Road to new Kathmandu

  • Inconvenience caused by the Melamchi project could have been lessened with some planning and coordination among concerned agencies
- MANGLESWORI DHONJU

May 16, 2017-

Last year, a massive sinkhole appeared in a busy stretch of road in Fukoka city, Japan. The sinkhole was filled in a record time of two days, and once the reconstruction work was complete,  one could barely see any sign of the sinkhole. The mayor of Fukoka city offered earnest apologies for the inconvenience caused by the sinkhole and the reconstruction work that followed. 

People expect that minor and major issues of city planning will be dealt with by people who are entrusted with this responsibility. 

Environmental assessment

Here in the Kathmandu Valley, the Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) is one of the most awaited projects. While it is supposed to solve the chronic problem of the shortage of drinking water in the Valley, the people have been treated with complete disregard and have suffered through a long process of installation of pipes. Different political parties have made huge promises about the MWSP, but these promises are yet to materialise. 

As if problems resulting from the water shortage aren’t enough to contend with, the MWSP has created another problem of air pollution. In order to construct the underground network of pipes to distribute water that will be brought into the Valley, roads are being dug up in Kathmandu and Lalitpur.

For any kind of government construction work, an Initial Environment Examination (IEE) is required by law. This form of environmental assessment requires a study of air pollution and other factors that can have an impact on the surrounding environment, such as noise pollution and economic and cultural practices. Mitigation measures are proposed based on the environmental assessment. For instance, the possibility of air pollution can be curtailed by measures such as sprinkling water in construction sites to avoid dust pollution, covering debris generated by construction, and restoring sites to earlier states as soon as construction work is completed (in this case, black topping roads). An authorised agency carries out periodic monitoring of the construction contractors’ compliance with mitigation measures. 

Roads are yet to be restored weeks after they have been dug up. In some areas, water pipes have been installed on the side of the road, while in other areas, they go right through the centre of the road. Low visibility during rush hour and unmarked ditches left after digging have resulted in numerous casualties. Additional impacts of such haphazard planning can be seen in the form of high concentrations of dust in the air, dust storms and slippery roads during the monsoon season, resulting in accidents in highly congested areas such as Thapathali, Maitighar, Tripureshwor and Ratnapark. 

Cumulative impacts

Hazards in the form of asthma, eye irritation, heart stroke and cancer have significantly increased. Pedestrians, traffic police and those who drive motorbikes are especially at risk. High risks of health hazards have also resulted in an increase in the sale of cars, aided by easily available bank loans. Road expansion and population growth within the Valley have also resulted in additional vehicles. This will only exacerbate the problem of traffic congestion and air pollution in the long term. Vehicles emit microscopic particulate matter (PM 2.5) and other toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, oxides of sulphur and oxides of nitrogen. These are all more dangerous than dust. Studies by the World Health Organisation and others have shown that the air in the Kathmandu Valley is very unhealthy.

All of these effects will have a cumulative impact on the tourism sector. Tourists from around the world come to Nepal to experience natural beauty, ancient monuments and buildings, and socio-cultural diversity. The Kathmandu Valley alone has seven world heritage sites of cultural importance. However, the menace of air pollution and the deplorable state of the roads do not make a good impression on travellers coming to Nepal. These problems could act as deterrents for anyone who wishes to recommend Nepal as a good tourism destination.

Municipal offices and the Department of Roads (DoR) are involved in the construction and maintenance of Kathmandu’s roads. The MWSP could have easily coordinated with the DoR and the Kathmandu and Lalitpur metropolitan cities before starting to lay the underground pipe network. This coordination could have led to digging up of the road on one day and reconstruction of the site the following day. There is no excuse to pardon this lack of coordination among concerned agencies. 

There is no doubt about the necessity of laying down pipes to bring water to households in the Kathmandu Valley, but it has come to be seen as a necessary evil. The inconvenience caused to the general public could have been avoided with a little tact, planning and coordination among different government agencies. Regarding an apology from public officials to the people, the less said the better. In fact, one tweet from a high level official reprimanded people for complaining too much about the inconvenience caused.

 

Dhonju holds a degree in environmental science with a specialisation in limnology and wetland ecosystems

Published: 16-05-2017 07:58

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