Tuesday, January 5, 2021

'Air pollution emergency' in Kathmandu

 The government warned Kathmandu Valley residents not to come out from their homes for a couple of days as the air pollution has crossed the dangerous level today suddenly witnessing a record worst air quality – with increasing pollution and reducing mercury level – in the world.

Kathmandu’s overall air-quality readings hit the worst, making it the most polluted city in the world, followed by New Delhi, according to AQ AirVisual, a Swiss group that collects real-time air-quality data from around the world.

The air quality of the Kathmandu Valley has been ranked as the worst in the world with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) standing at 401.67 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) Monday midnight. According to the Kathmandu Valley’s Air Pollution Management Action Plan, the authorities can declare a public health emergency whenever AQI readings exceed 300. The Cabinet had endorsed the action plan on February 24 last year. According to the Action Plan, the authorities should declare an air pollution emergency, if the air quality index goes above 300 (µg/m3). But the Ministry of Forests and Environment – that looks after the environment issues – has no plan to declare an emergency. However, it is planning to impose odd-even rules for vehicles in the Valley, if the pollution level sees no improvement.

The air-quality monitoring station at Ratna Park and Phora Durbar, both recorded the worst level of air pollution. According to EPA’s air quality index, air quality levels between 151-200 is considered ‘unhealthy’, and everyone may experience problems, with sensitive groups feeling more severe effects. The levels exceeding AQI 300 are considered ‘hazardous’ for everyone and may prompt emergency alerts.

Air quality remains the worst in the first week of January, according to the scientists. “People need to follow precautionary measures to avoid health hazards by wearing masks while coming out of their homes,” they suggested, adding that the people also need to change their habits in situations like these to stay safe.

The air quality started deteriorated to ‘hazardous levels’ since yesterday evening, when it crossed the 600 mark, fuelling concerns about respiratory complications especially among the elderly, children and Covid-19 patients. 

As the air quality has deteriorated to the worst levels, the scientists and public health experts also recommended to stay indoors, and use mask if they need to go out. “With decreasing mercury level and increasing pollution, the air quality of the Valley has become the worst,” according to the data maintained by Drishti Kathmandu, an organisation that conducts studies on air pollution. “The PM2.5 levels of Kathmandu has been hovering in between 233 (µg/m3) and 401.67 (µg/m3) today,” the date reveals, adding that the PM2.5 levels of more than 150µg/m3 is considered extremely dangerous for human health, and people are recommended to stay indoors. “The overall air quality index of the Kathmandu Valley today stood at 437µg/m3, worst in the world, according to IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company.

Overall Air Quality Index (AQI) levels haven’t dropped since Monday night while westerly winds have enveloped the country with dense fog. The polluted air seems to stay stagnant on the surface for a longer period of time as Kathmandu is a valley. “If the Valley sees rainfall, then it will wash away the pollution from the air, or it will take a few days for improved air quality,” according to the scientists, who also suggested the government to declare pollution emergency. “Other countries would have already declared air pollution emergency, had air quality deteriorated to the current level of Kathmandu Valley.”

The Department of Environment – late in the evening issuing a press note – urged children and old people in the Kathmandu Valley to stay inside their houses unless it is absolutely necessary to go outside. “People, especially children, elderly and those with respiratory problems, need to adopt proper precautions against the growing air pollution in the Valley while venturing outside,” the press note reads, adding that the air quality in other cities like Nepalgunj and Biratnagar is also deteriorating. “Vehicular emission, forest fires and cross-border industrial pollution too have contributed to the deterioration in Kathmandu air quality.”

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