Friday, 5 March, 2021

Curbing Air Pollution

Dixya Poudel

On January 4, 2021, Kathmandu became the most polluted city in the world as the city saw a record high in air pollution. On the night of January 4, the Air Quality Index (AQI) was recorded at over 600 in Kathmandu. It was measured by the US Embassy Air Quality Monitor (AQM) in Phora Durbar. Meanwhile, the Department of Environment measured the AQI in Kathmandu at above 400 throughout January 4. And IQAir, which is a global AQI measuring platform, noted the AQI to be 487 which is one of the highest in the world.
Especially in winter season, the valley sees a soaring spike in air pollution. The combinations of pollutants such as smoke, dust and vehicular emissions lead to the deteriorating air quality in the capital. Due to lack of rain in winter, the dust and smoke particles get trapped in the atmosphere leading to unhealthy air.
Consequently, there have been general outcries over the polluted air since it increases the risks of respiratory diseases, mostly in the elderly and infirm. As the coronavirus continues its rage in the nation with new cases each day, it has become necessary to curb the pollution. During the lockdown, the air in Kathmandu was clearer but it reverted to aggravated pollution once the lockdown ended. Meanwhile in rural areas, there are cases of respiratory illnesses due to indoor air pollution. It is caused due to smoke released from biomass energy such as firewood and agricultural residues.
The AQI is a measure of the concentration of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur and ground ozone in the air. The AQI level above 301 is considered as hazardous. And for the two consecutive days, the AQI was recorded as hazardous in Kathmandu. Although, the weather became clearer on January 6, Kathmandu became a city termed with deteriorating air quality.
It spurred on heated debates in the media with citizens critiquing lack of response on the part of the government. Environmental activists in the capital staged a demonstration and urged the government to take actions against the degrading air quality. The demonstrators demanded reduced taxations on electric vehicles and a ban on diesel vehicles.
What can be further done to curb the air pollution? Bicycles are among the most environment friendly means of transportations. So the capital must ensure bicycle friendly lanes on its streets. On a hopeful measure, the government is launching programmes such as Mero Cycle. Mero Cycle is an app for bicycle riders who can be awarded Rs. 10 for every 10-km they pedal. It is to be launched with collaborations from Lalitpur Metropolitan City (LMC) and UNDP Nepal.
This certainly is a proactive step towards promoting bicycle riders. Since transportations alone cover 28 per cent of pollutants, electric vehicles must be encouraged as they are environment friendly. Further, tree plantations and green initiatives are vital to a cleaner air.
As the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu should lead by example. Instead, we are seeing one of the worst cases of air pollution in the valley. We can no longer disregard the degrading air quality in Kathmandu. And steps to tackle air pollution start from an individual level to the grassroots level, not only to protect the environment but also to ensure health and well-being.

How do you feel after reading this news?