The govt might have to take bold steps such as stopping vehicular movement and shutting down industries until the air clears

The thick smog blanketing the Kathmandu Valley has pushed air quality to hazardous levels, which should prod the authorities to do something to protect the health of the people. A PM 2.5 concentration of 35 micrograms per cubic metre is considered unhealthy, but on Monday, Kathmandu recorded a concentration of the fine particulate matter many times that number at different places. And hazardous air pollution is not limited to the Kathmandu Valley. On Monday, Dhangadhi had the worst air quality in the country, followed by Bharatpur and Bhainsepati in Lalitpur. With a thick haze blanketing Kathmandu since the past few weeks, the capital has become the most polluted city in the world, beating even Myanmar's Yangoon, Chiang Mai of Thailand, South Africa's Johannesberg and Mumbai of India. Visibility is also down and could affect flights as it did in the recent past. It is unlikely that the smog will clear anytime soon unless there is heavy rain or strong westerly winds inside the valley. The air pollution in Kathmandu had come down last week, following rains in the central and eastern part of the country on Wednesday, but the haze is back since Sunday.

With the heavy smog hanging above the Kathmandu Valley, its denizens, especially children and oldage people, are beginning to complain about eye, nose and throat irritation, cough and breathing difficulties.

The smog has blocked the sunlight, and the weather has become chilly at a time when it should have been sunny and warm. Because of the bowl shape of the Kathmandu Valley, the decreased temperature tends to trap the cold air with the fine pollutants not only sinking to the lower level but also staying there for a while. This is what we breathe in when going outdoors, causing respiratory problems and even heart attacks. While Kathmandu's air pollution has always been unflattering, largely caused by vehicular and industrial emissions, this year's smog has been particularly bad because of the wildfires raging at more than 700 forested areas in the country. With little or no rain falling this winter, the authorities have had limited success in snuffing out the forest fires. The air inside the valley has also remained stagnant with no winds blowing its way.

Because of the extremely unhealthy air, health authorities have asked the people to stay indoors and shun outdoor activities, such as morning walks and exercises. The air is particularly harmful for those suffering from chronic diseases. Since we are also in the midst of another coronavirus wave, it would be wise to wear a mask at all times to keep away both the virus and the air pollutants. Last week, following the deteriorating air quality and haze, the government had ordered the closure of schools across the country, although they have opened from this week.

Should the haze continue to blanket the valley, it might be necessary for the government to take some extreme steps such as stopping vehicular movement altogether and shutting down industries until the air clears. During the lockdown period, people were able to breathe fresh air for the first time in decades after vehicles were swept off the streets. People's health should be the concern of the government.

ICT awards

The government's decision to distribute information and communications technology (ICT) awards to individuals and organisations working in or contributing to the ICT sector is a welcome move.

Nepali individuals and organisations are also making great strides in the field of ICT, which has also generated job opportunities for thousands of youths engaged in this field that is applicable everywhere. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is implementing Digital Nepal Framework to promote it as an industry.

Every year, the government marks ICT Day on May 2. The awards will be distributed to the promising candidates on that day. The awards will be distributed in five different categories: National ICT Excellence Award-2021, National ICT Innovation Award-2021, National ICT Award-2021 (Public Sector), National ICT Award-2021 (Private Sector) and National ICT Excellence Award-2021 (Woman). Interested individuals and organisations can apply for the awards via the ministry's website by April 17. Besides, the government should also provide financial assistance at low interest rate to those who want to make innovations and conduct research in ICT.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 7, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.