Dust Pollution: Playing Havoc With Life

 

Uttam Maharjan

There is dust everywhere in Kathmandu nowadays. The people of Kathmandu are undergoing an ordeal in the form of dust pollution. Virtually every section of the roads has been dug, be it for construction of buildings or for laying telegraph cables or water pipelines for the Melamchi Drinking Water Project. The people are forced to wear masks, surgical or otherwise, but this has not been effective to prevent them from inhaling dust particles.

 

Respiratory diseases

Hospital sources say that the incidence of diseases related to the respiratory system such as bronchitis, asthma and shortness of breath has been on the rise. They say out of the patients visiting health facilities like hospitals, nursery home or clinics, about twenty per cent are found suffering from respiratory diseases.

 

Respiratory diseases are of many kinds. Dust, mineral dust, cotton fluff, etc. are causative agents of such diseases. A disease caused by inhalation of dust particles is called a coniosis. Those working in cotton factories may get byssinosis. Similarly, colliers may get pneumonoultramicrospicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a disease caused by inhalation of silica dust particles. They are getting the diseases due to occupational factors. But the people in Kathmandu are getting the disease for no fault of theirs. Haphazard digging, coupled with delay in completing the repairs of roads, is mostly to blame for the rising incidence of respiratory diseases.

 

It seems construction activities in Kathmandu are a perpetual phenomenon. On the one hand, the road expansion drive is going on, while on the other road improvement works are taking place. In the name of road improvement, pavements have been removed haphazardly, and due to inordinate delay in completing the repairs, dust is flying everywhere.

 

Not only pavements, even stretches of roads are first damaged by removing blacktop and left unattended for months, if not for years. One of the burning examples is the stretch of the road from Shobha Bhagwati to Bhimsensthan along the Bishnumati corridor.

 

There is no coordination among government agencies. When one agency completes its work, the other comes on the scene and digs the just pitched road. Furthermore, during the dying months of a fiscal year, construction works pick up momentum to exhaust the budget allocations. This phenomenon has been repeating for years. But the government has not taken any concrete measures to stop this unwarranted cycle of development works.

 

The quality of work, especially of roads, is not up to the mark. Contractors use low-quality bitumen, the raw material of blacktopping roads. The thickness of the pitch is also highly compromised. So there are instances of the pitch coming off in flakes in a short span of time after a road has been constructed or repaired.

 

Road contractors seem to have much clout. They are in cahoots with powerful leaders. So they are not fearful of any punitive action for violating the terms and conditions in their contracts. They tend to start work and leave it in midstream. This is one of the reasons for the emergence of dust pollution in Kathmandu.

 

The Supreme Court has, in response to a lawsuit against the government for playing havoc with the health of the people, has also issued an interim order in the name of the government to the effect that proper arrangements be made for making the environment clean for the sake of public health.

Article 7 of the Environment Conservation Act, 2053 has also provision for controlling pollution.  It is really difficult to go out without wearing masks. But medical specialists are of the view that wearing masks may not prevent one from inhaling minute dust particles. This scenario epitomizes the formidable implications the environment in Kathmandu is exerting on the denizens of the Valley.

 

The Constitution of Nepal has encapsulated the right to health and a clean environment. Accordingly, the people should be allowed to live a healthy life. The government should ensure that the people are not deprived of this right. But the present scenario shows that the government is indifferent to the health of its people. Health is a big deal, which cannot be disregarded at any cost.

 

The government has also invested a lot of money in the health sector. Such a sum of money is earmarked in every annual budget. It is rightly said that health is wealth. Without healthy people, a country cannot develop. In developed countries, governments have implemented various health packages such as Medicare (for old people) and Medicaid (for poor people). But in our context, even the basic right has been violated by none other than the government itself.

 

Systematic planning 

The health of the people cannot be taken lightly. Construction works should be done, but not at the cost of public health. Systematic planning of construction or repairs needs to be in place. Delay in completing works should be strictly prohibited with provision for draconian punitive action. More importantly, there should be proper coordination among various government agencies.

 

The other important aspect is quality work in the construction or repairs of roads. Use of high-quality raw materials and blacktopping roads from side to side in complete fashion without leaving the sides dusty will prevent dust pollution to a great extent. Sanitation is equally important in this regard. So it is high time the government took the issue of public health seriously and adopted every possible measure to free Kathmandu and other cities of dust pollution.  

 

 

 

 

 

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