The capital chokes

Published On: November 24, 2016 12:15 AM NPT By: Ishwar Rauniyar

Combating air pollution has never been a priority of the Nepali political class or of our government
We had just entered the doctor’s room when he asked, “What happened to him again?” 
“Cough and fever,” I said. “He coughs like hell. Cannot sleep the whole night.”

The doctor examined the patient, prescribed new medicines and handed us the slip while informing all this was happening because of dust and air pollution. Hundreds of such cases are reported every day. 

My child, Aarav, was ill and this was the third time in a month that I was visiting hospital for the same illness. Every time, I found more children with similar problems. Even I have gone to hospital for the same illness. The doctor suggested that I use a mask. It hasn’t helped. Masks, it seems, have lost the power to prevent you from Kathmandu’s dust.

According to a physician at Alka Hospital, “Apart from dusty roads, mechanical pollution is destroying our lungs.” He believes outdated and pollution-friendly vehicles are plying the streets. 

It reminded me of one of my investigative stories that revealed how vehicles were getting ‘green sticker’ by paying anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 500 in place of the official rate of Rs 35 a vehicle. Many public vehicles in Kathmandu have never passed a green test. It was surprising to see officials of different vehicle committees visiting ‘green sticker providing office’ with bag full of ‘blue books’ and, of course, wads of money.

Motorbikes don’t even have to bother getting a sticker, as there are no such rules for two-wheelers.

The proposal to ban vehicles that are over 20 years old has been in debate for years. But it has not been implemented. For combating pollution has never been a priority of the state or of our political class. 

There was a report that the government has installed pollution measuring equipment at several points of Kathmandu. But what will we do with them if we can’t do anything about pollution? 

The number of patients visiting hospitals—both private and government—with pollution-related health problems has more than doubled in past one year.

It’s been a year since I started driving a ‘scooter.’ As you can imagine, my hospital visits have also increased in this time. 

When I, an adult man, cannot resist pollution and easily get ill, how can children like my son be expected to cope? 

A report published in the Serbia-based research website places Nepal’s capital city as the third worst polluted in the world. The last pollution ranking published in the middle of 2015 had also placed Kathmandu in the third position while in the beginning of 2015 Kathmandu was in the fifth position.

If you have driven along Koteswor-Kalanki stretch, you must have known how pollution chokes. 

And if you were a ‘pillion’ rider you might have had one of the worst ‘breathing experiences’ in your life. 

Dusk chokes you on most streets of Kathmandu. You get sick and visit hospitals, which in turn are making a lot of money from our misery. 

Kathmandu’s road expansion drive is commendable. But no one knows when it will be completed and the dust on them settle. 

It’s estimated that the current dusty environment will remain for another four or five years as water pipes of Melamchi project are still being laid and many roads are under construction. 

Kathmandu is the gateway of Nepal. We all know that Nepal’s tourism relies on word of mouth publicity. We can imagine what sort of impression Nepal is making in the outer world. Also, shouldn’t the government think about taxpayers? I can’t even imagine the plight of the people living by the dusty roads. 

Youth and student wings of political parties hit the streets over even minor issues. I have never seen them raise voice against pollution, which is a very serious issue.  

It’s time for us to put pressure on the government to adopt adequate pollution control measures, and immediately. 

The author is a Kathmandu-based journalist

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