Air pollution emergency in Kathmandu

Published On: January 5, 2021 04:58 PM NPT By: Ashim Neupane

The city has the world’s worst air quality, but the government is yet to take action

Kathmandu Valley made a record of having worst air quality in the world, with AQI standing at above 400 μg/m3

KATHMANDU, Jan 5: With increasing pollution and decreasing mercury levels, Kathmandu on Tuesday made a record of having the worst air quality in the world.

With fine particulate matter (PM2.5) standing at 401.67 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) midnight today, the air quality of the Valley has been ranked as the worst in the world.

The data maintained by Drishti Kathmandu shows that the PM2.5 levels of Kathmandu has been hovering in between 233 (μg/m3) and 401.67 (μg/m3) today. The PM2.5 levels of more than 150μg/m3 is considered extremely dangerous for human health, and people are recommended to stay indoors.

The overall air quality index of the Valley today stood at 437μg/m3 – worst in the world, according to IQAir -- a Swiss air quality technology company.

As the air quality has deteriorated to the worst levels, scientists and public health experts recommend to the public to stay indoors and avoid outdoor exercises such as jogging in the morning.

“With decreasing temperature and increasing pollution, the air quality of the Valley has become worse. It will still take a few days for the weather to improve,” said Ram Charitra Shah, an environmental scientist.

“As the Valley is surrounded by hills, the polluted air stays stagnant on the surface for a longer period of time. This is the reason behind the worsening air quality in the Valley. If the Valley sees rainfall, then it will wash away the pollution from the air, or it will take a few days for improved air quality,” said Shah, adding that other countries would have already declared air pollution emergency if air quality deteriorated to our levels.

There is a provision that the authorities concerned should declare an air pollution emergency if the air quality index goes above 300 (μg/m3). However, the Ministry of Forests and Environment said that there has been no preparation to declare an emergency.

“The ministry is holding discussions with stakeholders to make the people aware about the health hazards of the deteriorating air quality. The polluted air in Kathmandu will stay for a few days,” said Prakash Lamsal, a joint secretary at the ministry, adding that there has been no discussion to declare an emergency.

“If the air quality remains the same for the next few days, the government will impose odd-even rules for vehicles in the Valley,” added Lamsal.

According to environmentalist Bhusan Tuladhar, air quality has deteriorated in the Valley largely due to the increasing pollution and decline in the mercury levels. “Air quality has always been the worst in the first week of January. Having said that, people need to follow precautionary measures to avoid health hazards of pollution,” said Tuladhar, adding that people need to wear masks while coming out of their homes.

“People need to change their habits in situations like these to stay safe. We need to avoid doing outdoor exercise in the morning, and should come out of home only when absolutely necessary,” he added.

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