The prime minister’s clean Kathmandu programme ended last week amid criticisms and a small amount of praise. Despite the politicisation of a non-political issue, all are agreed on the need to clean up the city; not merely the streets but also the whole environment, including the pollution that is generated aplenty from different sources.
Air and noise pollution in the city are literally having an adverse impact on the lives of the people. The number of motorised vehicles has risen dramatically in the country, particularly in the capital, and it has become a kind of fashion to own a motorised two or four wheeler with little care for the effect it will have on the environment.
People, of course, will be people, and they will consider it a matter of prestige to own a motorbike or a car even if they don’t have the space to park them at night. Many cars are parked at night in the streets of the city, and when their engines rev-up the next morning, the air becomes polluted with what is known as particulate matters (PM), also known as particulate pollution.
Inhaling the PM causes health problems to the people, especially in the heart and lungs. Most people who own motorised vehicles do not seem to be aware that their vehicles might be adding particulate matters, no matter how small a measure. But what we need to ask is: what is the government, more particularly the Kathmandu municipality, doing about this unseen but real problem?
Every year, all vehicles registered in the country must undergo tests to prove that their brakes, steering wheels (handles in the case of motorcycles) and other essential components are working properly. More than a decade ago, a new test for pollution was also added. But have the authorities carefully implemented this test? Are these rules being properly and honestly implemented? If not, why not?
In the past, during the Rana regime and well into the 1960s and 1970s, every four wheeler vehicle in the city had its "Jaanch Pass" (Passed the Test) sticker on its windshield. Later on as the pollution test was introduced, there was a sticker on the windshield to indicate that the vehicle had passed the pollution test. So much so that vehicles without the pollution clearance stickers were not allowed entry into certain areas such as New Road.
But now it seems none of these things are important enough to merit the government’s attention. (Or is this a kind of turning a blind eye to the people’s health due to what political leaders are fond of saying: the country is in a transitional phase?) These days it is not a difficult thing to get your vehicle’s blue book renewed. No tests, including pollution tests, are conducted in the case of motorbikes, and your blue book is automatically renewed. What matters to the government are the levies that have to be paid.
Air pollution is one of the pollution factors that need to be sharply reduced. It is not for nothing that the Environmental Performance Index has listed Nepal as the third worst country. Other international agencies like the WHO has determined Kathmandu as one of the worst affected cities. The WHO in its report said: "The level of PM10 in the air of Kathmandu is 120 micrograms per square metre. As per the standard of the World Health Organisation, the level of PM10 should be 20 micrograms per square metre. The level of PM10 is higher than the official standard in most of the places of the Kathmandu valley."
That this country full of mountains, forests and rivers should fare so badly in its environment has much to do with the air pollution in the urban areas, especially the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley which seems to be the final destination of all Nepalese living in the hills and the Terai. It goes without saying that the exodus of the people in the valley contributes greatly to the ever rising air and other forms of pollution.
The other equally dangerous form of pollution is noise pollution that has plagued the city. A recent study by an international organisation said that Kathmandu was the noisiest city in South Asia, and instead of addressing the problem, we seem to revel in it.
Apart from the noise created by the ever increasing number of vehicles, bars, dance bars, party venues and others are responsible for the city’s unbearable noise level. And these can and should be properly addressed. One of the sources of noise pollution is the industrial noise. Such noise has adverse impact on the health of the workers and also those living in the surrounding areas. But for the city dwellers the noise in the form of music comes from the bars and such other joints.
The concerned authorities before issuing licence or permits to operate such joints must make sure that the noise (in the form of music or DJs shouting at the top of their voice and magnified a hundred fold by the louder speakers in the middle of the night) are kept well within their four walls, and this can only be done when there is proper sound proofing.
But since sound proofing is virtually out of the question for those bent on making money, the only alternative is to ensure through the law enforcing agencies that they keep the level of the noise (or music or voice of the DJs) at a level that does not affect the health of the people living in the surrounding areas.
The then home minister in the Maoist-led government formed after the CA elections did well to curb the loud music and other sounds in the bars and other similar joints after 8:30 p.m. But as the government went so did its regulations. It is heartening to note that some party venues on their own have explicitly written on notice boards that there will be no loud music after 8:30 p.m.
The point is that noise pollution not only disturbs the sleep of the people but also affects the health of the people in many ways. The time to curb air and noise pollution is now, and the government as well as the Kathmandu municipality must rise to the occasion.