Rising pollution: Threat to human health

In Nepal health hazards such as respiratory dysfunction, kidney failure, bronchitis, eye irritation, allergies have increased in a rapid manner compared to the past

Environmental contamination is now among the top global killers responsible for one in six deaths worldwide. A very weak monitoring system regarding the quality of food, water and air in Nepal is facilitating this severe problem. This has unknowingly taken lives of many people. This is not only our national problem; it is a global hitch too.

Nine million people died prematurely from pollution related diseases in 2015, accounting for 16% of all deaths worldwide. Almost all of the pollution related deaths are happening in poor and developing countries which cost the world an estimated $4.6 trillion a year. It’s obvious to everyone that our country is experiencing the disproportional pollution especially in the urban cities.  This pollution has resulted from the fossils fuel combustion mostly. Globally, fuel combustion of all kinds accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution.

Almost all pollution is caused due to oxides of sulphur and nitrogen. Overcrowding of cities like Kathmandu, Biratnagar, and others makes the situation in the country much worse. People living in the urban cities  face day to day hurdles due to inconvenience of the transportation and the resulting air pollution from extensive dependency upon  fuel combustion. Similarly in the rural areas inefficient cooking stoves, dependency upon firewood, slash and burn agriculture contributes to polluted air. At present many scientists correlate the increasing pollution to the changing climates since the increase in the greenhouse gases has escalated the incidence of  pollution in the world. Cities are responsible for 75% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of the urbanites worldwide are breathing air that doesn’t meet WHO air quality standards.

In Nepal too incidence of the health hazards such as respiratory dysfunction, kidney failure, bronchitis, eye irritation, allergies have increased in a rapid manner compared to the past. Air pollution plays a role similar to slow poison as it gradually damages the vital organs of the human body. Poor people die earlier as they have little access to advanced treatment in hospitals.

According to a report released by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, pollution is more deadly than smoking, kills nearly 15 times more people than all the world’s wars and violence combined, and is three times as deadly as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Thus, pollution is more dangerous to people than heart disease, the number one leading cause of death worldwide.

In Nepal till now altogether twelve air quality monitors (AQMs) have been installed in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, Rupendehi, Kavre and Lalitpur. But these are not enough and the country needs to install these stations at other major cities throughout the country. Government of Nepal (GON) provides its own air quality data.  People should get acquainted with the air quality index (AQI) which is valuable since it gives knowledge about the hazard level and prevention to be taken to escape the hazardous effects of the air pollution.

Air quality index are generally in five categories. When air quality index is between 0-50 it’s good and safe to be outside for any kind of work. The next value of air quality index from 51-100 represent moderate quality of air, 101-150 means unhealthy for sensitive groups of people, 151-200 means unhealthy to everyone, 201-300 means very unhealthy and finally 300-500 represents hazardous level of air pollution.

These values if displayed in  public places and the media will become very useful for the general people, patients of the asthma, heart or lung diseases, older people, and others concerned. So, hopefully, the government will soon take action for its easy availability and accessibility to the general people who have no skill to use ICTs.

Thus, pollution in air should be checked on a regular basis. Incorporating the air pollution assessing devices (sensor based) within the traffic system in the highways to monitor the daily pollution can be the most innovative technique to supervise the air quality parameter. The air pollution monitoring station is not only the solution; people should be made easily accessible to the air pollution marks.

In some cities of the country, improper sanitation, drainage system of the waste water from the household purpose, hospitals, hotels, and other human intervention in the water resources have affected the quality of the water. During an excursion to the city of the Ram Janaki temple I encountered dumping sites in front of the hotels, in the middle of the roads, near the market areas and even inside the walls and on the floor of the Ram Janaki mandir.

Though Ram Janaki mandir is historically known for its magnificent holiness  now the waste around the temple and cities makes the heritage sites susceptible to the danger of losing its value due to its improper management. Government must focus on this mismanaged situation and there is urgent need to develop some sound strategic plan to conserve the heritage sites, otherwise their charm will become fainter.

Urban settlement should be scientifically proven and based on the sustainable approaches so that in the near future it may not become useless. Government should establish a separate body to monitor and evaluate the environment related issues in the country. The work division among the concerned authorities must be well divided. Research and innovation are of utmost importance to curb the escalating pollution in the country.