Every year, as winter approaches, Nepal’s, especially Kathmandu’s air quality deteriorates to hazardous levels. While Kathmandu’s air quality consistently features in the world’s Top 10 Most Polluted Cities from the months of December to March every year, in March 2021 and March 2022, Kathmandu’s air quality was ranked the worst in the world.

In Nepal, monsoon winds bring around 70-80% of Nepal’s annual rainfall which helps flush air pollutants; however, during dry winter months Nepal’s air quality deteriorates to “very unhealthy and hazardous levels”.  During this period, our exposure to PM 2.5 pollutants crosses the daily safe limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) by more than a hundred times.

According to experts, pollutant particles smaller than PM 2.5 are the most hazardous as their fine nature bypasses our nasal hair filtration system and allows direct inhalation to the lungs. Such particles cause or exacerbate respiratory diseases within the general public.

Our increased exposure to particles of 2.5 microns are mostly from indoor fireplaces, vehicular emissions, chimneys from brick kilns and open burning of waste which contributes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to Bhusan Tuladhar, Chief of Party for USAID Clean Air informed that “PM 10 particles and above, although a major source of air pollution, are not the main source of long-term health problems as they can be filtered by our nasal hair or mucus”.

Therefore, to help mitigate air pollution in the valley, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched the USAID Clean Air project.

Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) and One to Watch (OTW), in collaboration with the government of Nepal and private sector stakeholders are actively working in the project with a common goal to improve the quality of air in the valley.

On Wednesday, a program was organised in Lalitpur, Nepal to address the issue of air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley and to explore ideas on how private sectors can increase their involvement to minimize air pollution.

Tuladhar, Chief of Party for USAID Clean Air who addressed the event, explained that poor air quality does not only contribute to severe lung diseases, but to other health complications as well.

According to Tuladhar, “Around 20 percent of deaths related to diabetes, 26 percent of brain stroke and 20 percent of neo-natal deaths are caused due to air pollution. This means that babies who aren’t born too have to suffer due to worsening air quality in the country”.

Data from Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) shows that air pollution due to PM 2.5 pollutants decreases life expectancy by 2.2 years. “It is estimated that around 42,100 people die in Nepal every year, directly or indirectly, due to air pollution”, Tuladhar informed.

“Air pollution remains worse during early mornings from 8-9 am, while the air quality in Kathmandu Valley is the best around 3 am,” said Tuladhar.

USAID Clean Air has also called upon the private sector to participate in their “USAID Business Accelerator for Clean Air” program which is a multi-year business development support program for businesses that work towards reducing air pollution emissions and exposure.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with innovative, scalable, and long-term business solutions for preventing and mitigating air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley can express their interest via a form which is available at www.onetowatch.nl/usaid-clean-air.

The program will offer masterclasses, strategy support, networking opportunities and multi-year business development support to achieve a common goal of minimizing air pollution.

“The government, especially the local government should pave ways for innovators to create strategies to reduce pollution. After that, private sector stakeholders need to come forward to develop, test and scale those strategies to improve air quality,” said Tuladhar in his concluding remarks.