Quest for clean city

When I came to Germany as a researcher in air quality and climate change, I noticed a stark difference in my immune system. Back in Nepal – in the capital Kathmandu – I used to suffer from common cold almost every month. But I have not caught a cold since I came to Germany. This change is due to the environment I am exposed to.

Here in Germany, I see people walking, cycling and using the improved public transport system. In Kathmandu, walking is a tough affair. One cannot walk on the streets without wearing a mask, as dust and pollution will overwhelm you as soon as you step out of the house. But I can feel the freedom of walking, the freedom from the mask, the freedom from frequent respiratory diseases, the freedom to breath and the freedom of movement.

Mobility is an important part of life. But in our country, it looks like we don’t have freedom of movement. Why am I so scared to walk along the footpaths which are full of obstacle or potholes? Why do I feel insecure when I take a public transport? Why do I have to think twice to ride a bicycle to reach the destination? Why is the city so polluted? Where is our fundamental right to live in a clean environment?

Kathmandu has become a congested and polluted city. We were at the bottom in terms of air quality in the Global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) by Yale University in 2018 – we were ranked 180th among the 180 countries included in the study. Isn’t it upsetting that 215.6 in every 100,000 people of Nepal die due to air pollution (State of Global Air, 2018).

In such a scenario, effective environmental regulations, immediate action for proper management and reduction of pollution are what we immediately need. Simple infrastructure for walking and cycling can be a boon for the city.

There is something wrong with the way we are defining “development”. We talk about big infrastructure projects when we talk about development.

We need footpaths to walk, designated lanes for cycles and open spaces to ensure that we have a clean and safe environment – for us and our future generations.

Studies have shown that among many others, vehicles are the major source of air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley.

It is high time the government came up with some immediate measures to address these issues. That apart, we also need to work at the individual level to keep our cities clean.