How to clean up Kathmandu’s air

We just need the political will to push solutions through

Pic: BIKRAM RAI

The least we expected from this new federal republic with its elected governments at three levels and numerous institutions paid for with our tax dollars, was that they would ensure we did not have to breathe toxic air. Even water is secondary to air as an essential ingredient to life.

Cleaning up the capital’s air should be the number one priority of the Valley’s five municipalities, the national and provincial governments. Air pollution hurts everyone, no matter how much money you have or where in the Valley you live.

Hence, if we are to believe that the political leadership actually cares, clean fresh air in Kathmandu is possible. Not easy, but possible. That is unless some people are making so much money from bad air in the capital, and sharing the loot with their political masters, that they don’t want it cleaned up. But even those crooks themselves have to breathe the poisonous air they create.

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Dust is the main culprit and hence, following the example of the people of Boudha, a small revolt will be required by the people, of the people and for the people who want clean air. The slogan has to be: ‘If Boudha can do it so can we.’ Over the last three decades, many good ideas have been successfully tried to tackle air pollution, but they were never scaled up for impact.

Remember the electric trolley bus from Tripureswor to Bhaktapur, the conversion of diesel three-wheelers to electric ones, cheaper kerosene dyed blue to deter adulteration with diesel and petrol, green stickers on vehicle windshields (see page 6)? All these initiatives were piloted, and then just left to rot. It would take only a small push to effectively scale them up, along with monitoring to ensure no one is scamming the system.

Some readers may be aware that every time you tank up at the petrol station, you pay a pollution tax for every litre of fuel. How much has been collected in nearly 30 years, and where is it stashed? Why not use it to invest in a fleet of electric buses connecting heritage sites, hospital and schools, where we could install electric vehicle charging stations?

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Let us follow the money and not write another donor proposal. When The Kali Gandaki Hydroelectric Project was being negotiated in the 1980s, we imagined we could create an electric Light Rail Transit system around the Ring Road and use the revenue to repay the Asian Development Bank for the loan for the train and Kali Gandaki. We lost — diesel buses and motorcycle companies won. Two-wheel riders now have to put up with rain, dust, heat and choking exhaust fumes because of the government’s failure to get its priorities right.

Plants need carbon dioxide, and they sequester it as carbohydrates and cellulose. Those carbohydrates become food for animals, while the cellulose props up plant structure. Many homes in Kathmandu still have a few trees left, and their owners should get annual tax rebates for caring for them or if they plant more trees.

All open spaces, riverbanks and streets should be lined with fruit and flowering trees, financed by some of the taxes we pay. In 1997, all businesses along Darbar Marg contributed Rs5,000 to plant trees. There are still stone plaques on each tree with the names of donors. Today, Darbar Marg is a boulevard of purple mimosa. Trees, parks, rivers, ponds and wetlands are the lungs of the city and deserve the same treatment and care.

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The city needs more cycle lanes and pedestrian streets; business will actually benefit. We Nepalis are walkers — traditionally we had to walk everywhere, carrying heavy loads. We even carried cars over mountains before we had roads. People today need to be reminded that walking is OK. At least heritage sites, parks and office areas should be made vehicle-free.

Brick kilns and open garbage burning contribute nearly half of the air pollutants in the Kathmandu Valley. Both are easy to control. Brick kilns can be relocated and upgraded to burn more efficiently (which is also more economical). Mexico City stopped open burning just by imposing fines.

E-commerce and connectivity will greatly reduce the need to drive and pollute the air. This should be an integral part of cleaning Kathmandu’s skies. We pay our bills via e-Sewa now. Green Growth aggregates orders for fresh vegetables and fruits and delivers them to your home, efficiently eliminating the need for individual trips to the market. Smart Paani’s rainwater harvesting can do away with diesel tankers’ frequent trips in the city.

We all know air pollution is a problem. We all know what the solutions are. We just need the political will to push them through.

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Poisoning the air we breathe, Sonia Awale

Anil Chitrakar is the President of Siddharthinc.

Anil Chitrakar

writer

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