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?
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