Clean air free of particulate matter is not only good for our health but also for the economy
Smoking is injurious to health, but that has not deterred Nepali men from indulging in it. And Nepali women in the rural areas are just as likely to enjoy a puff. According to Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2016, 27 per cent of Nepali males and six per cent of females smoke. Add to this outdoor and indoor pollution, dust and biomass fuels for cooking and heating, and you have a perfect recipe for lung damage, leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the most prevalent non-communicable disease among the Nepalis today. According to a recent survey conducted by Nepal Health Research Council, the prevalence of COPD was slightly higher among men than in women – at 12.6 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. While smoking, including passive exposure, is the primary cause, non-smoking women are just as prone to COPD because they spend a lot of time in poorly ventilated kitchens that are heavy with smoke from the burning of biomass fuels, namely firewood, straw and dung patties, in traditional cook stoves.
The symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, especially during physical activity, wheezing, chest tightness and having to clear your throat first thing in the morning due to excess mucus in your lungs. COPD can cause many complications if not treated in time. They range from respiratory infection – with patients becoming susceptible to colds, flu and pneumonia, making breathing difficult – to heart problem, lung cancer, high blood pressure and depression. COPD is particularly worrisome because of the dust and poor air quality in Nepal’s cities, especially Kathmandu. The capital,with its heavy construction taking place everywhere, has failed to improve the quality of its air, and has become one of the most polluted cities in the world. As the Kathmandu Valley is bowl-shaped, in winter, the highly-polluted air gets trapped and descends on the city, swelling the number of patients suffering from respiratory diseases, especially children. The burden of COPD will only keep increasing if the country doesn’t take effective measures to improve the situation.
Can CODP be prevented? Quite unlike other diseases, doctors say it can be. The first suggestion is to quit smoking. This is difficult for those who have tried and failed. But if one keeps trying, there is no reason why they cannot. They can take recourse to programmes being run by individuals and organisations that help people to quit smoking with excellent results. In the countryside, improved cook stoves can cut down on the amount of smoke being generated in the kitchen. Biogas plants are a success story with more than 750,000 already installed across the country. The focus of such measures should now be on provinces like Karnali, where the COPD prevalence rate is high, at 25 per cent. As for controlling the dust and air pollution in the cities, this will require great political will. Clean air free of particulate matter is not only good for our health but also for the economy. If only Kathmandu’s air were to be cleaner, many more tourists would be visiting this country. The onus of keeping our cities clean and healthy lies as much on the citizens as on the government.
he economy Create jobs within The policies and programmes of the government have envisaged providing job opportunities within the country by creating a conducive environment for more investment in the productive sectors. However, the secretariat of the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB), under the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, aims at giving free vocational training to aspirant migrant workers. FEPB has already selected 15 private firms to train the migrant workers under 19 different categories. Altogether, 15,000 individuals will be provided vocational skills for free during this fiscal. The government has allocated Rs 2.5 million to provide such trainings to them. What about the other youths who want to start their own business within the country? No doubt, the skilled youths will get better salary and benefits compared to the unskilled ones abroad. The government should focus more on creating jobs in the country by imparting them with life skills. Nobody can start an enterprise simply by receiving trainings for three to four months. We need to set up at least one polytechnic institute in each of the provinces so that they can receive vocational training and start their own enterprises within their
A version of this article appears in print on November 25, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.