Air quality across Nepal has been deteriorating over the years. The average PM2.5 (concentration of particles smaller than 2.5 microns) in Kathmandu has increased from 88 to 100 µg/m3 between 1990 and 2017. The country needs a sustained and holistic long-term approach, not stop-gap measures, to control the main pollutants from vehicular emissions, waste burning, dust from roads and construction sites, brick kilns and cooking with biomass, not stop-gap measures.
The national government has taken some action for air pollution mitigation, but most sources are linked to civic and governance issues. For example, open garbage burning as a source of air pollution can only be solved through systematic changes in waste management.
Action on air pollution hinges on the availability of reliable information on trends, sources and impacts of pollution. Nepal’s national government has invested in air quality monitoring and currently there are more than 15 monitors across the country, including five real-time monitors in Kathmandu Valley.
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Real-time air quality data from these stations is available online but the website does not support access to historical data. The US Embassy has also set up two air quality monitoring stations in Kathmandu; its hourly results are available live on http://www.nepalitimes.com/, through the SafaHawa App. Daily averages for every week are also published in the print edition of Nepali Times, and historical data can be downloaded. Drishti, a citizen-led, low-cost monitoring network, is active in the Valley and publishes daily air quality data.
There is a growing body of scientific research on trends in air quality, sources of air pollution and possible impacts on health. Innovations are allowing access to large, open datasets, which in turn are being used to design effective policies. In line with global developments, the demand for and use of open data has grown significantly in Nepal, and organisations such as Open Knowledge Nepal are leading the charge.
In India, Urban Emissions is using government statistics available in the public domain as inputs for an air-quality forecasting project, together with satellite data and other open datasets. This is helping to raise awareness and enable cities to tackle local air pollution issues in a targeted manner. In Pakistan, availability of data on air pollution through the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative has enabled conversations around the dinner table in homes, as well as in the country’s courts, leading to proactive measures to tackle air pollution.
Through a growing air quality monitoring network and other research data, Nepal is well positioned for effective action on air quality management. Credible air quality data allows advancement of critical scientific knowledge and helps design effective policies and interventions.
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Access to public data on air pollution, both air quality and energy use, urbanisation patterns and transport can help improve the understanding of patterns of air pollution and influence targeted plans. Availability of data also allows evaluation of effective action to improve air quality, helping us measure our success as well as understand gaps.
Availability of open data on air pollution can enhance visual storytelling, ultimately leading to community-level action and innovation. Easy availability of real-time data on air pollution in Kathmandu Valley through apps and the media can enable Nepalis to stay informed about the quality of air they breathe and ultimately help make choices that can lead to cleaner air for all.
Unlike many countries facing deteriorating air quality, Nepal is a step ahead. Thanks to the successful establishment of air quality monitoring, there are now research findings about local and regional sources of pollution, seasonal patterns and possible solutions.
A good foundation of data to work with has been built; all we need to do is collaborate and work towards solutions to improve air quality.
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Pallavi Pant is an air quality scientist and works on air pollution and health issues including research and public engagement projects. Anobha Gurung is an environmental health scientist who has worked on issues related to air pollution and health in Nepal for the last 10 years. Amod Karmacharya of Cleanup Nepal also took part in the research.