KATHMANDU: Bagmati River flows underneath the bridge that connects Tinkune and New Baneshwor, witnessing a rapid makeover, staring at people choking from dust pollution.

The traffic on the road is becoming increasingly hectic due to ever-increasing private vehicles, road expansion drive, and erratic traffic system.

The road expansion drive initiated by the Nepal government is slow and lethargic and the dusty roads are affecting people’s health.

According to Environment Performance Index 2016, Nepal falls in 149 among 180 countries in terms of quality air. Statistics also say that Kathmandu is one of the polluted cities in the world, and the quality of the air is declining in the view of road expansion drive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) throws a grim picture of Kathmandu’s air quality. The organization says that Kathmandu’s PM10 is 88 and PM2.5 are 49. The PM10 pollution level stands at a high rate. PM10 is particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter, PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. PM2.5 is generally described as fine particles.

Department of Environment and Energy, Australian Government elaborates the effects of PM10: “Particles in the PM10 size range are commonly present in the air and may be drawn into the body with every breath. In the lungs, particles can have a direct physical effect and/or be absorbed into the blood. Airborne particles, not only the PM10 fraction, may also be deposited in the mouth, throat or nose and be ingested.”

The Department of Environment is currently running three air quality monitoring stations in Ratnapark, Dhulikhel, and Pulchowk. It also runs stations at Lumbini and Chitwan. The real-time air-quality monitoring can be accessed from the the Department of Envrionment's website.

WHO states that Pm2.5 should be limited to 10 μg/m3 annual mean and 25 μg/m3 24-hours mean, whereas PM10 should be 20 μg/m3 annual mean and 50 μg/m3 24-hour mean. The sad part is Kathmandu records excessive discharge of these particles in a 24-hour mean.

“It is a fact that pollution has been increasing in Kathmandu and right now we are disseminating awareness to people. We recently had a meeting where all the stakeholders were encouraged to commit to the reduction of pollution. The government will soon come up with a plan to reduce the pollution in the next fifteen days or so for the upcoming year,” said Durga Prasad Dawadi, the Director General of The Department of Environment. “The government has announced to ban 20-years old vehicles and it is yet to be seen as when it will be implemented. The pollution has increased due to the ring road expansion and Melamchi project and although they sprinkle water on roads they are working on, pollution hasn’t been controlled.”

The Nepal government is planning to install more monitoring stations in Nepal but the locations haven’t been finalized yet.

Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries, states that Kathmandu’s pollution index is 95.64. Its estimate puts the capital city as one of the polluted cities in the world.

Nepal adheres to The National Ambient Air Quality Standard 2012 which is not up-to-date since the 24-hour limit of PM2.5 at 40 µg/m3 and PM10 at 120µg/m3. This standard system does not meet the limit set by the WHO. This is, in fact, an alarming state for Kathmandu denizens.

Nepal’s constitution promises right to a healthy environment as one of the rights but it is yet to be seen whether the government is going to do anything about it.

Road expansion drive coupled with the laying of pipes for the Kulekhani Project has put the traffic and air quality off-guard—affecting people’s health. On the other hand, the Traffic police are busy investing on drones, smart card license system, the advanced traffic light for jaywalking, while ignoring pollution and traffic system. But can they be blamed for it?

The Department of Transportation has no plan in its sleeves to control the sale of vehicles. Although reports suggest that the government is planning to twenty years old vehicles in few months, no significant plans have been brought up to deal with the pollution. Its ring road expansion will not complete in two years while the Kulekhani project is expected to finish this year. On the other hand, the auto registration in the capital city has increased significantly.

Every evening, while going home, I see people walking on the bridge nonchalantly. Only a few in numbers wear a mask but recent research says that masks made of clothes are ineffective. Researchers have urged people to wear surgical masks and that it should cover the nose and mouth. Also, there’s a special mask called ‘Vogmask’ which perhaps works better than cloth masks. But not many can afford these masks and prefer cheap mask cloths. The government is in no mood to fix Kathmandu’s pollution, while people are playing a dangerous game with their health.

For live monitoring updates, check: http://pollution.gov.np/station/4

(Arun Budhathoki is a Senior Correspondent with Anna Note.)