KATHMANDU, Feb 28: Kathmandu has shown a slight improvement in average air quality, with its position sliding to 137th most polluted city in the world in 2019 from 100th position in 2018.
According to IQAir Airvisuals’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, released early this week, the average PM2.5 in 2019 was 48 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) in Kathmandu which was 54.4 µg/m3 in 2018. This is an improvement of 11 percent.
IQ Air is a global air quality information and tech company, which collect data for the annual report from on the ground monitoring stations across the globe, measuring the levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per cubic meter.
However, environmentalists cautioned not to celebrate the news as 2019 pollution level is still higher than in 2017, when the PM2.5 was recorded at 45.9µg/m3. Also, Kathmandu is still one of the most polluted cities in the world.
“It is not a big achievement to be celebrated, however, the good news is that the pollution level has remained stable,” said Bhusan Tuladhar, an environmentalist.
Among the countries, Nepal is ranked as the 8th most polluted country with the average PM 2.5 concentration at 44.5 µg/m³, according to the same report. Bangladesh was ranked as the most polluted country in 2019 with an average PM 2.5 concentration of 83 µg/m³. Pakistan came next with 65 µg/m³ and India recorded an average of 58.1 µg/m³.
“A lot needs to be done to improve the air quality of Kathmandu Valley and Nepal, our response is not up to the mark,” said Bhusan Tuladhar, an environmentalist.
To curb the air pollution in Kathmandu Valley, the ministry of Forest and Environment (MoFE) had forwarded an Air Quality Management Action Plan for the Valley to the Council of Ministers for its endorsement in December last year. The cabinet endorsed the action plan only this week. The plan proposes a comprehensive framework to curb Valley’s air pollution, which is caused mainly by vehicular emissions, open trash-burning, industrial pollution, forest fires, dust re-suspension, and emissions released during road construction.
“There is no justification for the government to just sit on such an important action plan for three months,” retorted Amrit Man Nakarmi, a professor at the Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University, who specializes on energy sector and climate change. “Also, the implementation status of various legal measures to curb pollution is pathetic.”
According to World Air Quality Report 2019, 21 of the world’s 30 cities with worst air pollution are in India, with Ghaziabad near New Delhi, ranked as the world’s most polluted city. Ghaziabad recorded average PM2.5 concentration of 110 µg/m3 in 2019.
The majority of the most polluted cities and countries included in the World Air Quality Report are located in South Asia. This region includes 30 of the top 40 most polluted cities and four of the five most polluted countries.
PM 2.5 are considered particularly harmful as they are small enough to enter deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system. PM 2.5 includes pollutants such as sulfates, nitrates and black carbon. Exposure to such particles can cause lung and heart disorders and impair cognitive and immune functions.
Though there is a lack of updated and comprehensive studies on the impact of air pollution on public health in Nepal, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016 reported that 9,943 people die every year due to ambient air pollution in Kathmandu Valley. Another report compiled by Breathlife, a partnership campaign of WHO, UN Environment, World Bank and Climate and Clean Air Coalition, estimated that a total of 37,399 deaths occur per year in Nepal, due to air pollution -- including both outdoor and household air pollution.
“It is a public health disaster, yet the government’s response has been very disappointing,” added Tuladhar.
On a brighter side, the World Air Quality Report has listed Pokhara as the 13th cleanest city in South and Central Asia, with its PM2.5 level at 17.1 µg/m3. Sanandaj, an Iranian city was the most cleanest in the region with its PM2.5 level at 6.5 µg/m3. The report says that India, Iran and Nepal are the only countries within the South and Central Asia region which have live public, national PM2.5 monitoring networks.
According to Department of Environment, MoFE there are seven pollution monitoring stations in Kathmandu another 13 stations are operational in urban areas across the country. These stations provide real-time data on pollution levels, offering rich information to study potential health effects of air pollution.