We thought local government elections would solve the problem because elected mayors and ward committees would be more accountable. Alas, no such luck. Nearly two years after winning polls and assuming office, local governments have been busy feathering their own nests, making recklessly unrealistic promises and lurching from one blunder to the next.
Solution to pollution, Pallavi Pant and Anobha Gurung
Kathmandu Valley’s five mayors came together last year for a conference organised by ICIMOD to hear from Mexico’s ambassador to Nepal, Melba Pria. She gave them a checklist of how Mexico City cleaned up its air: a strategic shift to reliable public transport, control of all open burning, improving the quality of fuel, use of catalytic converters, strict vehicular emission controls and moving smokestack industries away from the city core.
The solution, therefore, has to be structural, not piecemeal. It needs vision and a plan to be responsive to the need to protect the people’s health. When greed and selfishness become part of the job description of politicians, it may be unrealistic to expect the public interest to suddenly take precedence. But we do not even have the luxury of waiting to clean up our politics to clean up the air. It is the air we are breathing right now, and it cannot wait.
Elsewhere, politicians only woke up to pollution crises when they found out they were also affected. For example, when London’s Thames River had turned into a sewer 100 years ago, politicians acted only because the stink made it impossible for Parliament to sit at Westminster. And it was only when elderly politicians started dying of respiratory failure caused by pollution from coal burning that British legislators finally passed the Clean Air Act.
Air pollution is more dangerous than smoking, Sonia Awale
Toxic bubble, Ajaya Dixit
In Kathmandu, we are already at a point where the air is so bad it could shorten the lifespan of politicians. That is when they may act, but don’t bet on it. Enlightened self-interest was never a hallmark of our rulers. As Arnico Panday argues on page 9, emissions of short-lived carbon pollutants like soot particles can be tackled locally. This will improve public health, save money by making more efficient use of energy and even reduce glacial melting.
As we see from the survey in this issue, Kathmandu’s air pollution could now have an impact on land prices as people move to less polluted areas. It is already driving people out – some respondents say they may leave Kathmandu or even emigrate because of the bad air.
The national budget presented to Parliament on Wednesday is based on classical economics; it does not take into account ecosystem services, and the need to balance economic growth with environmental protection. Air pollution in Kathmandu is a representation of this skewed policy in which the government is so dependent on vehicular taxes that it has ignored public health costs.
Green sticker = green light to pollute, Sonam Choekyi Lama