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2022 Air quality average
Unhealthy for sensitive groups
2022 average US AQI
2022 average PM2.5 concentration in Nepal: 8 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
|2022 Nepal cleanest city|| Kirtipur , Central Region|
|2022 Nepal most polluted city|| Kathmandu , Central Region|
Nepal is a landlocked country located in south Asia. It has a wide array of differentgeographical terrain within it, with large amounts of beautiful and pristinemountain ranges and valleys. Whilst these areas lend themselves to creating awonderful image of Nepal, its geographical features also assist in theelevation of its already high pollution readings. It finds itself situateddirectly in between India and China, two economic giants in their own right aswell as being the world’s top contributors to air pollution.
Bangladesh is also located within 30km from its southeastern region, another country thatsuffers from heightened pollution levels. additionally, the numerous mountainranges and valleys create pollution sinks for cities such as Kathmandu, the capital city and economic heartof Nepal. Within these pollution sinks are areas where large amounts of dust,vehicular fumes and other smoke sources can gather, and due to them coalescingwithin the city limits which are surrounded by valleys and mountain ranges,they often accumulate over long periods of time due to lack of strong winds andother meteorological effects that would assist in the removal of built uppollution in the air.
In terms of its PM2.5 levels, Nepal came in over 2019 with a reading of 44.46 μg/m³. Thisnumber puts it into the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ bracket, which as thename implies, the air has potential health issues for those that are sensitiveto pollution, including young children, the elderly, those with respiratoryconditions as well as pregnant mothers.
The unhealthy for sensitive groups rating requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 35.5to 55.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such. This puts Nepal's reading right into themiddle of this group, as well as making it the 8th most pollutedcountry worldwide in 2019, coming in just behind other countries such asBahrain (46.80 μg/m³) and Indonesia (51.71 μg/m³).
This 8th place position is not an ideal spot for Nepal to find itself in, in regards tothe quality of its air and the safety of its citizens, as well as the plethoraof tourists that make their way into Nepal each year, although of note thatduring the year of 2020, due to covid-19 these tourist numbers were drasticallyreduced, having some negative effects of Nepal's overall economy.
Kathmandu also came in with a similar number over the year of 2019, with a PM2.5 readingof 48 μg/m³. This means it was also placed into the unhealthy for sensitivegroups bracket, with some of its months seeing huge spikes in pollution levels,subject to high levels of smoke, haze, dust and other noxious fumes.
So, in finishing, whilst Nepal has many areas that would see crystal clear airquality, particular in the numerous mountain towns and villages across thecountry, it stands to reason that the more populated areas are indeed sufferingfrom some high levels of pollution.
There are numerous causes of pollution across the country, many of which stem from a lackof regulations regarding operations such as factories and construction sites,open burning as well as the fuels used in the many vehicles found in Kathmanduand other cities. To address the issue of vehicles first, it can be seen thatmany of the numerous motorbikes, cars and buses are quite aged anddeteriorated, yet due to an ingrained ingenuity to keep old things alive andrunning, many of them are still moving up and down the country despite havingengines that put of vast amounts of black soot and other toxic pollutants thatarise from poorly combusted fossil fuels, in particular diesel. This finds noregulation amongst its use, or indeed in Nepal's particular case, massiveoveruse.
Another element that has contributed to the levels of polluted was the catastrophic 7.8magnitude earthquake that occurred in 2015, levelling many historic areas anddomiciles across the capital city, leading to a massive spike in dust pollution,much of which still remains till this day due to the lack of proper cleanupconducted by the country. Many of the affected areas still lie in ruins due to Nepalnot having the infrastructure needed to repair such massive amounts of damage.
As a result, the previously mentioned dust finds itself in every corner of the capital,permeating the roads where it is ground up into even more fine particulatematter and sent billowing into the atmosphere. This creates larger readings ofPM2.5 and PM10 in the air, which can have highly damaging effects whenrespired, as well as mixing with other chemicals from exhaust fumes and factoryemissions to create even more harmful compounds and other forms of material.
Open burning of refuse and waste is another highly pertinent issue, with the country ofNepal acknowledging that cracking down on this could occur quite easily withlittle resources or time being put into it, but as it stands it has yet to beenforced. Due to a lack of proper garbage collection and disposalinfrastructure, large amounts of the population, both in the capital and inother cities as well as rural areas, take to lighting their refuse on fire inorder to get rid of it.
These piles contain everything from wood or other similar dead organic materials, to highlytoxic manmade materials such as rubber, plastics and even metals. Thesecontribute massively to pollution levels across the country, with burning alsobecoming an even more salient point during the winter months, when largeamounts of wood and coal are burnt for the warming of homes, as well as beingburnt year-round for cooking and other such small-scale local practices.However much of a small scale they are though, they eventually add up todisastrous levels when practiced by large amounts of the population, causingfar worse readings of US AQI as well as heightened PM2.5 and PM10 levels, theeffects of which will be discussed in short.
When observing some of the more polluted months caught on record in Nepal, certainones such as January 2019 in Kathmandu stand out. This month came in with aPM2.5 reading of 102.7 μg/m³, putting it into the higher end of the ‘unhealthy’ratings bracket, which requires a reading of anywhere from 55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³to be classed as such. This is an extremely high rating of pollution, and whenhealth effects are concerned on the general population, the higher the levelsof pollution that are present, the more likely that these health effects will occur.
