Authorities fail to control open waste burning as Valley residents breathe polluted airEven after Kathmandu was ranked as the world’s most polluted city, government bodies have been unable to stop open garbage burning, one of the major contributors to air pollution during winter.
Bhupendra Das, a clean energy and air quality researcher, is always on the lookout for open waste burning in Kathmandu Valley. He has been doing this for quite some time now.
“Whenever I am out on the streets for my work or anything, I click pictures whenever I see people burning waste,” said Das, an air quality specialist at Nepal Energy and Environment Development Services. “I have seen residents of Kathmandu Valley openly burning waste in different places.”
The pictures of people burning waste end up on his Facebook timeline.
According to Das, he has captured photos of open waste burning at Sitapaila Chowk and Kalanki areas in the last few days. On Saturday night, he captured a video of people burning waste in a neighbourhood at Bhaisepati.
The incidents of people burning waste under the open sky have left Das surprised, especially when Kathmandu’s air quality of late has been very poor.
In the first week of January, Kathmandu’s air quality deteriorated to a record level, and the capital city was ranked as the most polluted city in the world.
The ongoing open waste burning incidents across Kathmandu Valley show that the government authorities have failed to control one of the major contributors to air pollution.
“The plan of controlling open burning has remained a plan limited to the papers. As a result, we can see people burning waste in the open in different parts of the Valley,” said Das. “Neither the government agencies nor the local levels have succeeded in discouraging the public from burning waste.”
The IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company that provides real-time air quality data from worldwide, whose reading showed Kathmandu was the most polluted city in the world on January 4, had been showing that the air in the Capital city air was unsafe for several years now.
Such record level deterioration of air quality in Kathmandu Valley drew attention from government authorities, public health, and environmental experts. The concerned authorities urged the public to remain indoors and not to set a fire outside.
Things on the ground have not changed though. Locals setting fire to warm themselves during winter or burning garbage have continued.
On Wednesday, a Twitter post showed how a family had lit a fire at an open space at Chabahil.
Bhushan Tuladhar, an environmentalist who closely observes urban issues including air pollution, posted photos of garbage burning at Swayambhu, a world heritage site.
“Open fire and open burning of waste has not stopped in Kathmandu Valley as we can see such activities happening frequently,” said Tuladhar. “What is more concerning is that there has not even been an attempt to stop such activities. Waste burning has happened even in government offices and the world heritage site of Swaymbhu where the waste was burnt at its collection centre.”
After a record spike in pollution level in Kathmandu, air quality of the city has slightly improved but it is nowhere near safe.
Since Friday afternoon, the air quality of Kathmandu has remained mostly in the ‘unhealthy’ category with the highest Air Quality Index record of 195 on Friday at 10:45 pm. The level of PM2.5, the most harmful pollutant, stood at 145.5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) on Friday at 10:45 pm.
Emission from vehicles, industries, brick kilns, waste burning, road improvement, and construction sectors are the major sources of air pollution in Kathmandu Valley.
A study on waste burning has estimated that municipalities in the Valley burn about 7,400 tonnes of waste per year or 20 tonnes of solid waste every day, which is three percent of the total waste produced.
With the continuous burning of waste, which includes hazardous waste like plastic and medical waste, among others, the air quality is far from improving anytime soon.
Indu Bikram Joshi, deputy director-general with the Department of Environment, says the authority has been focusing on enforcing the action plan for improving the air quality of Kathmandu Valley.
“But open burning has been happening in the Valley. We cannot do anything more than publicity and awareness activities. We are planning to launch a door-to-door campaign to discourage the public not to light an open fire,” Joshi, also the spokesperson of the department, told the Post. “The department has been asking the public through the media but the problem of open burning has not stopped. The action plan envisions only raising awareness activities and has not detailed how to stop open burning.”
Experts also point out that there is a lack of coordination between government agencies and local governments to control air pollution and pollution-causing activities.
“The main responsible body is local levels for minimising air pollution. But no one seems to be taking ownership. Even after the massive pollution level, residents do not look informed enough about the harmful impacts of waste burning and air pollution” said Das. “Had only local levels taken action against polluters, the public would refrain from burning waste. We need more interventions for making the public aware of the effects of garbage burning.”
According to Tuladhar, while the Department of Environment is responsible for monitoring all forms of pollution, local units should be accountable for stopping the burning of waste as the waste collection is under the mandate of local bodies.
“At least they could have coordinated and worked together, said Tuladhar. “All the 18 local bodies of the Valley should have worked jointly to curb open burning, whereas the department and Ministry of Forest and Environment could notify government offices to stop burning wastes on their premises.”
Officials of the largest municipality in the Kathmandu Valley—Kathmandu Metropolitan City–also admit open waste burning has not entirely stopped even this year.
“As much as possible, we have stopped the public from burning waste and activities that emit excessive smoke. But people have been burning paper and firewood to protect themselves from the winter,” said Ishwor Man Dangol, spokesperson of the metropolis. “We have requested the general public and such activities have gone down. These days we hardly see people burning waste along the Bishnumati River except for a few incidents in other areas. The metropolis cannot do it alone.”
According to Dangol, garbage burning is punishable by a minimum of Rs5,000 to maximum Rs150,000 fines as per the Solid Waste Management Act, 2011.
“The city authority has not taken any such action against garbage burning recently,” said Dangol, when asked if the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has penalised anyone polluting the air by burning the waste.