At first thought, Nepal brings to mind high mountains, crystal clear water, and clean Himalayan air. Fly into Kathmandu, however, and what you will see is a thick layer of smog engulfing almost the entire valley. What has caused the high-mountain nation of Nepal to endure such suffocating pollution?

The answer is three-fold:

1. The Human Effect: Humans in general, no matter what country, race, or ethnicity they are, create waste. The average human creates four pounds of waste per day, all of that waste has to go somewhere. In Nepal, as well as in many other countries, most waste is burned which adds to harmful emissions being released into the atmosphere. The WECF states, “The most dangerous emissions can be caused by burning plastics containing organoch- lor-based substances like PVC. When such plastics are burned, harmful quantities of dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemicals are emitted. Dioxins are the most toxic to the human organisms.” In Nepal, many plastic items are burnt, either in roadside fires created by shopkeepers and individuals or by trash companies looking to make a debris pile smaller.

2. The Industrial Effect: There are currently over 900,000 motorbikes, 200,000 private cars, 30,000 taxis and 40,000 buses and trucks and 50,000 government and semi-government vehicles all running within Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu has not instituted an emissions requirement for vehicles currently on the road, therefore many of the vehicles that are operated are emitting dangerous levels of CO2 as well as heavy black smog. In addition, there are over 200 brick kilns which add black carbon, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, states a report published by the Department of Environment.

3. The Valley Effect: Kathmandu Valley with its high mountains to the north and plains to the south, has the unique effect of trapping any smog or bad air that might be produced in Kathmandu. Think of it this way: Kathmandu, with its unique topographic features (i.e. valley), creates a sort of atmospheric roof while the mountains surrounding the valley act like walls, trapping pollution in place until another storm blows it away. Kathmandu is continually filling up the valley with pollution while the mountains are trapping pollution in until a storm can come in a clear it away.

 

There is hope for Kathmandu. Mexico City, Mexico also experienced crippling smog in 1997 and now the air quality has dramatically improved. The future for Kathmandu may be uncertain, however,  it is possible to see a city once clouded by smog again be able to see the clarity of the Himalayas.

Written by: Benjamin Loecken