Action is required before Capital city’s air pollution crisis becomes the new capital punishment
The Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers on Wednesday held discussions with experts, representatives from government and non-government organisations, the private sector and mediapersons on ways to reduce air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley. This is, however, not the first such discussion held by the government “to tackle” rising air pollution in the Capital. Unfortunately, such meetings have failed to yield any positive results. Earlier in mid-November, the government formed a rapid task force to control air pollution in Kathmandu. The move was taken after air quality index started shooting up well above 120 micrograms per cubic metres, which is the National Ambient Air Quality Standard prescribed by the government. The World Health Organisation considers air unsafe when average exposure to fine particulate matters (PM 10 and PM 2.5) exceeds 10 micrograms per cubic metres. Air pollution levels in Kathmandu drastically rise during winter and in the morning.
The Capital city is choking under pollution, largely due to unplanned urbanisation, rise in number of vehicles, old and unmaintained vehicles plying the roads, road-widening drives that are taking ages to complete and pipe-laying works for drinking water project(s) among others. Air pollution, however, is not only Kathmandu’s problem. Major cities across the world are struggling to contain rising air pollution. Beijing and New Delhi are two major cities of our neighbouring countries where rising pollution levels have become a major cause of concern. Kathmandu was ranked fifth in Pollution Index 2017 by Numbeo.com, which maintains the database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide, providing information on pollution among others.
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Environment 10 years ago, Valley’s transport system was the main reason behind increasing air pollution. The study showed that vehicles contributed to around 38 percent for air pollution, while road dust was responsible for around 25 per cent. Agro residues and brick kilns were to blame for around 11 per cent of pollution. Various cities across the world have resorted to several means to reduce air pollution. European cities are pushing for use of bicycles while others are campaigning for reducing the number of cars by adding convenient and large public transportation system. In Nepal, the government has failed to come up with specific plans and programmes to control air pollution to make the Valley a cleaner place to live and breathe in. Unless there are specific plans and policies, discussions and meetings will never give the city denizens a respite from rising air pollution. One of the first things the authorities can do is adding greenery and green spaces.
Effectively implementing the ban on vehicles more than 20 years old could also help in reducing air pollution. Development of cycle lanes is still limited to papers only. Focus must be shifted to bicycle use.
Last but not the least, the ongoing road-widening drives must be completed as soon as possible. The government must try to find sustainable solutions rather than holding meetings and promising different measures. It’s high time the government started walking the talk. Action is required before Kathmandu’s pollution crisis becomes the new capital punishment.
Abide by rules
UNESCO has clearly said that it does not allow any kind of new construction in and around the World Heritage Sites. The world body has also said it is the responsibility of the concerned authorities — Kathmandu Metropolitan City and the Department of Archaeology (DoA) — to make sure that no construction is carried out in and around the World Heritage Sites. UNESCO country office issued a statement in response to reports that it allowed construction of a commercial complex near the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, one of the five World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
UNESCO officials inspected the site where the four-storey commercial building was being built and they found that the location was outside the premises of the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square. The owner seemed to have obtained legal permission from the concerned authorities. However, the owner of the commercial complex must depict Nepal’s traditional and cultural heritages on its façade, matching with the archeological texture of the Durbar Square. The KMC and DoA should also constantly monitor to ensure that the owner has abided by the rules.
A version of this article appears in print on January 12, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.