Dust, Dust, Everywhere


Uttam Maharjan


Kathmandu has got increasingly polluted nowadays. Pollution exists in various forms and manifestations in the capital city. However, the people have to live with it as there does not seem to be any alternative to escaping the ever-burgeoning pollution.


Dust bowl

Kathmandu has become like a dust bowl. The condition of roads in the city is pathetic beyond description. Roads are dismantled in the name of maintenance or reconstruction. Sidewalks are dismantled in the name of upgrading. But it takes a long time, sometimes years, for them to be maintained or reconstructed.

The contractors dismantle the roads post haste as if to maintain or reconstruct them in no time. After the roads have been dismantled, they turn their eyes off them and engage in some other work. When asked to initiate the work, they come up with one excuse or the other. What is surprising is that even the government cannot make the contractors stick to the contract of completing the work by the deadline.

Contractors are said to be powerful due mainly to their political or other connections. It is reported that they win contracts by dint of such connections as well as their muscle power. Due to the prevalence of such nefarious practices, the works contracted out to them get delayed for months, if not years, and the quality of the work also suffers.

Further, there is a tendency of exhausting the budget towards the end of a fiscal year. During the dying months of a fiscal year, works speed up, but priority and the quality of work are grossly compromised. What would you say to the work involving blacktopping an already-well-blacktopped road just for the sake of exhausting the budget, while neglecting the roads that actually need to be blacktopped?

Besides, the debris from the ravages of last year’s earthquake and aftershocks is scattered all over Kathmandu. One such glaring example is the Open Air Theatre (Tundikhel). It is historically and environmentally significant. Making a mockery of such significance, it has been turned into a dumping site. When it will be cleared of the debris is anybody’s guess.

Road digging has been going on in Kathmandu ad nauseam. For lack of coordination among the government departments or agencies, it so happens that as soon as a road is completed, it is dug again for the laying of telephone wires, pipes for drinking water, drain pipes and what not. The government departments or agencies tend to work at their own convenience. They do not deem it necessary to have close rapport and coordination among them. Had they worked in close coordination with one another, frequent road digging would not have been necessary. This would have saved the budget on the one hand, while on the other the people would not have suffered so much as they do now. 

All this has given rise to dust pollution in Kathmandu. It is hard to walk along the roads in Kathmandu without being affected by dust. Needless to say, dust gives rise to several problems or ailments. Asthma, bronchitis, sore throat and other respiratory problems are among the major ones. Now the monsoon is just around the corner. During the monsoon, the dusty roads will turn into muddy roads with puddles. So the people are bound to suffer all the while.

The government does not formulate any plan for improving air quality. In Kathmandu, dust, exhaust fumes from vehicles and smoke are among the major contributors to air pollution. Kathmandu has more vehicles that it can actually carry. The government has allowed the unrestricted import of vehicles. Heavy tax is imposed on the import of vehicles. Besides, annual vehicle tax is also hefty. Although pollution tests are mandatory for four-wheelers, even vehicles emitting heavy smoke can get green stickers.

Air pollution has reached alarming proportions in Kathmandu. Whenever one goes, one is greeted by clouds of dust. On the other hand, exhaust fumes from vehicles and smoke from brick-kilns and other sources are equally defiling the air. But the government has never paid any attention to this matter, which is directly related to public health. As air pollution goes on increasing, the people will find it suffocating to live.

In view of the even more deleterious ramifications air pollution has in store for the people of Kathmandu, it has become too late for the government to come up with a concrete plan targeted at curbing air pollution. But it is next to futile to expect such a thing from the government. The government is preoccupied with its own internal affairs. How to continue to stay in power is its basic thrust. On the other hand, the opposition and other parties tend to focus on how to unseat the government. In short, the ruling, opposition and other parties give much more prominence to the politics of power than anything else.

It does not behoove the government to neglect such an important public health issue. If the government has the will, the level of pollution can be reduced, if not eradicated, by taking various measures. The initiative must come from the government. Once such an initiative is in place, support and help will be forthcoming from various quarters, including the general public.


Indicator of development

The government is responsible for the welfare of the people. Today, public health is of paramount importance as it is one of the indicators of development. Where people are healthy, development also becomes robust. So the government cannot afford to neglect public health. The government should, therefore, come out of the cocoon of indifference and take the initiative in improving air quality in Kathmandu and other places as well.



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