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Understanding air pollution

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

One of the biggest ever gathering of Nepal’s atmospheric scientists and policy makers in Kathmandu this week has concluded that air pollution is no longer a local phenomenon and regional collaboration is required for systematic atmospheric research.

Recent global assessments and local studies indicate that air pollution is linked to several thousand premature deaths and a substantial amount of crop loss in Nepal each year. Nepali scientists and policy makers emphasised on giving continuity to more solution oriented studies that will help formulate mitigation policies.

The meeting, organised by the Kathmandu based ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) and IASS (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies), Germany shed light on how far atmospheric research had come in Nepal since its beginning in 1960s and what needed to be done to understand the science of air pollution.

“Awareness and technical know-how is inadequate to bridge the gap between formulation and implementation of policy,” said Som Lal Shrestha, Secretary of Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, “unless the technology is customised for local use it will not be accessible.”

Researchers discussed ongoing research about emissions, air quality, smog and winter fog in Terai. They also looked at how aerosol pollutants affect monsoon clouds and rainfall, and how convective clouds in the monsoon transport pollutants to high altitudes where they have an impact on global climate. Researchers also discussed the complex role that black carbon and dust particles are playing in increased glacier and snow melt at high altitudes in the Himalaya. “ Air pollution is a trans-boundary issue so regional collaboration will help us better understand the cause of air pollution and its consequence in our surrounding,” said Arnico Panday, lead atmospheric scientist at ICIMOD.

‘Reducing impacts of black carbon and other short-lived climate forcing agent’ led by ICIMOD and ‘Sustainable Atmosphere for the Kathmandu Valley led by IASS are two new initiatives in the region aimed at creating country/region specific scientific knowledge base for local and international studies regarding air pollution.

“Nepal’s atmospheric research will leapfrog only when the quality of data and continuity if existing studies improve,” said Balkrishna Sapkota of Institute of Engineering.

Several researchers highlighted the effects of seasonal biomass burning in relation to impacts on health as well as the photochemistry of the atmosphere. The trend of open crop residue burning is on the rise in South Asia as the traditional method of tilling paddy stock back into the field is being replaced because of rising labour costs and the limited time available before the next crop of wheat must be sown. Several presenters also highlighted the link between changing land cover – a result of urbanisation – and changes in emissions and meteorology, including surface temperature, and changing ozone levels, which have implications for air quality, health, and crop productivity.

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