Nepali Times
Fuming about fumes



Right now, forget the wild, careering micro that almost knocked you off your bike and the steaming traffic jams that make a mockery of the idea of being in an 'automobile' (yes, you're 'on the road', and that's just where you'll stay). Let's just tease out one strand from the snarl of issues that bedevil the simple act of moving from one part of the Kathmandu Valley to another.

Namely, the traffic here sickens me. Literally. In the weeks since I stopped wearing a mask while riding my bicycle, the frequency of my sniffles and sneezes has increased to the extent that it's occurred to me ‚Ä" could the billowing clouds of black smoke I breathe in every morning and evening possibly be clogging up my respiratory system?

My unscientific hunch is yes, hell yes. Scientifically speaking, a 2010 report from the Health Effects Institute concludes that there is a 'causal relationship between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and exacerbation of asthma' and 'suggestive evidence of a causal relationship with onset of childhood asthma, nonasthma respiratory symptoms, impaired lung function, total and cardiovascular mortality, and cardiovascular morbidity'. Traffic pollution has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths every year across Europe, with The Lancet estimating that six per cent of deaths a year in Austria, France and Switzerland are due to air pollution. Half these deaths ‚Ä" some 20,000 ‚Ä" were linked to traffic fumes.

But you know all this already, dear readers. If some of you are deprived of the pleasure of walking, cycling or biking through the streets, and are lucky enough to be sealed into air-conditioned compartments as you traverse the city, at least you can see what's going on here when exhaust obscures your view. And at this point I'd request you to answer this question: does your steel chariot make the grade? In other words, are you one of those villians contributing to my slow, agonising, inevitably premature demise?

Perhaps you smile, thinking of the cute green sticker on the left of the windscreen that indicates the vehicle has passed an emissions test. But think again. How did you get hold of it? If you don't know, ask your driver. Can you say for sure that your vehicle passed the test, and, upon payment of a token fee of Rs 35, was awarded its ticket to the highway? Or, as is quite possible, did your vehicle fail the test, but still came away with a green sticker courtesy of a bribe of Rs 500-1000, thus avoiding the hassle of a visit to the mechanic's? If Madhav Nepal and his ministers can go around without stickers, can you really take the trouble?

Yes you can. If the traffic policeman who gives your smoking hot ride the green light can be a criminal, if the civil servant who issues you the sticker can be a criminal, so can you. Judging by the exhaust fumes of not just trucks and micros but schoolbuses, army jeeps, private sedans and donor SUVs, there's a whole lotta shaking down going on. Consider it a minor absurdity that my publisher's electric Reva got stopped by a copper demanding to see its green emission sticker last year.

So please, please, if only to avoid the curses of an entire ward of emphysema patients in the not too distant future, could you confirm you really deserve the sticker you bear? And the next time you get it renewed, can you actually get your car tested for an actually deserved sticker? You may be saving time and losing money to grease the palms of a few pathetic government employees, but the health costs to you and everyone you know may be a little higher than you realise.

PS: The standard issue masks (Rs 100) barely do any good, Saleway's plastic masks (Rs 400) are better, but with no replacement filters, too expensive. Holding my breath through the worst of the fumebursts can't be sustained ‚Ä" so I'll thank any recommendations (except staying at home) from the bottom of my beleaguered lungs.

Mind your carbon footprint, PAAVAN MATHEMA

1. Slarti
Do what I do. Leave for work at 6:30 in the morning. This has two great advantages, you get to see the world at its prettiest (if you have not seen the world at 5:30ish in the morning you ain't seen nothing yet). Secondly, its good for your respiratory system.

2. G60Lama
The situation affirms an old Nepali adage "Sabai jogi kasle dine baar", we're all in need of some kind of recommendations..... 

3. Sabina
well mr. editor, you could migrate to godavari...! the roads there early morning are virtually empty and you will still get to cycle down to hattiban! 

