Yearning to breathe free

By the Kathmandu Post Editorial Desk, The Kathmandu Post/ANN

Living in an urban area, especially Kathmandu, offers countless advantages and opportunities, but it also comes with its own share of problems. One of the worst aspects of living in the capital is having to breathe in highly toxic air — so much so that a face mask has become a wardrobe staple for many. A number of studies in recent years have corroborated that Kathmandu’s air quality is extremely bad. The concentration level of toxic particles increases during the winter. A 2005 report published by the Ministry of Environment found that winter concentrations of particulate matter, minute airborne solid particles and liquid droplets that cause pollution, in Kathmandu’s air were comparable to those in some of the worst polluted cities like New Delhi. Moreover, the ongoing road expansion drive and the digging of roadsides to lay the pipelines for the Melamchi Drinking Water Project have exacerbated Kathmandu’s pollution situation. On Monday, the air quality monitoring station in Ratnapark measured the concentration of smaller particulate PM 2.5 matters at 86 μg/m3, more than double the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 40 μg/m3. More disturbing is the fact that the government seems to be too complacent about the threat air pollution poses. Old vehicles that should have been decommissioned long ago continue to ply the streets and emit toxic fumes. The Yale Environmental Performing Index 2016 listed Nepal among the top four worst performers in protecting human health and environment from degrading air quality. Everybody suffers from the consequences of air pollution, but it is children in particular whose lungs could be permanently damaged due to chronic exposure to poisonous air.

As such, the decision of the National Planning Commission, the apex body that formulates the country’s development plans and programs, to hold an interaction program today on identifying ways to tackle air pollution in Kathmandu is extremely timely. However, many of the necessary measures to combat the menace — such as reducing the number of vehicles running on fossil fuels, making walking and cycling safer, and paving and maintaining roads — are already well-known; we have written about them several times. The bigger challenge is their enforcement, which requires political resolve more than anything else. Failure to take decisive action now will have disastrous consequences on our, and our children’s, long-term health.