Clean measures

Kathmandu's growing air pollution forces authorities to enforce strict regulations

Published: Monday 15 November 1999

it is a constant battle for fresh air for the residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Everyday Nepal Radio airs a bulletin that declares the air quality of the city, which, most of the time, is critical. "After listening to the bulletin, I realised that air pollution is the real cause for my chronic respiratory disease," says Jagdis Bahadur Chettri, a shopkeeper on the busy King's Way.

The reason for Kathmandu's polluted air is the high quantity of dust, vehicular emissions and emissions from the lone cement factory. "The valley's air has 1000 to 5000 micrograms of dust per cubic metre of air in 24 hours, when the permissible limit is only 170 microgrammes," says Toran Sharma, managing director of Nepal Environmental and Scientific Services which monitors air quality in Kathmandu.

This has prompted the authorities to take the problem seriously. With Danish assistance, the ministry of population and environment ( mope ) has charted out an ambitious plan to curb vehicular pollution in Kathmandu which is host to 130,000 vehicles of Nepal's 200,000 total vehicles. It has already banned the polluting India-manufactured Vikram three-wheelers. Though registration was stopped in 1992, there were still 650 of them plying in the city. Vikram operators have been offered 99 per cent custom reduction on the import of battery-driven micro-buses to replace the Vikrams. Also, all heavy vehicles and other diesel vehicles have been barred from the city's ring road during the day. Besides, there is a ban on the registration of two-stroke motorcycles whose phase-out is on the anvil. Says Bhakta Bahadur Balayar, the environment minister of Nepal: "This is the beginning of the fight against pollution."

In fact, Kathmandu's air pollution is caused more by the deplorable road conditions and dust in the air, than vehicular emissions. "The high quantity of dust comes from sweeping of roads and the dust raised by vehicles running on non-topped roads. Vehicular emission contributes only 10 per cent of the dust," says Sharma. "Banning vehicles will not curb pollution. There must be emphasis on better traffic management," says Deepak Gajurel, an environment journalist and an activist with the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists ( nfej ), a leading non-governmental organisation ( ngo) which funds the air quality monitoring of Kathmandu.

After the successful phasing-out of the Vikrams, the mope has proposed to enforce Euro- i norms from January, 2001. Says Balayar, charting out his 'mega plan' to curb pollution, "We are introducing a legislation in Parliament which will make the polluters pay for pollution."

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