4. Arthur
Ok, so you've noticed that the corrupt system in Nepal is killing even the better off KTM residents.

Obviously this cannot be solved by appealing to people well off enough to own vehicles to voluntarily pay more for expensive fixes to their cars instead of bribing the authorities. After all they mainly live off corruption themselves so asking them not to support the corruption that is killing them is simply futile.

This is so obvious that one has to wonder why the author even bothers to pretend his idea could make a difference.

I think it is because the only plausible alternative is so unappealing. Actually enforcing a new system that could end the corruption would require learning how to make honest living from useful work.

Far better to implore others to be less corrupt while being slowly killed by the results of that corruption!

5. Subedi
Virtually all vehicles will fail this test, regardless of what condition their engines are in as fuel in Nepal is so often diluted with water, kerosene, etc etc. This means that it doesn't burn properly. How about going after NOC and the corrupt officials who pocket the money from doing fuel quality tests?

6. R RAI

Why people of the valley are accepting premature death ? while awiting death why are they accepting the disgusting air pollution and the deafening noise so passively? Why? It is not only bad for your physical health but makes you irritable and leaves you miserable as well.

Lead in petrol is damaging our children's growing brain.Yet people are  watching passively.

I would rather live in Dhulikhel or Bandipur if I could.

Politicians are not bothered.We can not import  prime minister from Singapore! Former IGP D B Lama tried but failed to get rid of old vehicles from valley many years ago.So what to do?

We need activists,and writers like Rabi.

7. DG
The Green Sticker is a Laughing Stock of the Century.
We are seeing vehicles moving in the roads of Kathmandu  emitting  stacks of  black smoke with our naked eyes. We the citizens are not raising our voice against this atrocity ;how can these vehicle pass the test for getting the socalled green sticker? This test is imposed to the vehicle owners just to fill the coffer of the ruling class, the traffic  police and their bosses. This is a source of colossus corruption,where you pay for getting the sticker, otherwise you won't get it.
Isn't it better to abolish this burden to the people? 
Either we have genuine test for certification of vehicles or better not have this practice of certification.  it is a source of corruption and nothing else.
 This is an example to project us as a nation of hypocrites.
A time will soon come when hailstorms and brim-stones will fall on this nation of Sodom and Gomorrah.

8. Brad
Great article.

The quality of the exhaust is certainly a problem.

 Equally, or perhaps more important, is the quantity of exhaust. There are simply too many vehicles in the valley. Further, many of these are not fuel efficient which means more exhaust per traveler.

We need policy which will reduce the number of vehicles on the road, and make them more efficient.

Most individuals and organizations (especially foreign NGOs) do not need landcruisers and other gas. Tax them as t a much higher rate and use the $ to improve roads and improve public transport. Conversely, lower taxes on fuel efficient vehicles.

Further, we need better public transport. The crowded conditions on existing buses are not conducive to the average person using them. Foreign NGOs actually warn their staff not to use public transport due to the risk of TB transmission.

9. jange
8. Brad

"The quality of the exhaust is certainly a problem."

Thanks. Never quite thought of it in those terms.

10. Sargam
Most people carry guilt with them for being materialistic. Seeing this picture of jam-packed Kathmandu traffic I couldn't remain more pejorative than I am in reality.

My viewpoints could be rather empirical, that means, based on experience and observations. I could notice that the great cities like London, Paris, Rome, Berlin etc. could come to terms with such difficulties of the urban life by restricting the entry of the vehicles coming in from the suburbs  and making the owners of polluting vehicles to pay huge taxes if they violate the law.

Meanwhile, the city mayor could spend this tax in amelioration of city fluidity by making one way traffic if the streets are too narrow. Also, he can make some parking places payable so as to butt out those who are unwanted in downtown area.

Why those roads ain't consisting of four lanes divided by a yellow line in the middle? There should be some traffic controllers with the help of flicking lights or just red, green or yellow ones.

All seems so  unmatched in scope and magnitude without any organization.

Better not to continue to nurse our sense of victimhood!?!

11. pokch
you should check out , their masks is scientifically tested to reduce pollution by 135 folds. Certainly more effective than those Rs100 or Rs400 cheap masks.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)