Wednesday, 19 May, 2021

Fetid Valley Air Wake-up Call To Authority

Narayan Upadhyay


Once an alluring place, Kathmandu is now one of the most polluted cities in the world.
The Kathmandu Valley has drawn wide attention, albeit for the wrong reasons. Thick haze, a farrago of noxious gases, dust and smokes has enveloped the valley. Many residents felt the adverse impact of putrid air drifting over the valley when they complained about discomfort in their eyes and breathing difficulties. Experts state that protracted exposure to air pollution gives rise to lung troubles and cardiovascular complication in people, while it exacerbates the existing health condition leading to fatal consequences.

Detrimental impacts
As air contamination worsened, our authority has tossed up a few tips to the valley residents so that they can avoid the detrimental impacts of excessive pollution. However, the authority has not yet implemented effective steps to allay the pollutants in the valley. Getting rid of fetid air for good appears to be a distant hope. Since last Friday, the air quality has deteriorated so much that the beautiful valley earned the sobriquet of a polluted place. The air quality index crossed the dangerous 300 marks, signalling the pollution level has reached an alarming state that can invite many health hazards to the residents.
The persistent miasma has even blocked sun rays for many hours in the daytime. Dust particles coupled with toxic gases emitted by vehicles and gathering smoke from nearby forest fires have covered the Kathmandu sky. The condition has stuck around for the last several days. Following rapid urbanisation, the air quality in the capital valley is on a decline. It is said the valley witnesses over 10,000 houses and buildings being erected every year while roads, bridges and other infrastructures too have come up in rapid succession.
The construction materials left neglected and incomplete infrastructures such as roads, buildings and bridges and digging of ground for utility supply lines at every nook and cranny of the valley are a principal source of air pollutants in the valley that add more dust specks to the valley air.
The Kathmandu Valley records a higher number of vehicles of all hues and stripes plying on all kinds its roads. A report hints that the country has about one million two-wheelers. Out of them, around 700,000 are registered in the valley. Likewise, the valley has a sizable number of vehicles of all sizes and shapes. Several of these vehicles do not adhere to the emission standards to keep the harmful gaseous emission to an acceptable degree. Many old vehicles belch out foul emission to a disquieting extent, which further aggravates the air quality in the valley.
Another cause behind heavy air pollution in the city is industries that lie in its vicinity. Many brick kilns are in operation in Bhaktapur and Lalitpur areas that release sulphuric acid in the valley sky. The same is the case with the cement and other factories that add more harmful smoke and other pollutants to the valley air. The situation got worse after the valley's neighbouring areas witnessed a surprise rise in forest fires, an outcome of a long dry spell in the country and irresponsible behaviours of many residents living nearby. Many locals deliberately burn the dried forest grasses and leaves, anticipating seeing lush green grass and leaves during the rainy seasons, which they can use as animal fodder. Human follies cause several incidents of forest fires in the country rather than natural causes.
Kathmandu air pollution is nothing new. With a tremendous surge in its growth, the valley and its residents started finding themselves at receiving end from the rising level of pollution. The rapid expansion of the valley's urban areas made our authority hard-pressed to find strong monitoring and regulation measures to check the growing pollution. Our authority, however, appears to be at a loss for making efforts to bring down the air contamination and other pollutants.
In its effort to lower pollution, the government has in the past introduced a regulation aimed at phasing out vehicles that are 20 years old from the Valley. We, however, witness many older vehicles plying in the city streets. Despite the enforcement of regulation, the city authority is clueless. The valley residents and builders do not follow regulation as they flagrantly keep construction materials by the roadside. Trucks and trippers ferry construction materials without observing rules. Several stone crushers, brick kilns and other industries and factories operate nearby without following government standard.
All the aforementioned activities are going on unhindered, which is, without doubt, a potent recipe for heavy air contamination in the bowl-shaped valley. The hills around often stop the air from going out of the valley. As a result, air pollutants hover here for a longer period, giving rise to a smoky condition. Unless our authority introduces some effective measures, Kathmandu air will continue to be polluted for years to come. Although our authority cannot change the topography of the valley, it can introduce strong and efficacious methods to lower or end pollution.
At present, our government should implement an odd and even system for vehicles and should monitor the emission level of all vehicles. Relocation of industries and factories that emit harmful sulphuric acid smoke and other pollutants can be another viable option. The concerned bodies must also undertake attempts to bring down forest fires in time to get rid of the smoke from polluting the valley air. Having mentioned this, some incidents are beyond the capacity of our authority in containing pollution. The intermittent sand and dust storms that blast from Indian deserts or Arabian areas contaminate our environment. In the past, the air in India and Nepal got contaminated after Indian farmers burned stubbles in large paddy areas after harvesting the crop.

Negative publicity
Despite this, our authority must remain alert to ward off contamination of our environment by carrying out short and long-term actions. Otherwise, the residents of the valley would be at risk of getting exposed to several health threats. The prevailing level of pollution has undoubtedly earned negative publicity to our beautiful valley, of which 'lost image' can only be restored only if our authority undertakes efforts to resolve air degradation with alacrity rather than watching for the haze to clear itself. Since the situation has persisted for a long, the city and government authority must act earnestly to stop the city's air and the environment from deteriorating further.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal.