The Melamchi project can at least carry out temporary black topping of the busy areas and spray water to minimise dust
Dust is killing many denizens of Kathmandu Valley. Already a polluted valley, digging of roads to lay water pipelines for the Melamchi Drinking Water Project (MDWP) has aggravated the situation causing respiratory problems like bronchitis and asthma and chest pain, especially to commuters and those residing close to the roads.
The MDWP did not come up with an appropriate plan to minimise this public health hazard well before digging around 1000-km long water pipelines to distribute drinking water throughout the valley, which has been facing shortages of drinking water even during the rainy season.
Digging roads for laying water pipelines is not only the cause of dust and environmental pollution, carbon emissions from old vehicles, brick kilns located close to settlements, heavy concentration of population and mismanagement of garbage are also responsible for the sorry state of affairs.
Air quality of the valley will not improve unless some drastic measures are taken to control dust, smoke and pollution, the three major sources of health problems.
After repeated public complaints, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has sought Rs. 300 million from the Finance Ministry to procure dust-minimising equipment and tree-planting machines to make the city dust free. The KMC has started procuring the required equipment that is used in major cities to clean the streets. But the Finance Ministry has agreed to provide only Rs 200 million immediately.
The KMC has a plan to purchase five road broomers, two tree-planting machines and five water tankers to press them into service. But it will take around six months to complete the bidding and purchasing processes. A similar action was also unveiled last year, but it never materialized due to the laxity of the concerned authorities.
The practice of garbage collection is also causing hardship to the people who want this job to be done before dawn.
It may be recalled that the parliamentary Environment Protection Committee had also instructed the Melamchi Water Supply Project to spray water in areas where pipelines are being laid and take other necessary measures to control dust.
The project should not have waited for long to receive any parliamentary instruction to do such a simple job as everybody knows that dust particles cause serious health problems. The Project Implementation Directorate has claimed that it has adopted the best practices to control dust. But its action has not yielded any desired result.
It should have given specific guidelines to the concerned contractor before they started digging trenches. The contractors have been negligent in clearing debris after backfilling the trenches. The Melamchi Project has said that it cannot fully blacktop the areas dug to lay the pipelines until leakage is tested after test-supplying water into the pipes.
However, the project can at least carry out temporary black topping of the busy areas and spray water to minimise dust. The Melamchi Water Project should have learnt lessons from other countries where such works have been carried out and taken the measures to control dust and mud in the dry and rainy seasons.
The concerned consultant which has been supervising the project must have strictly instructed the contractors to control dust and remove debris from the roadsides.
It is not surprising that life threatening cholera cases have been on the rise for the past three years in urban areas. As per figures provided by the National Public Health Laboratory, 24 cholera cases were detected since 30 June of 2016. During that period six cases were reported in Kathmandu and 18 in Lalitpur districts.
It is evident that among the reasons for this increase are the poor sanitation and a rapid rise in the population of the valley exacerbated by the perennial shortage of safe drinking water. Every year water and sanitation infrastructure take a battering particularly during the monsoon.
Cholera is mostly found in urban areas, and the country is at high risk of facing a severe epidemic of this disease if timely remedial measures are not taken.
Since contamination of drinking water is one of the major causes of cholera outbreaks it is urgent to supply the valley residents with adequate safe drinking water as well as by encouraging hygienic practices.
The summer and rainy seasons are approaching, with greater risk of cholera outbreaks.
A version of this article appears in print on April 12, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.
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