It all began from Kharkatta village, Madi valley, Chitwan. Maja decided to take some rest as well as start some writings for her report. Maja, an MSc student from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark was doing her field work for MSc thesis, in the Madi valley of Chitwan. I had the responsibility of assisting her. At first the plan was like, to finish the whole field work within a month, or stay for some more days if we didn’t become able to complete our target. But she wished to take a break after two weeks of work. She planned to go to Sauraha and stay there for a week. I had nothing to do (except for a few transcriptions), nowhere to go!
“Should I go to Kathmandu or Pokhara?” I don’t know. I can go anywhere. But I have to go to Bharatpur bus park at first and get a bus, for her, to Sauraha.
We left Kharkatta at 7:30 and reached the Bharatpur bus park at 11:30. The auto drivers started decreasing their price themselves; we just needed to stand silently for a while. After haggling with one of them for some time, she decided to take an auto rather than bothering to look for buses that would go only to another bus park but not to the hotel she had booked.
But where should I go?
I had made mind to go Pokhara because it had been quite long I hadn’t met my college friends. But the Mugling-Narayanghat road section was closed till 16:00 for maintenance. That meant I had to consume around 4 more hours.
What suddenly came to my mind is – Why not go to Sauraha! The auto was right in front! And I had never been to Sauraha! How lucky me! And I travelled towards Sauraha.
After wandering around Sauraha for about 2 hours, I went to the Pokhara bus park. When I reached there at 15:45, there was only one microbus to Pokhara crammed with people. And the khalasi was saying that was the last bus to Pokhara. Lol, the road opens at 16:00 and the khalasi was saying, at 15:45 that, that was the last bus. More amazingly, there were people who believed. How easily these people believe khalasis! No matter to me even if that was the last one. Because there was nothing that I needed to reach Pokhara the same day. I could stay around there and go Pokhara next day early. So I just waited for another bus.
But it took too long. No sooner had I decided to look for a hotel than the bus came. It came at 17:00. I boarded the bus!
It was obvious that I would reach late. I reached Pokhara at 22:00. Where would I go other than my Institute of Forestry! That is the only reason, that there is this campus, I go to Pokhara. That was that.
After two days at Pokhara, Professor Santosh Rayamajhi called and asked if I was free for 2-3 days. He only needed a friend to travel to Tansen, Palpa for some of his work. That too in his car.
Why would I deny! I had never been to Tansen. And I was aimless throughout the week!
But he told later that he needed to go up to Tamghas, Gulmi. And the journey to Tamghas began on Feb 21.
The whole day, we travelled to remote villages of Gulmi; Isma, Dhurkot, Madane etc.
The journey back to Pokhara began. We stopped and wandered around Ridi bazaar, Palpa for a while. And in the evening, at Pokhara again.
Now it was time to go to Madi for work. I had to reach Bharatpur on Sunday, Feb 25. Being unsure if I would stay at Mugling in the evening and start for Bharatpur early next day, I started my journey from Pokhara at around 13:00. Fortunately, I reached Narayanghat the same evening.
And the week-long destinationless travel ended!
Last week, researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities published a report; the 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) report, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranking 180 countries. The ranking is based on Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality of each of those countries. The environmental health topic covers three issue categories namely Air quality, Water quality and Heavy metals and the ecosystem vitality topic covers seven issue categories namely Biodiversity and habitat, Forests, Fisheries, Climate and energy, Air pollution, Water resources and Agriculture; hence a total of ten issue categories. Each of these ten issue categories is, in turn, scored based on one to six performance indicators and there are altogether 24 such indicators.
