Urban development 2.0It’s high time city officials woke up to smell the coffee
Kathmandu was ranked the fifth most polluted city in the world in the ‘2017 Pollution Index’. This news should have been a warning sign for the dwellers of Kathmandu because almost seven million people around the world die each year from exposure to polluted air. But, the news has had little effect on the denizens of Kathmandu and to authorities. Instead, pollution in Kathmandu is getting worse as the number of fossil fuel consuming vehicles is increasing by the day.
Unfortunately, the Nepal government is still not doing anything substantial to improve the rapidly deteriorating quality of air. It seems as though the government is aiming to make Kathmandu the most polluted city in the world. The governments in other parts of the world, however, have come up with innovative ideas and technologies to protect their citizens from the harmful effects of pollution. The important question, for now, is: Can Nepal follow in the footsteps of advanced democracies around the world and create cities that are suitable for humans?
Examples to follow
The Europeans have recognised the threat of environmental damage for quite some time and have already implemented countless measures to cut down pollution levels. Now, the European megalopolises have started banning petrol/diesel cars to create pollution-free cities. For instance, Germany’s administrative court recently ruled that the city of Frankfurt must ban older diesel vehicles in the downtown area by February 2019. Starting this November, Madrid is also banning fuel-run vehicles from the city centre. Likewise, Oslo is also preparing to permanently ban all cars from the city center by 2019.
Paris plans to double their number of bicycle lanes and only permit electric cars in selected streets of the city by the year 2020. In South America, Bogota has been closing 75 miles of road one day every week since 1974. The city has banned selected vehicles during peak traffic hour for more than five years. The city now boasts 200 miles of bicycle-only lanes.
In the United Kingdom, a poll conducted recently revealed that more than half of the motorists in the country think that highly polluting diesel cars should be banned from the urban areas and 80 percent feel diesel cars should be excluded from schools and hospitals areas.
Also, nearly a third believe diesel vehicles should be banned from the UK roads for good. Besides the highly dangerous levels of pollution from burning fossil fuel, plastic waste is also becoming a big problem for cities around the world. It is estimated that 19 billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean every year and the number is expected to double by 2025. Plastics damage the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems as well as kill animals and decimate coral reefs. Furthermore, once micro plastics enter the food chain, it has a devastating effect on human health as well.
It is estimated that four trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, but only 1 percent of them are returned for recycling. In the United States, people throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year. Kathmandu’s denizens use around 4,700,000 plastic bags every day. And because Kathmandu does not have a recycling culture, you can see the city littered with plastics. It is high time the city government did something to make Kathmandu a plastic-free city.
Plastic waste has also become a headache for many Asian cities, but unlike the Government of Nepal, the governments in other countries are innovatively tackling the problem to create environment-friendly habitats for inhabitants. For example, Beijing has come up with an ingenious idea to encourage people to recycle plastics. The Chinese capital has installed 34 ‘reverse’ vending machines in subway stations around the city for commuters to insert empty plastic bottles. The smart sensors scan the plastic bottle’s worth and assign values anywhere from 5 to 15 US cents. Based on the analysis, the machines issue a public transportation credit that can be used to pay for the bus rides.
The residents of Surabaya City in Indonesia can also now pay for the bus ride by trading in used plastic for bus tickets in the newly rolled out semi-luxury, eco-friendly Suroboyo buses. Passengers can now pay for their rides also with plastic they turn in at designated bus stops and recycling stations that can be found across the city. Furthermore, passengers can also travel around the city for two hours for free. By encouraging commuters to use public transport, the city hopes to reduce the use of private vehicles, which currently consists of 75 percent of the road traffic. In short, Surabaya is trying to create a more eco-friendly environment for its inhabitants by using innovation and creativity.
Kathmandu has now become synonymous with traffic congestion, pollution, potholes, chaotic roads, plastics, and unclean air. There is a need for the Central and City Governments to take drastic measures to make Kathmandu a livable city again. But, what can the government do? First, the city can ban private diesel vehicles inside the ring road. Second, it can make sure all the vehicles running inside the ring road are electric by the year 2020. Third, it should come with reward schemes for people who recycle plastics. Fourth, it should create at least 200 bicycle lanes in the Kathmandu Valley. Finally, make bus rides inside the ring road free.
In short, it is time for the mayors of the cities of the Kathmandu Valley to wake up and smell the coffee.
Professor Pokharel is Head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Kathmandu University; Shah is the co-author of ‘Strategic IT Planning for Public Organizations: A Toolkit’.