Throwing caution to the wind

  • The authorities’ inaction towards air pollution is inexcusable

Dec 27, 2018-

The Capital is gasping for fresh air. Air pollution in most cities is a common phenomenon. But what is uncommon in Kathmandu’s case is the nonchalant behaviour of the authorities concerned. As reported earlier this week in the Post, air quality in the Kathmandu Valley deteriorated to ‘hazardous’ and ‘very unhealthy’ levels. We breathe such toxic air that masks have become a wardrobe staple. Yet, as the news published earlier in this paper mentions, there has been negligible or no government action despite a Supreme Court order in January directing authorities to immediately curb air pollution. It is disturbing to see the government being so complacent about the threat air pollution poses when it should have compelled a decisive shift in action. 

The right to live in a clean and healthy environment is our fundamental right as a citizen. The constitution makes lofty claims about the same, and a clause even requires payment of compensation for harm caused by pollution. But, like everything else, these claims are ringing hollow in the absence of robust implementation. In a bid to curb the health menace collectively, a Mayors’ Summit on Air Pollution was held in October. The conference informed the mayors that pollution in the Valley was caused mainly by vehicular emission, road dust, burning of garbage and brick kilns—in that order. In fact, our air is so poisonous that a recent report published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago revealed that if we were able to just maintain the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended PM2.5 levels--not exceeding 25 µg/m3—the life expectancy of Nepalis would increase by three to five years. 

Granted, bringing air pollution under control is a formidable task. But since there are various sources of pollution, we need to understand that it is a multi-headed problem. Therefore, solutions need to be tailored to the specific characteristic of each source of pollution. A threat of this magnitude warrants appropriate policy consideration. For our government, this would mean taking an immediate step to reduce fuel consumption and vehicle emission, modernising or replacing traditional brick kilns, reorienting investments to prioritise bicycle lanes and public transport, favouring electric mobility, pedestrianisation, and so on. 

In short, the government needs to get into crisis mode to dramatically curb air pollution in the Valley. In fact, even if the report tilted Air Quality Management Action Plan for Kathmandu Valley Urban planning commissioned by the Ministry for Population and Environment gets implemented, a drastic improvement in air quality can be felt. 

Annually, billions of rupees collected as pollution tax remains unused in the national coffers. Civil society and people from various sections of the community have made these suggestions time and again. But regrettably, they 

have been falling on deaf ears. As vehicle exhaust and dust particles are being added to the various toxins in the air, both children and adults are suffering from various lung-related diseases. The situation has become a public health emergency, and the authorities’ inaction is inexcusable. 

Published: 27-12-2018 06:46

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