Kathmandu faring no better as Delhi chokes

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Nov 9, 2016-

New Delhi, the Indian capital, choking on smog became a headline worldwide this week, with the Indian government declaring Delhi air pollution an emergency situation.

The authorities announced plans to shut construction sites and a coal-fired power station and schools were closed as harmful pollutants reached level more than 16 times safe limit.

The Indian capital swiftly earned the title of the world’s most polluted city.

But how clean is the air the Kathmanduites are breathing in?

Kathmandu is not faring any better when it comes to toxic pollutants including coarse dust particles and total suspended particles (TSPs) in the city, with the level crossing the safer limits in recent days.

Data from the city’s only air quality monitoring station installed at Ratnapark measured the concentration of PM 2.5 and TSPs—two key particulate air pollutants threatening public health—at 53 microgram per cubic metre and 286 micrograms per cubic metre respectively in the last 24 hours.

Both the measurements are above the safer limit set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standard 2012. The safer limit for PM 2.5 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre while for TSPs, it is 230 micrograms per cubic meter.

“The concentration of harmful pollutants is rising recently with the increase in vehicular movement after the Dashain and Tihar festivals. The dry weather condition after the withdrawal of the rainy season is also a factor for deteriorating air quality in Kathmandu,” said Narayan Timilsina, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Population and Environment. The air quality will continue to deteriorate in Kathmandu with the onset of winter.

A host of issues ranging from agriculture burning to waste burnings, brick kilns, and emissions from engines and road dust suspended by movements of vehicles and under-construction works, and Valley’s bowl-shaped terrain exacerbate the air pollution problem during the dry season.

According to experts, though the impact of air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic Plains, including Delhi does not have an immediate threat to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution, it does impact southern Nepal where smog-filled mornings are experienced in winter every year.

“Delhi’s air pollution is not an urgent threat to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution. The Valley has its own dominant local sources, which contribute heavily to degradation of air quality. It however should be considered as a wake-up call for Kathmandu Valley and immediate measures must be taken to improve Valley’s air quality,” said Maheswar Rupakheti, group leader at the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) based in Germany.

According to him, local emissions from the transport sector are major contributor to air pollution. Besides, brick factories and open burning of garden waste and municipal waste also make the city’s air polluted.

The bowl-shaped geographical setting of the Valley is not helping either.

“There might be some contribution of trans-boundary air pollution to air quality in the Kathmandu Valley but it is expected to be minimal. This is still a matter of academic research,” Rupakheti added.

Arnico Panday, senior atmospheric scientist with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said a severe haze episode over Kathmandu was traced in mid-November last year was due to agricultural fires in Punjab.

“Kathmandu is affected by pollution originating within the valley, elsewhere in Nepal and across the border.  In addition to the local sources, cooking with firewood and other solid fuel in rural Nepal and India is also a significant source of regional air pollution,” he added. 

The Department of Environment (DoEnv) has decided to call a meeting of the stakeholders to discuss measures to mitigate air pollution.

Published: 09-11-2016 08:47

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