It is not that the air pollution is the highest in Nepal but that the air quality is the worst
After the report got published, Nepalese media published news stating that Nepal ranks 176th among 180 countries in terms of air pollution. Some ‘mainstream’ called media too published news stating the same. They further stated air pollution as a leading environmental threat to public health. The press release by Yale has clearly stated that air quality is the top environmental threat to public health, not air pollution as most of the news reports in Nepal wrote. They did not note the distinction between air quality and air pollution and wrongly transliterated air quality as air pollution. No doubt that Nepal is ranked at the bottom (180th country) in terms of air quality with a score of 3.94. But the rank of Nepal in terms of air pollution is 87 with a score of 49.58 and the overall EPI rank is 176 with a score of 31.44. (See country report/Nepal)
The performance indicators of air pollution in this study include Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions and Nitrogen oxides (NOX) emissions whereas performance indicators of air quality include (Particulate Matters of less than 2.5-micrometer diameter) PM2.5 exposure, PM2.5 exceedance and household solid fuels. The level of PM2.5 we have been hearing generally and exclaiming air pollution level in Kathmandu is the indicator of air quality, not air pollution in this study.
In a nutshell, it is not that the air pollution is the highest in Nepal but that the air quality is the worst.
नेचर खबरमा प्रकाशित, यो लिंकमा पनि उपलब्ध छ – http://naturekhabar.com/ne/archives/8505
जूनकिरीले अतिनै कचकच गर्न थाली । केहि गरिपनि बुझाउन नसकेपछि केहि दिनअघि हेलो सरकारलाई मेन्सन गर्दै ट्वीट नै लेख्नुपर्यो । कुरो के भने, मैले केहि दिनदेखि दिनको दुई खिल्ली चुरोट पिउन थालेको थिएँ । “चुरोटको धुवाँले स्वास्थ्यमा गम्भीर असर गर्छ, मुटु, कलेजो, फोक्सो, रगत के के हो के के लाई नकारात्मक असर गर्छ, चुरोट खान पाउनुहुन्न” भनेर हैरान । “ए बाबा, म काठमाडाैँको धुलोमा चोबिसै घण्टा ढुक्कसँग सास फेरेरै बस्या छु र त अहिलेसम्म ठीकठाकै छु । दिनभरीमा मैले पिउने जाबो दुई खिल्ली चुरोटले के नै असर गर्छ र भन्या” भन्ने मेरो खास कुरो ।
म चुरोटको अम्मली भने होइन । पहिलापहिला, बच्चा बेलामा बाख्रा चराउन जंगल जाँदा, सुकेको पिठौरीको पात माडेर सुर्ती बनाएर, त्यही पिठौरीको पातमा बेरेर बिँडी बनाएर तानेकोलाई अपबाद मान्ने हो भने, मैले कहिल्यै पनि बिँडी वा चुरोट खाएको, पिएको, तानेको त परै जाओस्, सल्काएको सम्म पनि छैन भन्दा हुन्छ ।
हेलो सरकारलाई लेखेको पत्र ठ्याक्कै यस्तो थियो – “डियर हेलो सरकार, हेर्नुस् न, चौबिसै घण्टा काठमाडाैँमा सास फेर्दा त म ठीकठाक छु । दिनभरिमा खाने जाबो दुई खिल्ली चुरोटलाई लिएर जूनकिरी सधैँ कचकच गरिरहन्छे । कसरी सम्झाउने होला, सुझाव पाम् न ।” “काठमाडाैँको धुलोले समेत केहि गर्न नसकेको मान्छेलाई, दिनको जम्मा दुई खिल्ली चुरोटले केहि असर गर्दैन, धेरै कचकच नगर्नु…” भन्दै हेलो सरकारले कम्तीमा, जूनकिरीलाई एउटा पत्र काटिदिन्छ कि भन्ने कत्रो आश थियो । तर अहँ, हेलो सरकारबाट पनि केहि माखो मरेन । सरकारलाई समेत गुहार्न पुगियो हैन? भन्दै उल्टै घरमा रडाको बढ्यो ।
