. There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure or a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur.

The exposure is ubiquitous and involuntary, increasing the significance of this determinant of health.

People will surely be victims of the lung related diseases due to the continuous exposure with those conditions. Diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, asthma and pneumonia will result due to the particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Besides these, dust causes different kinds of skin diseases and allergic reactions like sneezing, runny nose and may cause different skin infections. Mortality can be caused from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and from lung cancer.

Susceptible groups with pre-existing lung or heart disease, as well as elderly people and children, are particularly vulnerable.

According to WHO report, it is estimated that approximately 3% of cardiopulmonary and 5% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to PM globally. Exposure to PM 2.5 reduces the life expectancy of the population of the region by about 8.6 months on an average.

PM causes inflammation of lung tissue resulting in the release of chemicals that can impact heart function, change the blood chemistry that can result in clots that may lead to heart attacks and can increase susceptibility to viral and bacterial pathogens leading to pneumonia in vulnerable persons who are unable to clear these infections.

Besides lung problems, PM has a detrimental effect on the eyes. There is a spectrum of symptoms occurring due to air pollution ranging from simple irritation, redness and burning to severe allergy, cataract and even cancer.

Besides the health effects, PM has many environmental effects too. Fine particles (PM2.5) are the main causes of reduced visibility (haze). Particles can be carried over long distances by wind and then settle on the ground or water. Reduced visibility may cause planes to crash.

A regional effect of PM on ecosystems is linked to climate change. Global warming and acid rain are also common problems of air pollution.

The sky of Kathmandu valley is hazy even in the day time. I think Kathmandu is a place for the experimentation of all sorts of developmental works. No task is performed here with pre-planning. The roads are devastated in the name of different works; sometimes for extension, sometimes for pipeline supply and sometimes for waste management.

These sorts of developmental works are degrading the quality of the environment day by day and the health of individuals as a whole. Development is inevitable but protective methods should be followed.

There are many long-term ways to minimise the effect caused by the particulate matter; but the immediate preventive way includes using of masks and goggles and covering body parts as much as we can so that direct exposure to pollutants can be minimised.

But still there is no guarantee that the masks we are using are working or not. Preventive methods are to be followed sincerely otherwise we will be victims of several diseases. The Government has recently banned vehicles which more than twenty years old.

This initiative can be taken as positive but not enough to prevent the alarming rate of pollution. Let’s make Kathmandu healthy again and make the saying ‘Kathmandu SaharaHerdaLagdachhaRahara’ alive.

Lamsal is Graduate Researcher at Central Department of Biotechnology

A version of this article appears in print on April 21, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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