When examining PM2.5, it is described as particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometersor less in diameter. Due to its incredibly small size, it has a whole host ofhighly negative effects when inhaled (which is why it is used as such animportant component in calculating the overall levels of pollution levels, orair quality index).
When inhaled, these small particulate matters such as black carbon or finely ground gravel orsilica dust, can cause scarring to the lung tissues that lead to an overallreduction in full lung function. Material with carcinogenic properties canpenetrate deep into the lungs and accumulate, leading to heightened instancesof cancer. These tiny particles can also cross over into the bloodstream viathe air sacs in the lungs, wreaking havoc on an individual’s health by causingdamage to blood vessels as well as organs such as the liver and kidneys (alongwith affecting reproductive health).
Further conditions can include ones such as ischemic heart disease, arising from wheninadequate amounts of oxygen reach the heart tissues, leading to adeterioration in function. Further heart complications can include arrythmias, increasedinstances of heart attacks and problems related to blood pressure regulation.
These are to name but a few of the health issues of being exposed to high levels of smokeand haze-based pollution. The plastic and other synthetic materials being burntin the open fires can cause irritation to the nose, eyes, mouth and airways, aswell as causing irreversible changes to the nervous system that can lead tochronic fatigue, cognitive impairments and headaches, all of which have asalient effect on a young and growing population.
Babies that are exposed whilst in the womb have an increased chance of miscarriage, orbeing born prematurely or with a low birth weight, thus heightened pollutionlevels lead directly to higher rates of infant mortality, as well as largeamounts of the population having their lives cut short due to health problems stemmingfrom air pollution.
The levels of pollution in Nepal correlate heavily with changes in weather, with the colderand drier months seeing the absolute worst levels of pollution across all theregistered cities, whilst the monsoon season brings with it some respite interms of pollutants found in the air, due to the rains highly prominent effectof washing chemicals and dust out of the air, as well as washing awayaccumulations that have gathered on the ground across the city.
Observing the data taking over 2019 across all cities, it is apparent that pollution levelsstart to rise just as the monsoon season comes to an end, which happens to fallon October. A marked increase in PM2.5 readings are seen across the fourcities, whilst in contrast September’s readings often come in remarkablycleaner. To look at some of these statistics, Kathmandu came in with a readingof 11.8 μg/m³ in August, its cleanest reading out of the entire year. This wasfollowed in September by a reading of 13.1 μg/m³, a slight increase that wasenough to put it up by a ranking, but at the absolute lowest end of the‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ bracket.
Patan, the second most polluted city in Nepal, came in with a PM2.5 reading of 7.1 μg/m³in September 2019, making it fall nicely within the World Health Organizations(WHO’s) target goal for great air quality of 0 to 10 μg/m³, demonstrating thatPatan had an extremely good quality of air over September. Other cities withsimilar readings were Kirtipur with a reading of 6 μg/m³ in August and 6.4 μg/m³in September.
Now in contrast to the next month, Kathmandu's October reading came in at 30.6 μg/m³,a number nearly three times that of the previous month. The same occurred inPatan, with its 7.1 μg/m³ jumping up to 22.3 μg/m³ in October, and once again asimilar story in kirtipur, with its reading of 6.4 jumping to 12.4 μg/m³,almost double of the previous month. This is statistical proof that Nepalbegins its AQI decline towards the end of the year, with peaks in pollutionlevels occurring in December through to January. To summarize, the months that are the cleanestin regards to air quality in Nepal are July through to September, and thedirtiest months are November, December and January, times when preventativemeasures such as wearing of particle filtering masks and avoiding outdooractivities if possible, become of increased importance.
Of note is that Kathmandu, due to being the capital city, saw elevated readings of PM2.5 wellinto May, before dropping rapidly in June. For those wishing to travel to Nepal,as well as its inhabitants already living there, these are all importantfactors to take into consideration, although due to the monsoon season, largeincreases in waterborne illnesses also become prominent, something of note forpeople that have Nepal as a destination.
Looking at the air quality data over the last few years, it appears that Nepal made amarked improvement from 2018 to 2019, with a PM2.5 reading of 54.15 μg/m³ beingrecorded as an average over 2018 as compared to 44.46 μg/m³ in 2019. Whilstthis shows an improvement over the course of one year, when observing datataken from the capital city, Kathmandu, it also shows a similar trend of worseair quality in 2018 being improved upon in more recent times. However, when thedata from 2017 in Kathmandu is observed, a reading of 45.9 μg/m³ was recorded,which is a better number than the one that was taken in 2019.
This gives a level of uncertainty as to whether pollution levels in Nepal are improving, orjust fluctuating between similar levels of pollution. It will take manyimproved initiatives in the coming years, such as the cracking down on openburning fires, as well as the gradual removal and phasing out of diesel fuelsand the ancient vehicles populating the roads. Facing massive economic growth,Nepal will be in a position where its pollution levels may have a long way togo before improving, so as it stands for now, the differences between numbersof PM2.5 are hard to differentiate between being actual improvements or justthe aforementioned fluctuations in numbers. With the implantation of thecleanup initiatives, Nepal may yet see improved levels of US AQI as well aslower PM2.5 readings in a hopeful future.
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