Nepal’s air quality is becoming highly hazardous. Its capital, Kathmandu, is situated in such a way that most of its pollution lingers over time. The local government has recorded an increase in air pollution and is starting to worry about long-term consequences for its citizens’ health.
According to the Air Quality Index, Nepal’s most populous regions have consistently recorded an “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” rating, at times even reaching the “hazardous” rating. The website’s description of the “hazardous” rating is “Everyone may experience more serious health effects. Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.” In comparison, a major city like New York, which has eight times more people than Nepal’s capital, currently has a rating of “good,” sometimes verging on “moderate” air quality.
The A.Q.I. is mainly calculated through particle matter (P.M.) pollution. When we speak of particle matter, we are talking about incredibly fine dust which infiltrates the body and damages the more fragile parts of our organs. This dust can come from automobile exhaust, construction, fires, and more, and can affect the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. The P.M. pollution in Nepal is reaching hazardous peaks for long periods of time, which will have long-lasting effects on the people living there.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the health risks associated with P.M. pollution can vary from cardiovascular conditions to respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis. The finer particles are even more dangerous, as they can go even deeper in the body’s systems, even reaching into the bloodstream. Additionally, Harvard’s School of Public Health determined that “breathing more polluted air over many years may itself worsen the effects of COVID-19.” This only adds to air pollution’s viciousness, which is a reality Nepal’s government will have to face.
“This is a grave threat to public health,” environmental expert Bhushan Tuladhar told the Nepal Times. “The government should have declared an emergency and taken urgent measures to curb pollution.” Yet, it did not.
Nepal’s case is peculiar. Internal malpractice does contribute to the country’s high rates of air pollution. David Harrison, a writer for Environment Journal, said that “the causes for poor air quality are evident everywhere [in Nepal]. Old motor vehicles, poor road construction, wood-burning fires, back street industries and brick kilns, all of which contribute to significant levels of particulate matter.”
However, many external factors also contribute to the rising pollution in specific areas of the country. “The impact of poor air quality is exacerbated by the natural amphitheater surrounding the Kathmandu Valley with mountains, ranging from 2000 to 2800 meters, encircling urban areas,” Harrison said. Simply put, three variables are at play: India’s pollution travelling from the south, China’s pollution travelling from the north, and the Himalayas trapping the pollution in specific areas. Encased by two of the most polluted countries in the world, Nepal would have to fight an uphill battle against P.M. pollution no matter its internal policies.
The combination of Nepal’s less-than-adequate internal methods with the three external components is a recipe for disaster. According to the Nepal Times, over 42,000 people in 2019 alone died from air pollution-related causes. With pollution intensifying the effects of the pandemic, more deaths are sure to come.
Nepal’s government has an obligation to ensure the safety of its people. More rigorous environmental laws must be established to combat this deadly crisis.