अघिनै भनिसकेँ म बिँडी चुरोटको अम्मली होइन । तर कुरो के भने, सरकारले केहि महिनाअघि एउटा निर्णय गरेपछि मैले पनि, जिन्दगीमा केहि नयाँ अनुभव पनि लिउँ न त, मौका यहि हो भन्ने ठानेर दिनको दुई खिल्ली चुरोट पिउने निर्णय गरेको हो । सरकारको निर्णय के भने – यदि काठमाडाैँको धुलो धुवाँले गर्दा कुनै रोग लागेमा उपचार खर्च सरकारले बेहोर्नेछ । अनि मनमनै सोचेँ – यदि धुलो धुवाँकै कारणले कुनै रोग लागेमा सरकारले उपचार गरिदिने भएपछि जीवनमा नयाँ अनुभव पनि लिइहालूँ न त । धुवाँकै कारण केहि भएछ भने, यो चुरोटको धुवाँले हो कि काठमाडाैँको हावाको धुवाँले हो भनेर कसलाई के थाहा ? उक्त रोग हावामा भएको प्रदूषणकै कारणले हो भनेर डाक्टरले प्रमाणीत गर्नुपर्ने भएपछि चाहिँ अलि संकोच लागेको थियो तर ती मुला डाक्टरलाई पनि के थाहा मेरो फोक्सोभित्रको धुवाँ चुरोटको हो कि काठमाडाैँको हावाको हो भनेर भन्ने सोचेर ढुक्क भएँ । डाक्टर अलि चलाखै रैछ भने, यस्सो कुरा मिलाउँला नि, कति नै लाग्ला र भन्ने लाग्यो । अनि त्यही दिनदेखि हो मैले दिनमा दुई खिल्ली चुरोट पिउने निर्णय गरेको । तर जूनकिरीको कचकचले हैरान ।
केहि दिनदेखि वातावरणकर्मी भनाउँदाहरु पनि खुब तातेका छन् । जाडोको बेला तात्नु त राम्रै कुरा हो, तर यो कागजमा बल्ड्यांग्रे अक्षरमा कुन्नी के के लेखेर चाहिँ किन दुनियाँलाई देखाउँदै हिँडेका होलान् । त्यसले हावामा भएको प्रदूषण कसरी घटाउँछ भनेर अहिलेसम्म बुझ्या भए मार्दिनु । बरु पोहोरपरार हाम्रा स्वास्थ्यमन्त्रीज्यूले जस्तो यसो पानी सानी छर्केर सडक बढारेको भए केहि हुँदो हो । तर खै, हाम्रा कुरा कसले सुनीदिने र ?
सबका सब जान्नेसुन्ने आजकल त । प्रदुषणको तह सरकारले तोकेको मापदण्डभन्दा धेरै गुणा बढि हुँदा पनि सरकारले केहि गर्न सकेन भनेर कोकोहोलो छ । जूनकिरीले अस्ती घरमै एक लेक्चर दिईहाली । “बाहिर हिँड्दा मास्क लगाउन कहिल्यै नभुल्नु, म घरमा नभएको बेला केटाकेटीलाई धेरै बाहिरतिर डुल्न नदिनु, मर्निगं वाक स्वाक गर्नु पर्दैन, बिहान प्रदूषणकाे मात्रा धेरै हुन्छ…,” के के हो के के । अस्ति छोरोलाई अस्पताल लिएर हिँडेकी थिई, हावा राम्रो छैन भनेर मास्क लगाइदिइछे । डेढ वर्षे छोरो निसास्सीएर झण्डै मरेको ।
प्रिय सरकार, म राम्रोसँग बुझ्छु अरुको कचकच सुन्नु पर्दाको तनाव । तपाईँलाई कस्तो भइरहेको छ भनेर सजिलै अनुमान गर्न सक्छु । त्यसैले, काठमाडाैँको प्रदूषणलाई मापदण्डभित्र राख्ने एउटा अचुक उपाय सुझाएको छु । वायु प्रदूषणको लागि सरकारी मापदण्ड २५० माइक्रोग्राम प्रति घनमिटर भनेर तोकिदिऊँ । त्यति गरिदिने हो भने हावामा प्रदुषणको मात्रा मापदण्डभन्दा कहिल्यै बढि हुन पाउँदैन । अनि न तपार्इँलाई यी वातावरणकर्मीहरुको कचकच सुन्नुपर्ने चिन्ता न मलाई जूनकिरीको लेक्चर । चुरोटबारेको जूनकिरीको कचकच बरु केहि दिनपछि म आफैँ मिलाउँला ।
An edited version of this article is published in The Himalayan Times. This link- https://thehimalayantimes.com/opinion/breathing-woes-kathmandu/
January 05, 2018
Air pollution has become a major environmental, and ultimately a health problem in developing as well as some developed cities. Kathmandu has not been able to be an exception. Instead, Kathmandu has gotten some new names due to excessive dust and air pollution. Dustmandu and Maskmandu are the commonest ones.
