A city of cardiac patients if air pollution untamed
KATHMANDU, Jan 17: An international study has put Nepal among the three worst performing countries in the world in terms of air quality as it relates to human health.
But let alone making due efforts for systematic air pollution control, it has taken the Ministry of Environment nearly half a decade just to repair the few air pollution monitoring stations set up in 2002 although the repair costs are minimal.
“We have already repaired the stations at Thamel, Putalisadak, Bhaktapur and Machhegaun and the station at Bhaktapur is already up and running. It cost around Rs 300,000 to bring them back to life,” said Joint Secretary at the Ministry Shankar Adhikari.
“The stations can measure the tiniest dust particles that our eyes cannot see. They basically identify the level of particulate matter and indoor air pollution, which are taken as indicators for air pollution” added the senior engineer.
Air pollution monitoring station at Putalisadak. (File Photo: Bhaswor Ojha)
Though the monitoring machines at home were not working, the pollution level was still measured in 2011 by international bodies and the results they came out with were shocking.
In 2012 the environment performance index ranking prepared by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University in the USA, the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network and Columbia University, also in the US, listed Nepal in the third last position among 132 countries, scoring just 18 out of 100 points for progress against air pollution.
According to the study, the bottom five countries in the rankings from Asia were China, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The stations in the aforementioned places, including Kirtipur and Patan, were established by the Ministry of Environment in 2002 with a Rs 60 million grant support from the government of Denmark.
Initially, these were operated as part of the environment sector support program launched by the Danish International Development Agency, DANIDA.
After the project term ended in 2005, the ministry issued a tender to the NGO, Environment and Public Health, giving it responsibility for operating the stations.
However, the stations stopped working one after another by 2008 for lack of proper and timely servicing.
A thick blanket of fog can be seen in Kathmandu in this recent photo.
Once the stations went dysfunctional, the government never again bothered to study air pollution levels in the Valley, though the measurements taken earlier were already alarming.
When it was last measured in 2008, Patan, Thamel and Putalisadak had the highest air pollution level of 122 microgram per cubic meter.
At Bhatkapur, Kirtipur and Machhegaun, the measurement was 120 microgram per cubic meter, according to Environment and Public Health.
According to Joint Secretary Adhikari, the results recorded then were highly alarming when taken against the standards of the World Health Organization, and the air quality has deteriorated even further by now.
He added that the sole reason for taking so long to bring the stations back into operation was lack of due attention.
It would not cost much to repair the stations though the operating cost is a bit high at Rs 100,000 for six months for the four stations.
But the monitoring technology has already become obsolete and the country needs more modern air pollution monitoring equipment by the next three to four years at most, he stressed.
“The stations, except for two, have now begun to work. But they will work for no more than three years. After that we will need better equipment as the current technology has already become obsolete,” Adhikari said.
He added that that the stations need to collect 24-hour air samples automatically and these are analyzed for PM10.
However, due to power cuts, the stations might work for fewer hours.
“This makes a difference in the validity of the results. But it can still be taken as an important indicator of the pollution level,” he said.
According to doctors, the public might panic if they are made aware of the health aspects of air pollution in the city.
They worry that it may already be too late and any further delay in taking necessary measures to control air pollution means Kathmandu could become a city of cardiac patients by 2020.
Talking to Republica, former president of Nepal Medical Association Dr Kedar Narsing KC said the short term effects of air pollution include asthma and bronchitis while the long term effects can be much more severe.
“In the long term a person might suffer lung, heart or liver failure. There is a chain effect when one´s health worsens and respiratory problems due to air pollution leads to this,” he said.
He further added that poor air quality is more harmful for elderly people as they are already feeble due to age.
“When we grow old, exhaling and inhaling is not as easy as when we are young. And in a polluted area, the lungs have to work even harder,” he said.
According to noted physician Dr Dirga Singh Bam, the Valley is going to turn into a major concentration of cardiac patients by 2020 if serious measures are not taken to improve the air quality.
“The air pollution is becoming so severe day by day that this place will become known as cardiac patients country by 2020,” he said. -----
Air pollution in Kathmandu very poor Keshab Bhattarai, Secretary, Ministry of Environment
Is the Ministry of Environment concerned at all about checking air pollution? Why has it taken nearly five years to repair the air pollution monitoring stations?
The ministry has been doing many things to counter all kinds of environmental pollution across the country. But everything takes time. As for the stations, we have repaired four out of six stations and the air quality level will be reported soon. Indeed it took much time to repair the stations and this was due to technical reasons. The company which was given the contract for the job had said that they did not get genuine spare parts.
Air quality in the capital is deteriorating day by day. Is there any specific plan to check that?
Yes, the air pollution in Kathmandu is very poor. More than anything else, it is due to the ever growing number of vehicles or the low quality those vehicles. Both the transport ministry and we are equally responsible for ensuring the quality of the vehicles, but making plans and policies but not implementing them has become a sort of culture here. The same thing has happened regarding the inflow of poor quality vehicles. At the same time, the number of vehicles in excess of what our roads can accomodate is also such a huge problem.
What about the environmental policy you have been talking about since some time?
Yes, we are now focusing on an overall comprehensive environmental policy. This has become a must to address various types of pollution separately and for overall environmental reform. As soon as this policy comes into existence, environmental issues will get due priority.
But is it not true that even now we already have good policies and powerful bodies under the Ministry of Environment?
We do have a separate ministry and separate bodies under it. However, there is no comprehensive environmental policy to enable us to function broadly. In lack of this, the ministry has not been able to perform to the fullest.