Kathmandu breathes relaxed as lockdown improves air-quality

Published On: March 31, 2020 09:13 AM NPT By: Aditi Baral

Air pollution improves dramatically in the Valley and other major cities across the nation

KATHMAMNDU, March 31: Nearly a week after the government imposed a temporary lockdown across the nation to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Kathmandu Valley and other major cities have started to witness a significant improvement in their Air Quality Index (AQI). On Monday, Kathmandu's AQI was measured to be 85, which is considered as moderate.

Amidst the growing fear of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal government imposed a nationwide lockdown starting from last Tuesday, March 24. The decision was taken by the authorities a day ago, right after the second Covid-19 case was confirmed in Kathmandu. The authorities have extended the lockdown till April 7.

Environment experts mention that the decrease in the air pollution level comes as a consequence of reduction in the movement of people and vehicles like motorbikes, cars, buses and even trucks or tipper trucks that emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and harmful hydrocarbons. "The primary reason behind the drop in air pollution is the decrease in the number of vehicles running on the roads that emit harmful greenhouse gases," said former Minister for Science, Environment and Technology Ganesh Shah.

The lockdown has also forced all big and small power plants and other industrial facilities that are the major contributors to the burning of fossil fuels leading to the production of nitrogen dioxide and other harmful gases.

During normal days, the capital city's air quality index fluctuates between 150 and 180 which is considered unhealthy. However, on Monday, the central areas in the Valley measured AQI between 50 and 85. Similar was the case in most of the major cities across the nation as the AQIs of Pokhara and Biratnagar were noted at 58 and 75, respectively.

An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 and 100 satisfactory, 101 and 200 moderate, 201 and 300 poor, 301 and 400 very poor and 401 and 500 severe. The figures show a dramatic improvement in the air quality levels to extraordinary levels.

Shah mentioned that restriction in people's movement has also decreased the indoor air pollution caused by burning solid fuel sources such as firewood, crop waste and dung for cooking and heating, which has remained one of the main reasons for the increase in air pollution level in Nepal for the past few years.

According to environmentalist Bhushan Tuladhar, frequent rainfall and the impact of westerly wind are also the reasons for the improvement in air quality level these days. The water molecules from rainfall often tend to lower the pollutants found in the air.

Tuladhar on Sunday had posted a picture of a clean Kathmandu stating that along with the reduction in the use of vehicles, rainfall and impact of westerly wind have also contributed to the decrease in air pollution across the Valley. Tuladhar's post mentioned that the air pollution in Kathmandu on Saturday was 10 times less than the average air pollution level.

Experts believe that higher mortality rate from communicable diseases like Covid-19 itself is caused due to long exposure of people to polluted circumstances that often lead to problems in the people's respiratory systems and lungs. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution. Many of these mortalities are attributed to indoor air pollution.

However, it is not just the cities across Nepal alone that are facing these positive consequences of lockdown. Major cities across the globe that are currently under temporary lockdown are also seeing better air quality levels than before.

The last two months have shown a drastic improvement in air quality, especially in hard-hit areas like Wuhan and northern Italy, as well as a number of metropolitan areas throughout the US. India's capital Delhi, too, has witnessed a dramatic decrease in the air pollution level due to a nationwide lockdown.

Shah mentioned that the decrease in Delhi and other major Indian cities' air pollution levels is also a reason for the improvement in Kathmandu's air quality. "Particles that pollute the air, often get carried from Delhi and other places of India to various parts of Nepal," he explained.

Referring to the current statistics, Shah stated that if we are to prioritize a 'green and clean economy' even after the lockdown is over, we can still achieve a healthier air quality level. "The lockdown has taught us that it is possible to achieve better air quality levels," he said.

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