The city chokes

  • A host of measures can help control air pollution in Kathmandu Valley
- Prashanta Khanal

Nov 17, 2016-

With winter approaching, the level of air pollution in Kathmandu has gone up. Consumption of petroleum oil for transportation and diesel generators is increasing significantly and coal-fired brick industries are running at their peak. Studies show that in winter the level of fine particulate matter will reach 20 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) safe limit. 

Thus, we are heading in the same direction as some of the most polluted cities in the world, if we do not change our attitude towards development. Kathmandu Valley requires quick and cost-effective measures that can help improve its air quality. Political will is the most important factor for implementing these measures. 

Mass transit system

One key approach to reduce pollution is to incentivise private vehicle users to switch to sustainable modes of transportation. This requires the government to invest heavily in an affordable and efficient mass transit system. For example, it can replace low occupancy polluting vehicles with cleaner, high occupancy buses. It can enforce car-restraint measures such as road rationing and car free streets, and ban private diesel vehicles when there are good quality bus service networks. Electric Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is an efficient and affordable solution that could be implemented in a couple of years. Although the government included the introduction of BRT in Kathmandu Valley in its five-year strategic transport plan, it has failed to allocate budget for it. It needs to do so and also plan a network rather than just a corridor as mentioned in the five-year plan. Ring Road, Sorakhutte-Kalimati-Kritipur road and Suryabinayak-Tinkune-Maitighar-Kalanki-Nagdhunga road are already wide enough to accommodate BRT immediately. 

The most efficient, sustainable and inclusive modes of transportation—walking and cycling—are least prioritised in the country. Instead of investing all public funds in expensive road expansion, investing in suitable walking and cycling infrastructure throughout the city is both short- and long-term measures to deal with air pollution issues. A transport budget code mandating the allocation of at least 20 percent of the road budget on non-motorised transport is required. 

The Ministry of Population and Environment (MoPE) had initiated a new emission standard for in-use vehicles but stopped it midway. Introducing and enforcing a stringent emission standard for in-use vehicles and taking polluting vehicles off the road will help reduce exhaust emissions from vehicles. The Metropolitan Traffic Police can be mandated with the job of crosschecking vehicular emission by equipping them with portable emission testing devices. Further, registration of private diesel vehicles in Kathmandu Valley should be halted. 

The good news is that the Nepal Oil Corporation is planning to import Euro IV standard fuel from the next fiscal year. This will pave the way for the government to make the use of Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) in all diesel vehicles mandatory in order to reduce fine particulates from diesel combustion and enforce the upgraded emission standard. 

Like widening the roads, providing more parking spaces encourages people to use private vehicles. Instead of building large parking spaces in core urban areas as planned by Kathmandu Metropolitan City, it should manage existing parking through an effective pricing system and clamp down on illegal parking. Public funds and land should not be used to build more parking spaces for private vehicles. If necessary, the private sector can develop them, and only the users should have to pay for them. 

Clean energy

Demolition during road expansion and unpaved roads are a major source of dust pollution in Kathmandu Valley. Apparently, no pollution control measures are being adopted while constructing and expanding roads. Mandatory adoption of pollution control measures such as traffic diversion, speed limits and wetting or covering of unpaved surface will control road dust to a large extent.

MoPE often makes an excuse of inadequate funds to spend on air pollution control measures. However, there already is a huge amount of pollution tax from diesel and petrol that has remained unspent for almost a decade. It may be inadequate, but an increase in pollution tax on fossil fuels would generate additional funds for transformative solutions. The Ministry of Finance must immediately release the existing pollution tax to MoPE and other concerned ministries to spend in programmes to mitigate air pollution. 

Agriculture residues, solid wastes and burning of biomass are rampant during the winter season. They are some of the major sources of pollution in the Valley. Banning biomass burning and generating energy from agriculture residue and waste will help bring down pollution. It is also the right time to incentivise brick kilns to use vertical shaft brick kiln and zigzag kiln technology.

Studies show that generators account for over 65 percent of diesel consumption in Kathmandu Valley, and fine particulate matter in the air increases significantly during load-shedding hours. Aggressively promoting solar energy in urban areas, implementing net-metering policy, mandating all commercial and institutional buildings to have a share of solar energy in their energy system and regulating the use of diesel generators will help promote clean renewable energy. 

And of course we will need more trees and greenery to make our air cleaner.

 

Khanal is an avid cycle user and works on urban transport issues

Published: 17-11-2016 08:14

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