The constitution of Nepal guarantees a right to clean environment to all citizens. However this is far from the case until now. And the situation in the Kathmandu Valley is worse, thanks to rapid growth of population and haphazard urbanisation. With the population of the capital valley soaring like anything, there is growing demand for bricks to construct houses and other structures. So the number of brick kilns has gone up over the years. According to an estimate, there are about 125 brick kilns in the capital valley. And the smoke and dust that these kilns emit are a major source of pollution in the environment which hampers not only the workers but also the general public living close to the kilns.
According to a news report in this daily, there are 63 registered brick kilns in Bhaktapur district alone, each employing hundreds of workers. Besides, there are many unregistered kilns. Obviously, these kilns have provided employment to about 25,000 of people, but these workers are exposed to high temperatures, harmful gases and dust emitting from the factories. Moreover, many workers come to work along with their children as they have no one to look after them and no money to send them to schools. So there is a high chance of these children being affected adversely by the smoke and dust that come off the kilns, though the kilns claim they have maintained child care centres where these kids are looked after. And the pollutants from the kilns have also affected the people living in Jagate and Suryabinayak areas who suffer from diseases like asthma, allergy and cough during the winter season when the kilns operate in full swing.
There is widespread criticism regarding the location and operation of brick kilns inside the capital. The locals have been demanding with the government to relocate the factories to places where they pose lower risk to common people. But so far their demands have not been met, neither are they likely to be addressed in the near future. Meanwhile, the association of brick kilns has maintained that they have complied with safety measures imposed by the government and are providing safety gears like mask and other items to the workers. However, majority of workers are not aware of the health hazards their work entails and don’t wear them so they directly inhale the gases and dust particles that come out of the kilns.
A report published by the Department of Environment states that the use of a large quantity of coal to bake bricks in the kilns contributes to emission of carbon dioxide, particulate matter including black carbon, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide which pollute the environment badly. Recent studies have found that the concentration of particulate matter in the area with brick kilns is three times higher when the kilns are operating than during the off-season. Similarly, the health of students studying at a school situated near a brick kiln was found to be significantly worse than that of students studying in a similar school but located in an area without brick kilns.
To contain pollution and address these problems, the government has issued specific standards for height of chimney and emissions from the brick kilns. It’s in broader interest of brick kilns and general public alike to abide by the standards relating to use of energy efficient technology that consume less energy and emit lower levels of pollutants and greenhouse gases.