Learn From Delhi

Shyam K.C.


New Delhi, the Indian capital, today is facing immense health problems due to environmental pollution. The air one breathes in Delhi today exceeds the safety level. The experts in India have indicated as to why such problems have arisen making life of the people totally miserable and health-wise unsafe. The Indian TV media is full of the dangers that air pollution in Delhi is causing and the people were seen wearing masks to minimise inhaling elements that might cause infection.

 Media reports indicate that the masks are in short supply and some were being sold at higher prices (black-marketing). Old and New Delhi is located in the plains and there is plenty of possibility of the polluting air being driven away quickly if only there is enough strong wind movement.  But even after several days, the air pollution in Delhi is said to be much higher than the accepted safe level. There are enough possibility of reducing the pollution in the first place if only proper care is taken. But in countries like India and other developing countries like Nepal, the people seem to do what they deem to be the best for themselves without the least bit of care for the welfare of others in society and even less about the effects of what they do will have on the overall environment.


Kathmandu’s fate

The small valley known as the Kathmandu Valley is by far the most densely populated area in the country and is prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and to the destruction of its environment by careless administration and equally careless behaviour of the people. The political, economic and social capital of the country is located in the Valley. Those who ruled the country for years and years did not think it prudent and in the best interest of the people of the nation to diversify the activities so that the people do not have to rush to the Kathmandu Valley in order to get their work done. Many naturally thought it is better to move into the Valley than to make trips often. The ten-year old Maoist conflict did not help in any way and thousands moved into the Valley in order to escape the uncertainty and dangers posed by the conflict. Many were uprooted from their homes and many wisely chose to move to the Valley or other urban areas in order to escape the threat.

All this resulted in the Kathmandu Valley of a few hundred thousand people of the 1950s to a valley of few millions of the 2000s. The fact is that the valley has been over crowded both in terms of the inhabitants, national and foreign visitors to motorised vehicles. The question that is to be asked is what happens if the Valley were to face the same problem of pollution that has today bedevilled Delhi? And it has to be realised that the danger is real and imminent.

The Kathmandu Valley is surrounded by mountains and hills and is like a bowl. Any situation similar to the one presently experienced by Delhi will mean that the situation that the people will have to face could be much worse than the one being faced by Delhi residents. This is simply because of the location of the Valley and the fact that smog that pollutes the air will not go away as easily here in the Valley as it will in the plains. We are supposed to be good at aping others, specially our southern neighbour. So why not learn from the mistakes that were made in Delhi and prevent similar undesirable activities taking place in the Kathmandu Valley?

One of the reasons advanced for the Delhi air pollution is the burning of agricultural waste including hay by the farmers.  Such burning used to be a common sight just after the paddy harvesting in Kathmandu. But today such sights are rare if only because there is so little to harvest as the rice fields have been swallowed by buildings. But in its place have come the burning of waste including plastics in almost every corner of Kathmandu city by the municipality employees who sweep the streets in the wee hours of every morning. This is many more times polluting than the burning of agricultural waste by the farmers in the post-harvest period in the 1950s.

The present system of burning the waste gathered by the municipality employees can be prevented if only the senior officials of the municipality pay a little more attention in really helping the people and preventing any activities athat pollute the very air the people breathe. This is specially so when foreign aid is being used to recycle the waste to produce electricity. (But then these officials seem more intent on pleasing the building and real estate mafia than in keeping the city pollution-free and healthy with adequate number of playing fields for the young.) And it is not only the municipality employees who pollute the atmosphere. Some government and its affiliated offices are located in the areas that are open and have some trees, and in such offices, burning of waste including dry leaves that fall from the trees is a common sight. This is preventable and must be stopped without any delay.


Designate areas

Other areas where the government and local authorities can help is to designate areas where tall structures including apartment buildings are to be located so that the Kathmandu landscape remains unpolluted; where night clubs and bars are to be located so that the loud music at night do not disturb the local populace; where malls and shopping complexes with adequate free parking space for the customers are to be located, etc. The experts in these areas will be able to say more but for lay persons like you and me the manner in which the government and local authorities seem to be working in the field of environment seems to be wrong and motivated by interests other than public good. The fact is that if the air pollution in Delhi is a lesson that we Kathmandu Valley can ignore only at a very high cost to the nation. Let’s learn while there is time before it is too late.


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