Nepali Times
Lost in the smog



It seems there are few things the government cares more about than climate change. Last year, it caught the world's attention when it held the highest ever cabinet meeting at Everest Base Camp, and has since been asked to lead an alliance of mountainous countries lobbying against climate change. Yet it has turned a blind eye to pollution problems closer at hand, in Kathmandu.

The average PM 10 count concentration in Kathmandu, a measure of the particulate matter content in the air, was 183 ug/m3 in 2003 and 173 ug/m3 in 2007, both far above the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 100 ug/m3. The World Health Organization's standard is 50 ug/m3.

But there is no data for 2009 as the air quality monitoring project in Kathmandu, started in 2002 with the assistance of DANIDA, has effectively been discontinued. Ambience monitoring machines were placed in seven different locations in the valley to measure PM levels. DANIDA covered 70 per cent of costs during the first year under the condition that the government would take over full financial responsibility in three years. However, the government hasn't kept up its end of the bargain and the monitoring machines have not been operational since 2007.

The government has set aside Rs 2.5 million to install two machines that may still work if repaired but hasn't moved ahead with the installation. It has approached Kathmandu Sustainable Urban Transport (KUST), an Asian Development Bank project to improve the city's traffic, for technical support and solar power back-up.

The government isn't totally to blame. The machines must run for at least 16 hours to obtain valid PM counts, which is difficult under load-shedding conditions. However, the cost of back-up power isn't beyond the government's means. "We don't need donors to reinstall them but the focus of environmental issues now is on climate change," admits an official at the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology.

In the absence of PM 10 readings, other indicators suggest Kathmandu's air pollution may be getting worse. The number of patients suffering respiratory problems in some of Kathmandu's hospitals has risen over the last couple of years. RP Mainali of Norvic Hospital says, "About 300,000 people have come to Norvic seeking treatment for respiratory problems over the last four years, which is a massive increase. Growing air pollution is one important reason why."

Aside from disorganised urbanisation and the garbage problem, traffic exhaust and brick kilns are major contributors to air pollution in the capital. The geographic structure of the valley is such that a dense low layer of smog is formed, trapping all dust particles in the atmosphere during winter.

Government regulation has not been effective in controlling air pollution. Vehicle Emission Standards (VES), first endorsed in 1995, are routinely violated. Last month, the Prime Minister's vehicle was spotted being driven into Singh Darbar, leaving behind a jet of black smoke, without a green sticker signifying that it had met VES. When the media reported this, people from the Department of Transport Management immediately pasted a green sticker on the windshield of the PM's car.

The government also phased out diesel three-wheeler Vikram tempos from Kathmandu and legislated a ten per cent additional tax per year on vehicles older than 15 years, but only after failing to ban the use of vehicles older than 20 years. Bhusan Tuladhar, executive director at the Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) says removing old vehicles from Kathmandu alone could reduce pollution by 20 per cent.

There are no new programs to improve air quality because of a lack of resources. However, the private sector could help the government in formulating policies and plans. "We can help the government to improve the environment, in fact we have plans ready," says Tuladhar, "All we need is cabinet endorsement and implementation."

Troubled waters- FROM ISSUE #500 (30 APRIL 2010 - 06 MAY 2010)

1. Dinesh

I would like to point out that not only air quality is deteriorating but the quality of ground water and surface water in Kathmandu Valley is also worsening. Good water and air is essential to keep the residents of Kathmandu healthy and wise. Today the city has become over congested and the resources available within its boundaries cannot sustain the population. Imagine a situation where the ground water of the valley is depleted. If that happens the city will be dead as the city cannot thrive without water. The planners should realize and complete Melamchi Water Supply Project as the earliest declaring the project as an emergency and fast tract project. If not the city will be dead soon. In addition to the Government should find another source of water for the exploding population. Money or financing water project should not pose any problems since the residents are ready to pay a premium amount for water. What I suggest is that the responsibility of managing water supply should be allocated to the three municipalies of the valley. From the property taxes raised these cities can fund the project and its management. Let me recall that every house in Kathmandu has already invested more than tens of thousands of rupees in terms of digging wells, buying storage tanks, and many others. If water supply can be delivered in quality and quantity the people are ready to bear the cost of operation and maintenance as well as the capital cost recovery.

2. Santosh Tamang
Forget of the illiterate Nepalese, majority of the government elites lacks true civic sense, may be they are not taught with the lessons of civic science in their schools. This you can imagine how everyone litters everywhere during big concerts and shows in the city, one can pee and pooh at any place hide able. Emission controls office of traffic police sells the green sticker, starting from Rs. 500.00 and above, as if they don't have to breadth in the polluted air. One can easily see green stickers on the buses, mini buses and trucks which emits black smokes.

In Nepal every controlling points become their bribing points, so who really cares about the environment of Nepal?


3. R RAI

I have not seen or heard Nepal banda for the pollution control, better water supply, artificially inflated prices, women traficking etc.

I wish we had some honest and passionate activists for the above issues. I have no hope from our shameless politicians.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)