Weekly Musings: Pollution Takes Human Toll
Pollution in all its forms – air, water, noise – does not fail to take its toll of human lives and bring human suffering and misery. The irony is that we the people as ordinary citizens and as political leaders, rulers and bureaucrats are ourselves responsible to a large extent for making the Kathmandu Valley one of the most polluted in the world.
According to the latest figures, Kathmandu is the third worst polluted city in Asia, after Kabul in Afghanistan (first) and Faridabad in India (second). In terms of the world cities, Kathmandu is the sixth worst polluted. The ranking is nothing to be proud of and in fact it is something to be ashamed of. Why are our cities becoming subjected to air, noise, water and other forms of pollution? Are we aware that that these kinds of pollution pose direct risk to the health of the people who are now having to visit medical centres more often than they did in the past? Pollution in all forms is on the rise and unless timely action is taken to control it to safe levels, it could lead to very critical health hazards to the people, drain on their earnings as well as drain on the government treasury, none of which is something to be desired.
Noise pollution is one of the most visible and most audible forms of pollution. It comes in many forms including the loud and –mostly senseless – public speeches, playing of very loud music, the use of loudspeakers in religious occasions including their use in churches, mosques and temples. Then there are chaotic traffic situations in most parts of the city which results in both noise and air pollution as engines are kept running and there is no dearth of those constantly honking horns of their motorbikes, cars and trucks and other vehicles even though they are aware that they have to wait. The noise pollution tends to give rise to a number of health problems including mental ones. Those who indulge in using loudspeakers to propagate their religion seem to forget that what they are doing harm to the people rather than in saving their soul. The religious preachers would do well to remember that when their religions were founded and their followers were told to go and spread their religions, there were no loudspeakers in those days, and they went about their work without causing any noise pollution. What prevents them from doing so now without making a lot of noise through the use of loudspeakers?
The mushrooming of party palaces across the valley is also causing a lot of inconveniences to the people. Many such venues are located in populated areas and the loud music played there tends to disturb a lot of people outside. It must be said that these party palaces have been helpful to a large number of people who have flocked to the capital in the recent years. These venues provide them with the suitable sites to conduct their family ceremonies such as marriage ceremonies, marriage receptions, birthday parties and other functions. This would be impossible for many new inhabitants of the city who live in rented rooms or high rise apartments or small houses with no open space to hold grand receptions and ceremonies. These party palaces are, therefore, a blessing for most of the people of the city. But the drawback of these party venues is that they are used for playing loud music and, as everyone knows, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. The loud music that is played may be highly enjoyable to those attending the party, but is it so for the people who live around such party venues?
And then there is the noised created by the motorised vehicles and their all-knowing drivers who keep on blowing their horns without reason. The narrow roads in the three cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur were never meant to carry the kind of vehicular traffic that we see all around these days. The government seems to think that widening the roads in the inner parts of the cities will solve the problem. (And this may be the reason as to why the government and local municipalities seem to making illogical rules like compulsorily leaving specified amount of space vacant if a new house is to be built to replace the old house.) The noise from the road traffic is deafening and is most likely to prove harmful to the health of the inhabitants. What has the government done so far to help improve the situation in this direction?
Put into practice
The government must be well aware of the situation prevailing in the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley. It is time for the government of a secular country to put a stop to the use of loudspeakers in religious ceremonies and preaching irrespective of whether such a religion be Hinduism or Islam or Christian. The government might also do well to direct the party venues to keep the volume of the music they play or the noise they make in terms of the people shouting to the tolerable decibels. The road noise can only be controlled through better traffic management and proper education to the drivers so that they do not unnecessarily go on blowing the horns. These measures are possible today, but due to the ever rising population of the Valley, it may be just impossible in the future. The government and the concerned authorities must act before it is too late. It is not enough to sign international protocols on pollution; we need to learn to put theories into practice at home first.