Cargo trucks, buses and cars cough up jet-black exhaust fumes on the roads of Kathmandu, brick kilns can be spotted miles away with attendant clouds of smoke, and a walk on the main roads sans mask is likely to result in a sneezing-coughing riot at the end of the day.
In 2002, seven air quality monitoring stations were set up with the assistance of DANIDA. Putalisadak, Kirtipur, Lagankhel, Macchegaun and Bhaktapur have one station each, and there are two in Thamel. These monitoring stations automatically collected 24-hour samples of air to be analysed for PM 10 levels, a measure of the particulate matter content in the air. Yet the latest data for air quality in the Kathmandu Valley dates back to 2007, which was when the stations stopped working.
The Ministry of Environment (MoE) has finally decided to dust off these machines, following a study by the Asian Development Bank for Kathmandu Sustainable Urban Transport. "The study showed that it was possible to repair these stations," says Sushma Upadhyay of the Environment Pollution Control and Evaluation Division at MoE. "They will be functional by the end of February."
Repairs were handled by Nepal Environmental and Scientific Services (NESS) and cost about Rs 4 million. Sunil Babu Khatri, Lab Quality Control Manager at NESS and the coordinator for the repair project, says that lack of maintenance, and low power supply for the batteries were the main reasons the stations became dysfunctional.
To ensure that the batteries don't give way again despite 14 hours of loadshedding, MoE has installed back-up power for 10 hours and is in the process of negotiating with ADB to channel solar power to charge the batteries. MoE plans to outsource the operation and maintenance of the stations.
However, Upadhyay is concerned that the readings from the stations may no longer be accurate as tall buildings have been erected near them, hindering the sample collection process. She says: "We now need to explore if these stations can be relocated to more appropriate areas."
The average PM 10 count concentration in Kathmandu was 183 ug/m3 in 2003 and 173 ug/m3 in 2007, far above the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 100 ug/m3. The World Health Organization's standard is 50 ug/m3.