Public concerns to save environment ‘missing’

- PRAGATI SHAHI, Kathmandu

Jun 4, 2014-

Though several studies point out that people in Kathmandu valley are compelled to live in a much polluted environment, effective measures have not been initiated to root out the malaise.

Experts say the government’s cavalier attitude towards the pressing environmental problems stem from the fact that the citizens have become inured to the conditions they live in.

The latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranking puts Nepal’s air quality at 177th out of 178 countries in 2014 while the Asian Development Bank had in 2011 concluded that Kathmandu Valley is fast transforming itself into one of the least livable cities in the world given the growing environmental crisis it faces due to unplanned urbanisation, lack of control and remedial measures to improve air quality and rapid degradation and encroachment of open spaces.

Similarly, an ongoing study on air quality status of Kathmandu by Anobha Gurung, a doctoral candidate at Yale University, found that during traffic congestion, the level of small particulate matter can measure over 500 micrograms per cubic meter, which is 20 times the World Health Organisation’s safe upper limit.

“The open spaces are being encroached upon, degraded and have even started to disappear at an alarming rate within the city and people have turned themselves into silent spectaters,” said Bharat Sharma, a senior environmentalist.

“Particulate substances and dust harmful to public health are causing various kinds of life-threatening diseases. Using masks would just not solve the problem,” Sharma said, adding that though concerns are being raised on the poor air quality of Kathmandu and environmental degradation, efforts to resolve them are not being synchronised effectively to exert pressure on the government for necessary interventions.” There are instances where the public outrage over the deteriorating environmental condition-particularly the prolonged bout of smog severely affecting public health in Beijing and other major cities of China - has forced governments to take stringent measures to check environmental degradation.

Even in Kathmandu, huge public outcry over the operation of polluting Bikram tempos within the city limits in the early 90s was able to put strong pressure on the then government which later banned these polluting vehicles. Similarly, the closure of a cement factory located in Chobhar of Kathmandu Valley in the year 2002, which was blamed of releasing dust and harmful particles that had detrimental impact on public health, was also the result of exhausting public patience with the deteriorating local environment.  

“No significant efforts from the public have been witnessed in recent times that would actually compel authorities to really do something about the rapid environmental degradation,” Sharma said. “The tolerance capacity among us is high. We are failing to dig out the roots of the environmental problem and work together to resolve it,” said Surya Man Shakya, solid waste management expert and faculty member of Kathmandu University.

He further said that the government should take the lead to tackle the problem through effective governance.

Published: 05-06-2014 08:46

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