The average, hourly concentration of PM2.5 (Particulate Matter of less than 2.5 micrometer diameter) in the Kathmandu atmosphere last winter reached four to five times the government standard of 40 micrograms per cubic meter; forget about the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter for now. And this winter too, the concentration is very likely to rise as high as the last winter’s if not higher. Signs are already on the way since the onset of winter. Yes, the government has formed a rapid task force and other organizations have performed some actions to control air pollution in the valley but such actions were performed last year also to some extent. If these actions will really make a significant difference this time that remains to be seen. The Department of Environment had said in March that a draft of the action plan to control air pollution in the valley had already been prepared and had intended to launch it by the end of that fiscal year and what the secretary of the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) was saying some weeks ago, in late November was “the action plan on air pollution control in the Kathmandu Valley would be immediately approved and forwarded.” This shows the pace and seriousness of our government work.
A WHO report published in 2015 states that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes some three (3) million annual deaths worldwide. It also reads, “Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.” Another report published last March states that, of the 1.7 million child deaths every year worldwide, five hundred seventy thousand children under five year of age die from respiratory infections attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Though exact figures of such death are not available for Kathmandu, we can easily assume that such death is high here as it has been ranked as the seventh worst polluted city in the world in terms of air quality recently. [Numbeo’s Pollution Index 2017] How can we expect a high number of children to survive who get born in the seventh worst polluted city in the world and inhale toxic air since their first breath?
Here are the suggestions you will get, to avoid air pollution in Kathmandu – avoid all sports activities, do physical activities only after noon, don’t leave home without a mask, don’t go for a morning or evening walk as air pollution is higher in the morning and in the evening!
Are these any pragmatic suggestions? Do we have to wait until noon for any physical activities? Do we have to go for a morning walk in the afternoon? Or avoid morning and evening walk totally!? Is it practicable to put a mask on a one-year child while carrying him/her out of the house? According to news reports, the ordinary, cheap cloth masks that people generally put on in Kathmandu are ineffective against the pollutant particles. Is it ethical to prevent children from going outside and playing? Can we expect them to be healthy that way? Sounds like there will be suggestions like “Do not breathe wherever and whenever you like; do it only at designated places!” in the near future. It is quite confusing if these suggestions strictly followed, will prepare healthy or ailing citizens.
What can be done?
The only panacea is – cleaning the atmosphere. The suggestions of increasing the effectiveness of green stickers in the vehicles and promoting large size buses for public transportation have already become clichés. The government’s decision last March, to ban the 20-year-old public vehicles in Kathmandu also helps to reduce pollution though there were some controversies. Switching to euro 5 standard fuels is also an alternative but it seems quite unrealistic unless India uses and sells fuels of this standard.
Vehicles are obviously the major source contributing some 38 per cent for air pollution in the valley, but they are not the only source. According to a BBC report, the brick kilns of the valley destroyed by the 2015 earthquake are being rebuilt using new technology that emits less polluting soot and smoke. The government should encourage such technologies providing technical assistance as well as subsidies for those who are building new brick kilns in/around the valley.
Hundreds of trees along the ring road were cut some years ago citing its widening, but we do not hear news reports about such large-scale plantations in the valley. Forget about the government promoting urban forestry, the Forest Act 2049 does not recognize urban forest as a separate forest type. No matter how wide the ring road became, not a single lane for cycles is apportioned. What is the use of a city with roads of multiple lanes and skyscrapers where we have to fear for breathing? Trees are reported to have a significant impact in reducing the atmospheric pollution. For the long-term solution, trees should be planted wherever possible. Sprinkling water or buying road broomers are only short-term remedies.
And, the health minister, like the last year, and mayors sprinkling water and sweeping the dusty roads is also a good way to reduce the dirt flying to the atmosphere but this is not a sustainable solution.