Global concern over the deteriorating air pollution in Nepal

Date: 29 February, 2016
Global concern over the deteriorating air pollution in Nepal

Nepal Science Olympiad (NeSO) and Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) jointly organized an interaction program on the topic “Global concern over the deteriorating air pollution in Nepal”. The president of NeSO and former minister of environment, science and technology, Er. Ganesh Shah moderated the program. Including the members of legislative parliament, current and former head of different government bodies and prominent dignitaries, there were around 50 participants. In the beginning, the managing director of IASS had given the keynote speech. The summary of his speech is given here:

“Air pollution is a major environmental and societal problem of our time, as it leads to a multitude of adverse effects on human health, crops, ecosystems, and climate, as well as on the built environment. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that air pollution caused around 7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012, most of them in developing countries. But it is not only a problem of developing countries: the European Environment Agency concluded in a report released on 30th November 2015 that air pollution poses the single largest environmental health risk in Europe today. Furthermore, air pollutants, in particular ozone, cause the loss of about 110 million metric tonnes of crops every year globally. Black carbon, methane, ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons, also commonly known as the short-lived climate-forcing pollutants (SLCPs), are the most important contributors to global warming after carbon dioxide. They are responsible for a substantial fraction of near-term climate warming, with particularly large impacts on sensitive cryosphere (covered with snow and ice) regions of the world such as the Arctic and the Himalayas. Rapid and wide-spread implementation of already available efficient and cost–effective air pollution control measures can save lives, enhance food and energy security, combat climate change, and address socio-economic issues and help achieve sustainable development. Cities or regions which reduce the emissions of air pollutants directly experience the most benefits. We do not and should not need to prioritize clean air measures over climate change measures. In fact, we can have both, complementing to each other, but we need to carefully focus our efforts more strongly on the win-win initiatives. One of these initiatives is the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the only global effort that unites governments, civil society and the private sector, committed to improving air quality and protecting the climate in next few decades by reducing SLCPs on a sector-by-sector basis. Complementary to mitigating carbon dioxide emissions, the Coalition acts as a catalyst to create, implement and share immediate solutions addressing air pollution and near-term climate change to improve people’s lives rapidly, and to ensure sustainable development for future generations.

Air pollution is the top environmental health risk in South Asia

South Asia, notably the vast Indo-Gangetic plains (IGP), is already one of the most heavily populated and most polluted regions of the world. And it is getting worse: for example, the region has been projected to have the worst ozone pollution in the world by 2030. Many cities in South Asia already suffer from some of the worst air pollution problems in the world. Air pollution can be carried over very long distances, across national borders, away from emission sources by the winds. As a result, the IGP and adjacent regions get shrouded with a dramatic annual buildup of regional scale plumes of air pollutants, known as atmospheric brown clouds (ABC), during long and dry winter season and pre-monsoon season each year. Air pollution in south Asia is linked to the loss of over 1.7 million lives prematurely every year (~30% of global total deaths due to air pollution), decreases of tens of millions of tonnes of crop yields, intensification of winter fog in the IGP, disruption in regional precipitation patterns, intensification of storms, regional atmospheric warming, and melting of Himalayan glaciers and snow packs. These changes pose serious threats to food and energy security, tourism, and more broadly, for socio-economics and national development goals of the countries in the South Asia.

Nepal is double-hit by air pollution and climate change

Nepal is also increasingly affected by growing local air pollution as well as regional air pollution, especially from the south. Actually it is double-hit by air pollution and climate change. Nepal is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change but it is among the least prepared countries in the world to deal with them. The Kathmandu Valley has very notorious air pollution problems, considered as one of the most polluted cities in the world. Air pollution is the top most environmental health risk, and 2nd largest global burden of diseases (GBD) in Nepal which was responsible for nearly 25,000 premature deaths in 2013 (indoor: 15000, outdoor: 9,000, noting some overlap between these numbers), according to a new study by on GBD published in September 2015 (see the figure on right, Forouzanfar et al., The Lancet, 2015). Nepal also suffers from other impacts of air pollution mentioned above.

Recent studies coordinated by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Germany show that levels of such pollutants as particulate matter (PM), black carbon, ozone, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) at the different locations in the Kathmandu Valley are all dangerously high. In the city centers of the Kathmandu valley the air quality is so bad that Nepal’s own national ambient air quality standards are only met on about 40 days per year; during the rest of the year, the particulate matter exceeds the limit considered harmful. In places like Pakanajol and Bode, ozone concentrations have been found higher than the WHO guidelines considered safe nearly 4 months of a year, while in Nagarkot it was almost 6 months. The PAH levels at Bode were found comparable to the levels observed in Megacities like Beijing and Delhi. Exposure to these pollutants is quite significant and appears to be widespread across the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas. Major sources are the vehicles and roads, brick factories, and waste burning. Air pollution will remain as a major environmental challenge in Nepal over the next few decades if the current policies and practices are not steered towards supporting widespread and early implementation of clean solutions. The sizable emission of air pollutants in the Kathmandu Valley is of concern for local and regional air quality and climate; however, it is still a manageable size in terms of potential interventions to address serious air pollution problems in the valley. Doing so will require developing solutions that that are rooted in sound science and the local/national context. Although there are still many details that do need further scientific investigation, the basic scientific evidence is sufficiently clear as to where action is needed, and it is indisputable that actions taken to reduce air pollution result in multiple benefits for human health, food security, climate, and development in Nepal. We need synergies between various actors for making a desired transformative change swiftly, which the Kathmandu valley needs desperately. The scientific evidence on air pollution impacts in Nepal is emerging. Many national and international agencies are interested in understanding and addressing air pollution in Nepal. The government of Nepal is also embarking on more systematic air quality management programmes. There is a significant urgent need to support transformative air quality management in Nepal by sharing and providing scientific, technical and policy support to the government’s initiatives.”

Speaking in the program the legislative parliament members Hon Rameshwor Phuyal and the member of Environment committee of legislative parliament Hon Mrs Jiwan Kumari Ghimire emphasized the need of the formulation and enforcement of necessary policies. The program was held in the Hotel Himalaya, Kopundol on Feb 22, 2016.