The annual budget unveiled by the Finance Minister of the Federal Government 2 weeks back witnessed thatthe Government has allocated a substantial budget of Rs 15.56 billion for the forest and environment sector in the fiscal year 2023/24. This has been taken as a significant step towards promoting environmental conservation, sustainable forest management, preserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable utilization of resources.
Due to air pollution, in the recent years, the Kathmandu Valley has scaled the world toppers being the most polluted cities. The air quality in the valley was posing risks to public health. Factors contributing to this alarming situation include fires in various parts of the country and the burning of agricultural residues. The consequences are devastating, with respiratory diseases, lung cancer, heart problems, hypertension, and stroke cases increasing in recent years. More to take seriously, researchers state that air pollution took lives of 42,000 people in Nepal in 2019, with vulnerable groups such as children under five years and individuals above 70 years being disproportionately affected.
The Finance Minister of Federal Government had presented budget for the Fiscal Year 2023-24 recently. In the budget the Government has allocated Rs 15.56 billion for the forest and environment sector. Experts and activists question on the size of budget if it is really good amount for the environment and relevant issues to address. Does it support urgent actions? Does it be useful to take care of the air pollutions in the Kathmandu and other places?
As a matter of fact, possible measures with a sizable amount of investment are most required to combat air pollution and other risks.
Various organisations of environment activists have expressed their dissatisfaction on the budget of the FY 2023-24 saying it ignores actual needs and fund to address the present situation. They say that the fund allocated cannot support address the air pollutions issues to bring into control by reducing the air pollution level. Therefore, the Government should correct needful, they demand.
Clean Air Network Nepal (CANN) and many similar organisations had issued a press release to draw the media attention and publicise the matter accordingly. The provision of clean air to breathe and live in healthy environment is the part of the constitution mentioned in clause 30 which is the responsibility of the Government. As such the Government must act with respect to the Constitution of Nepal 2015.
The organisations involved mentioned 9 issues to address urgently through the budget. The financial arrangement should take care of clean air to breathe, control air pollution, forest fire, minimise impact of natural disasters and so on are among the actions.
They state that (1) the Government claim to have taken the environmental issues at top priority, but the budget size is too small against the size of issues of clean air to breathe and reduce air pollution. (2) Forest fire is one of the causes of air pollution. The Government should coordinate with Provincial Governments to purchase fire fighting equipment, devices and technologies and capacity building. Each Province should have a standby well equipped helicopter for this purpose. (3) It is mentioned in the budget that air quality monitoring devices will be installed in Ilam, Mustang, Dang and Achham where as it has to prioritise the already installed but malfunctioning devices. Likewise, the data derived should be well utilised. (4) The announcement says that to achieve zero carbon emission targets, use of traditional fuels and imported fossil fuels will be replaced by clean energy. But increase the size of petroleum products are in priority and also pipeline to develop to transport fossil fuel are in priority. To bring into a climate friendly track, the Government should prioritise development of cycling lanes in the main roads, promote electric transportation and environment friendly urbanisation plans. (5)The Government has been saying that private sector investment will be encourage in EV charging stations, but no concrete plans are made for promotion of EVs for public transportation. The Government needs to prioritise public transportation rather than EVs for private use. Likewise, the tax schedule must be revisited to make comfortable spaces to small EVs and EVs for Public transportation. (6) Nepal is ranked the third most polluted country in the world. The air in the country is 16 times worse than the WHO standard. In April, May the index touch 200-400. Such hazardous data should be taken as indicators for early warning of multi-disasters and mandatory preparedness. (7) Use of plastic bags should be effectively prohibited and encourage use of cloth made bags. (8) Packing materials of Gutkha, tobacco are also one of the pollutants and non-degradable. They should be packed in degradable materials. (9) The anti-insect pesticides and chemicals used to control dengue, mosquitos and other insects are also one of the causes of air pollution. Such chemicals and insecticides need to be non-harming to air quality, human and nature.
Clean Energy Nepal, Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO), National Public Advocacy Forum, Youth Advocacy Forum Nepal, Nepalese Youth for Climate Action (YNCA), Changunarayan Municipality Level Clean Air Network, Lalitpur Municipality Level Civil Society for Clean Environment, Chandragiri Municipality Level Clean Air Promotion and Civil Network, Kathmandu Air Quality Management Civil Society Network had endorsed the press release joining hands with Clean Air Network Nepal (CANN). Similarly, other organisations collaborating with CANN also had endorsed the statement.
Clean Air Network Nepal (CANN) is one of leading forum of air pollution campaigners. Nationally and internationally engaged experts, academia, professionals working for good air quality are working with CANN. With aim to lobby, advocacy for policy influence and other activities for maintaining better air quality the network was established in 2004. The organisation has been working with government agencies, development partners and non-government and private sector for the better air quality. Presently, 75 plus members including civil societies, national and international non-government organisations, media persons and institutions, educators, youth and experts are associated as members. (By R.P. Narayan)