Environmental Pollution A Global Emergency
Dr. Kishor Adhikari
If you search Internet with the key word “environment dates, you will get amazing facts with nearly 100 different environment related celebration days, weeks, years including couples of celebration decades globally. The idea behind this huge focus from the global community for environment is quite obvious because the world is vulnerable with the fatal environmental issues that must be solved if the world is to remain a supportive habitat for humans and other species.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, one-fourth of the global total deaths are attributable to environmental issues. There are more than 100 diseases which may be resulted by environmental risk factors such as air, water, soil, noise and radiation pollutions. Another report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) suggests that about 70 per cent of disasters are now climate related, and the figure was around 50 per cent just two decades ago. The cost of responding to disasters has risen tenfold between 1992 and 2008. Destructive sudden heavy rains, strong tropical storms, repeated flooding and droughts are likely to increase as well as the vulnerability of local communities due to deficiency of strong concerted action. The proportion of population affected and the damage caused by extreme weather has been exceptional. Over consumption of nonrenewable natural resources is a global threat. It is recognized as major contributor to environmental degradation. The UNEP’s International Resource Panel estimates that consumption of natural resources will triple by 2050.
One of the major causes of environmental degradation is air pollution and hence climate change. Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation for agriculture, and industrial activities have pushed up atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentrations from 280 Parts Per Million (PPM) just 200 years ago to about 400 PPM today. There are clear evidence of various consequences emerged because of this extraordinary increase of air pollution in the big cities of the Asian countries like Beijing and New Delhi where because of repeated heavy smog the local authorities issued hazardous level warnings with an advisory to stay indoors including closure of schools for weeks.
The Environment Performance Index (EPI), which ranks 180 countries of the world based on high-priority nine environmental issues comprised of more than 20 indicators, has ranked Nepal 149th on overall issues, but 177th out of 180 on air quality issues from a study conducted at Yale University in 2016. Household air pollution of Nepal was found over 18fold higher than the WHO recommended guidelines in the 2007 survey. The major contributors of air pollution in Nepal are the old and not well maintained vehicles, brick and cement factories located nearby major cities and most importantly, solid fuels (wood, charcoal, coal, dung, crop wastes) as a primary source of cooking energy. It is not surprising fact, observing the cost of LPG or clean energies like electricity and solar, still nearly 75 per cent Nepalese use solid biomass fuel as a main source of cooking. In poorly ventilated households, smoke in and around the home can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles 100-fold. This exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend most of their time near the fireplace. Recent OPD data from the department of health (DoH), Nepal, shows that respiratory diseases are the topmost reason for OPD visit with respiratory infections being within the top four and chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD) being the main cause of mortality among inpatients.
Though, the National Health Policy of Nepal - 2014 has included ‘air pollution’ as a priority research/public health agenda that is guaranteed by the Constitution, we are still lagging behind for its implementation. There are some urgent needs which the Government of Nepal should immediately fulfill such as assurance of reliable public transport, subsidisation for less hazardous alternative cooking fuels, promotion of cycling insuring construction of sub-way for cycling, heavily reducing tax for importing green energy vehicles along with speeding up forestation programmes.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which includes several ambitious targets to reduce air pollution related death by 2030, majority are directly or indirectly related to environment. Being a signatory country of the SDGs, Nepal should initiate its role by involving all the stockholders for the accomplishment of the goals. Sustainability is the key to prevent or reduce the effect of environmental issues. There is now clear scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and that an unprecedented collective effort is needed to return human use of natural resources to within sustainable limits.
While talking about accountabilities of the government and other stakeholders, we should not forget our own role from the individual or family level for the environmental promotion. It is time to realise that the duties and responsibilities for the improvement of our environment are confined not only to the government. We humans, the supreme creature of the world, are the solely responsible being for whatever environmental degradation has taken place.
Change life style
Let us think what contributions we have made for the promotion (or may be degradation?) of environment. So, it is you or me, who should take proper initiative for the betterment of our environment. We can drastically avoid environmental depletion by only changing our life styles such as use of decomposable bags instead of plastic, by composting the solid waste generated in our home premises, by discouraging the use of vehicle for a walking distance, purchasing the efficient bulbs in the house and so forth.
(Dr. Adhikari is the Head of School of Public Health at Texila American University, Zambia.)