Let’s be Aware as Air Pollution Shoots up in Valley

Published On: November 29, 2021 10:42 AM NPT By: Dr Ayasha Shrestha

Dr Ayasha Shrestha

Dr Ayasha Shrestha

The author is a First Year Resident at College of Medical Sciences, Bharatpur, Chitwan.

Nepal was ranked as the 12th most polluted country in the world in 2020 AD with regions of Narayani, Pokhara and Kathmandu being the most polluted with AQI values reaching a hazardous level.

Air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley has become a visible issue that catches much attention, with highly published figures showing a doubling in hospital admissions due to respiratory problems over a period of five years. Kathmandu struggles with air pollution year-round, but the problem becomes acute during the fall and winter months. The contemporary situation is characterized by growing urbanization and a variety of infrastructure development initiatives. As a result, these types of human activities have been responsible for a massive increase in air pollution within the Valley.

Air pollution is a major planetary health risk, with the capital city estimated to have some of the worst levels globally. The quality of air is measured by the Air Quality Index (AQI). AQI levels range from 0 to 500 and track five major air pollutants – ground level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles or aerosols such as PM 2.5 and PM 2.10. Values between 0 to 50 is considered as ‘Good’, 51 and 100 is considered as ‘Moderate’, 101 to 150 is ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, 151 to 200 is ‘Unhealthy’, 201 to 300 is ‘Very Unhealthy’, and anything above 301 is regarded as ‘Hazardous’. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and greater the health concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines state that AQI should be below 35 and the concentration of particles below 2.5 microns. The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) also has colour coded various AQI levels as Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple and Maroon.

Nepal was ranked as the 12th most polluted country in the world in 2020 AD with regions of Narayani, Pokhara and Kathmandu being the most polluted with AQI values reaching a hazardous level. The Government decided to shut down schools for four days as air pollution reached hazardous levels during the months of March and April. A Cabinet decision last year adopted by the Department of Environment, guidelines for air pollution declared a health emergency if (AQI) exceeds 300 and hence the government had the authority to ban open burning, close factories and take measures to reduce vehicles on the road.

In a majority of cities, the sources of air pollution are industrial emissions, construction activities, brick kilns, transport vehicles, road dust, residential and commercial biomass burning, waste burning, agricultural stubble burning, diesel generators, coal burning. Household air pollution is caused mainly by the burning of solid fuels, wood, dung, agricultural residues and coal. When coal and biomass fuels are burned, there is no full combustion. They emit a number of chemicals and gases that are normally breathable but have been linked to long-term chronic obstructive pulmonary illness, cardiovascular disease, and poor reproductive consequences. Women and children are the most vulnerable when it comes to household air pollution. The high population in Kathmandu leads to an increased number of vehicles and also due to bad conditions of the roads lead to hazardous pollution.

Every year air pollution is linked with around 6.5 million premature deaths globally, of which household air pollution causes 3.5 million and ambient air pollution causes 3 million deaths and the future scenario by the 2040 is assumed to increase up to 7.5 million premature deaths per year. Chronic exposure to polluted air raises the risk of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as lung disease, heart disease and cancer. Even a healthy person may experience temporary symptoms, such as coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Short-term exposure to air pollution can aggravate lung disease causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, increasing susceptibility to respiratory infections and arrhythmias in people with heart disease. Long-term exposure to particulate pollution can result in significant health problems including decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease, premature death in people with heart or lung disease, including death from lung cancer and development of chronic respiratory disease in children. More than 65% of all deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) in 2019 were linked to air pollution in Nepal. The air pollution in Kathmandu puts the elderly, those with asthma and other respiratory ailments at high risk, and would be especially dangerous to those with Covid-19. The death rate from both indoor and outdoor air pollutants was 133.3 per 100,000 people in 2017, which is the second-highest death rate in Nepal after Cardiovascular diseases.

Here are some simple, effective tips for protecting you and your family from the dangers of air pollution:

  1. When pollution levels are high, avoid exercising outside, go for a stroll indoors or utilize an exercise machine. Limit the amount of time you remain outdoors.
  2. Face masks offer protection against air pollutants. Prefer N-95 or N-99 mask over cloth mask.
  3. Check daily air pollution forecasts of your area through TV weather reports, radio, newspapers, the internet etc. The color-coded forecasts can tell you when the air in your neighborhood is unhealthy.
  4. Always avoid exercising near high-traffic areas.
  5. Go for a stroll or carpool, ride a bicycle or utilize an electric vehicle. These are all viable alternatives to driving your car.
  6. Support measures to make all public places tobacco-free.
  7. Don't burn wood or trash, burning them are among the major sources of particle pollution (soot) in many parts of the country.
  8. Close your windows. Keeping your windows closed is the first step in keeping the smoky air out of your home. If available use an air purifier.

In the present situation, our neighboring country India is witnessing air pollution at its extreme, so we must be aware about the health hazards and take active interest in reducing the air pollution at an individual level as well as the Government of Nepal must take active measures in implementing strict laws to prevent increase in the current level of air pollution.

Eddie Bernice Johnson said- “The health effects of air pollution imperil human lives. This fact is well-documented.”


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