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Air pollution still a major bugbear

SEP 10 -

Plans to improve Kathmandu’s deteriorating air quality by introducing new monitoring initiatives are unlikely to bear fruit, thanks to the government laxity in assessing the level of pollution in the air that is taking an increasing toll on public health every year.

The new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) 2012 that came into effect a few weeks ago requires effective monitoring and collection of eight-hour and 24-hour samples of air pollutants like Total Suspended Particulates (TSP), Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide, lead and ozone levels for at least 347 days out of a 365-day year. The NAAQS further states that no particular place should fail to monitor air samples for two consecutive days. TSP consist of solid and liquid particles in the air that are harmful to health while PM10 is an air particle with a volume less than 10 micron that can easily enter into the end of the respiratory tract and cause serious health impacts. Both TSP and PM10 are considered major air pollutants.

However, in the current scenario, all existing air quality monitoring stations in seven parts of the Kathmandu Valley have not been functioning since 2007 due to a lack of proper maintenance and an intermittent power supply. As the government has neither repaired nor replaced the non-functioning monitoring stations, the NAAQS is like to fall flat.

Despite the fact that independent research and studies have clearly indicated the rising impact of the deteriorating air quality in the Valley on human health mostly due to unmanaged urbanisation, compounded by rapid population growth and poor urban transportation strategies, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MoEST) has failed to intervene in any form. Air quality assessments and preventive measures to halt the rise in pollutants have not come for several years. A research by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University early this year listed Nepal as the third worst performing country in the world in terms of air quality with regard to effects on human health.

Surendra Subedi, chief of the Environment Pollution Control and Evaluation Division under the MoEST, admits that the ministry has no official data on the concentration of air pollutants. “The existing monitoring stations have become non-operational as most of their spare parts are not being produced,” he said. “We did maintenance work about a year ago and called in companies willing to operate through a tender process as the ministry itself lacks adequate financial and technical resources.”

“We will wait another two months for companies interested in operating the existing monitoring stations. So, far not a single company has shown interest. If none apply, we are planning to phase out the stations and install new ones with new equipment and technology,” Subedi said. However, Ram Charitra Sah, environment scientist associated with the Centre for Public Health and Environment Development, said that even as air pollution increases, the government has not taken necessary control or preventive steps. Even decisions by the past governments to ban two-stroke petrol engines and phase out of polluting 20-year old vehicles from the Valley have never been fully implemented.

Along with the NAAQS, the MoEST has also introduced the Nepal Vehicle Mass Emission Standard (NVMES) 2012, which only allows the movement of environment-friendly zero emissions vehicles complying with the Euro III standard and restricts the earlier Euro I vehicles. For the last 13 years, Nepal has been importing vehicles based on the Nepal Vehicle Mass Emission Standard 1999 (Euro I). European emission standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions. Currently, there are over 1.3 million registered vehicles in the country and the number is increasing at an annual rate of 10-20 percent.

Meanwhile, to enforce new standards on ambient air quality and vehicle emissions, the MoEST has formed a facilitating committee led by Joint-secretary Udav Prasad Baskota and comprising of representatives from the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), the Ministry of Local Development, the Ministry of Finance and the Department of Transport Managem-ent. The committee is responsible for inspecting, monitoring and evaluating the effective implementation of standards such as the use of Euro III vehicles and the quality of fuel. According to Baskota, the NOC has been distributing high-octane Euro III standard petrol across the country since 2010.

Posted on: 2012-09-11 08:10


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