Kathmandu’s air quality was next to worst ranking behind Thailand’s Chiang Mai on Monday as haze added fresh woes to the city’s already deteriorated air quality. While Kathmandu’s air quality consistently ranks in the worst twenty air-quality cities of the world, in the past five years, the valley has recorded instances where air-quality was the worst in the world.

According to data from IQAir, the capital city’s air quality index (AQI) reached 164 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as of 1:38 PM local time today.

Back in February, Kathmandu’s air ranked as the fifth most polluted city worldwide, with PM2.5 levels soaring to 162 µg/m3, as recorded at 2:00 PM local time on February 20th.

PM2.5, a primary airborne pollutant known for its detrimental health effects, poses significant risks to public health, with concentrations exceeding the World Health Organization’s annual guideline value by 24 times.

The situation is worsened by a combination of factors, including haze, wind patterns, industrial pollution, and rampant forest fires. The sky over Kathmandu Valley remains clouded with smoke from wildfires, carried by dust particles and urban pollution, rendering it a yellow hue on Sunday, according to IQAir.

Since April 1st alone, Nepal has experienced 317 forest fires, bringing the total count for 2024 to 1040 incidents, as reported by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. These fires not only contribute to the immediate air pollution crisis but also pose long-term environmental and health hazards.

In the global context, Nepal’s air pollution crisis places it among other severely affected cities, including Thailand’s Chiang Mai, Bangladesh’s Dhaka, Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, and Uganda’s Kampala. With an AQI of 180 on Sunday, Kathmandu breached the threshold deemed harmful by the World Health Organization.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution stands as the foremost environmental health risk and ranks as the second largest risk factor for non-communicable diseases. It is accountable for 12% of global deaths, which includes nearly half a million neonatal fatalities.

In Nepal alone, air pollution contributes to 42,100 deaths annually, with 19% occurring among children under five and approximately 27% among adults over 70 years old as per the reports from Ministry of Health and Population. This pollution diminishes the average life expectancy of Nepalese by 4.1 years. Data on the primary causes of death in Nepal indicates that air pollution significantly impacts the top five causes, comprising Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (66%), ischemic heart disease (34%), stroke (37%), lower respiratory infections (47%), and neonatal deaths (22%), with its prevalence increasing daily.

Air pollution serves as a primary contributing factor to seven of the top ten leading causes of death globally, including COPD, ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, stroke, lung cancer, diabetes, and neonatal deaths.

Given the severity of this crisis, immediate intervention by governments and related organizations is imperative to safeguard citizens, particularly vulnerable populations. Suggested sustainable measures encompass banning waste burning, promoting public transportation and the adoption of clean energy, and launching public education campaigns on preventative measures like wearing masks. Major sources of pollution in the valley have been identified as solid waste burning, transportation, and household energy sectors.