October 2, 2022, Sunday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

The air we share

International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2022

The Nepal Weekly
September 13, 2022

On November 26, 2019, the Second Committee of the 74th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 7 September as the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2022.

The resolution stresses the importance of, and urgent need to, raise public awareness at all levels and to promote and facilitate actions to improve air quality. 

Air pollution is the largest contributor to the burden of disease from the environment, and is one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally. 99% of the world’s population is now breathing polluted air, warns WHO. 7 million people die each year due to air pollution, with 90% of them in low- and middle-income countries (WHO, Lancet Planetary Health)

The third International Day of Clean Air for blue skies was held on 7 September 2022, under the theme of ‘The Air We Share’. It focuses on the trans-boundary nature of air pollution highlighting the need for collective accountability and collective action.

Air pollution knows no national borders and is all pervasive. Moreover, it is strongly correlated to other global crisis such as climate change, biodiversity loss, other forms of pollution, social and gender parity as well as economic development.

Some air pollutants, such as black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone, are also short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) and are responsible for a significant portion of air pollution-related deaths, as well as impacts on crops and hence food security. Climate change is inextricably linked to air pollution, wherein one cannot be resolved without addressing the other, an integrated approach to tackle both could result in significant co-benefits. By 2050, we can halve global crop losses from these pollutants by reducing methane emissions, an ingredient in the formation of tropospheric ozone, an important greenhouse gas and air pollutant, which would potentially save between $4 to $33 billion USD.

The need to raise awareness about the problem, impact and solutions for air pollution; collection and sharing of data, research and best practices as well as strengthening international and regional cooperation for efficient implementation has never been greater.

As a matter of fact, with every breath we take, we suck in tiny particles that can damage our lungs, hearts, and brains and cause a host of other health problems. The most dangerous of these particles, which can include anything from soot, soil dust, to sulfates, are fine particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter – shortened as PM2.5.

There are numerous causes of pollution across the country, many of which stem from a lack of regulations regarding operations such as factories and construction sites, open burning as well as the fuels used in the many vehicles found in Kathmandu and other cities. To address the issue of vehicles first, it can be seen that many of the numerous motorbikes, cars and buses are quite aged and deteriorated, yet due to an ingrained ingenuity to keep old things alive and running, many of them are still moving up and down the country despite having engines that put of vast amounts of black soot and other toxic pollutants that arise from poorly combusted fossil fuels, in particular diesel. This finds no regulation amongst its use, or indeed in Nepal’s particular case, massive overuse.

Another element that has contributed to the levels of polluted was the catastrophic 7.8magnitude earthquake that occurred in 2015, levelling many historic areas and domiciles 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 clean up conducted by the country. Many of the affected areas still lie in ruins due to Nepal not 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 particulate matter and sent billowing into the atmosphere. This creates larger readings ofPM2.5 and PM10 in the air, which can have highly damaging effects when respired, as well as mixing with other chemicals from exhaust fumes and factory emissions 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 of Nepal acknowledging that cracking down on this could occur quite easily with little resources or time being put into it, but as it stands it has yet to been forced. Due to a lack of proper garbage collection and disposal infrastructure, large amounts of the population, both in the capital and in other cities as well as rural areas, take to lighting their refuse on fire in order to get rid of it.

When inhaled, these small particulate matters such as black carbon or finely ground gravel or silica dust, can cause scarring to the lung tissues that lead to an overall reduction in full lung function. Material with carcinogenic properties can penetrate deep into the lungs and accumulate, leading to heightened instances of cancer. These tiny particles can also cross over into the bloodstream via the air sacs in the lungs, wreaking havoc on an individual’s health by causing damage to blood vessels as well as organs such as the liver and kidneys (along with affecting reproductive health).

Further conditions can include ones such as ischemic heart disease, arising from when inadequate amounts of oxygen reach the heart tissues, leading to a deterioration in function. Further heart complications can include arrhythmias, increased instances 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 smoke and haze-based pollution. The plastic and other synthetic materials being burnt in the open fires can cause irritation to the nose, eyes, mouth and airways, as well as causing irreversible changes to the nervous system that can lead to chronic fatigue, cognitive impairments and headaches, all of which have a salient effect on a young and growing population.

Babies that are exposed whilst in the womb have an increased chance of miscarriage, or being born prematurely or with a low birth weight, thus heightened pollution levels lead directly to higher rates of infant mortality, as well as large amounts of the population having their lives cut short due to health problems stemming from air pollution. (TNW based on reports)