Uninhabitable Kathmandu


Kushal Pokharel



Kathmandu metropolis is turning into an uninhabitable city. Burgeoning air pollution, traffic congestion and dilapidated roads among others have troubled Kathmanduites for long. Ranked as the 5th most polluted city by the Pollution Index 2017, this city has literally crippled the lives of ordinary people. 

At present, an estimated population of 1,266,000 are residing here. People from different walks of life: students, employees, street vendors, shopkeepers have been adversely affected by environmental pollution and other problems. Thus, the quest for a better Kathmandu with basic facilities that a metropolis offers elsewhere in the world has remained long overdue.

One of the pressing issues people have been facing in Kathmandu is the management of sewage and drainage systems. With haphazard urban planning, the problem has further deepened. Moreover, it has gone from bad to worse with the ongoing pipe installation drive of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project which has remained elusive for the Kathmandu denizens for decades. Roads have turned into swimming pool this monsoon as in the past.


Poor coordination

But this time the problem has intensely come to the fore with the news of a schoolgirl losing life due to the waterlogged road and another girl luckily rescued from a similar situation. Had the authorities become a bit serious about the role that they were supposed to perform, the problem could have been averted.

In the absence of effective coordination among various line agencies working in the field of water supply, electricity and road departments, the dream of  a well managed city has not been materialised. Instead of taking responsibilities, the authorities are involved in blame game trying to prove themselves not guilty. This hightened irresponsibility and lack of commitment for positive change have  been a perennial problem.

 Two separate incidents in the city past week discussed above have exposed the complexity of the problem. How pathetic is this state? It is distressing to note that the authorities have not taken official responsibility for this disaster so far.

While the newly elected Mayor is busy selling false promises to the public ranging from the idea of the smart city to the operation of mono rail, public sufferings continue unabated with no visible signs of any solution. Everyone may wonder with what authority these leaders speak? Who gives them the license to ridicule the public everytime? Why are they only thinking of clinging to power by being dishonest and unaccountable? When will they rise above partisan interests? In fact, Kathmanduites are in need of a clean and green city although not necessarily smart.

After the election of the local level units, it was hoped that the city would at least breathe a sigh of relief particularly in the area of pollution control and road management, but the aspirations have been miserably dashed. The political parties had promised in their election manifestos that they would leave no stone unturned for a better Kathmandu. However, it was nothing but a public stunt to garner votes. The reality is that we haven’t seen an inch of effort from the mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City  to reduce the public sufferings.

A metropolitan city ordinarily encompasses a significant number of people residing in a particular area with multitude of facilites. Although the general characteristics of a metropolitan city can be sketched, there is no unanimous criteria to be such a city. It varies across nations and societies. Nevertheless, a sizeable number of people with a guarantee of quality services in the field of water supply, electricity, housing among others are important indicators. Equally important is the wider reach of such services among people.


Bleak picture

Based on this bigger notion of a  liveable city, 10 best cities identified in 2016 included: Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki, Singapore, Vienna, Tokyo, Oslo, Melbourne, Toronto and Portland. These cities were gauged against the criterias of housing, transportation, sustainability and culture. Comparing Kathmandu with these cities, a bleak picture comes in front of us. Though from the demographic aspect, it is a metropolitan city, if we examine the level of infrastructures and the types of facitilies available here, it can in no way be considered as a liveable city. This is a really worrisome scenario to which little attention has been paid by the policymakers and public officials. No strategic intervention with time bound plan has been made so far barring a handful of individual initiatives. 

Hence, Kathmandu requires a huge transformation as a city to maintain the minimum standard of living equivalent to a metropolitan city. First, the basic facilities should be fixed: drinking water, electricity, housing, transporation etc. Second, the campaign for a ‘clean and green’ Kathmandu should be launched on a sustainable basis rather than conducting a few flashy events for public consumption.

Third, the government authorities should be accountable to the public in every possible ways. Instead of pointing out to others for the bad result, a critical self reflection on their part to figure out how and where things go wrong can boost Kathmandu’s long term growth and prosperity. 

While the potential of Kathmandu to emerge as a quality city still exists, the need is of a dynamic and vigorous leadership that can reinvigorate the hollow Kathmandu with time bound activities and implementation of plan. Citizens also should play the role of a watchdog. Seeking answers from their recently elected local representatives should be duly considered. Any deviation from the larger public interest need not be tolerated.


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