For the past couple of weeks, the Nepali newspapers were swarmed with the issue of air pollution after it climbed to hazardous levels. Smoke and haze covered Kathmandu valley and other hilly regions. According to reports, this was because of alarming air pollution, especially this appeared with this density due to the fire in the forests of many parts of Nepal. We felt our eyes burning, dry nose, dry cough, difficulty in breathing, etc. Air pollution affected old and children the most. The government closed all schools and educational institutions for a week as air pollution hits an alarming level. The situation has not yet much improved. I also fell in sick and was on rest for a couple of days.
The impact that air pollution is visibly causing has primarily two major areas: impact on climate change and impact on personal and public health.
Air itself does not get polluted. Pollution occurs because of human activities and improper interaction with the environment. In this season, particularly forest fire and fire on the open-grass land (grazing land) are popular in the rural areas. Most of the fires are deliberated by grazers, hunters, poachers. Some may happen accidentally and due to negligence. Fire is also being used to scare wild animals, snakes, and mosquitos. Scaring the mosquitos by fire is very famous in the Terai belt of Nepal which I noticed when I was driving back from Itahari to Kathmandu last October. The fire is not only causing air pollution but also damaging people’s properties. The forest fire occurrence and the awareness level of the community are interconnected. Public Understanding of the environmental service of the ecosystem would help to mitigate such fire incidents in the future.
Forest fire is not only the reason that causes air pollution. There are several other factors behind it. Air pollution is caused by solid and liquid particles and certain gases that are suspended in the air. These particles and gases can come from automobiles such as buses, cars, motorbikes, Trucks, and Factories exhaust. Dust, pollen, volcanoes, etc also can contribute equally. The waste dumped in the landfills generates methane, which is also harmful in many ways.
Climate change and air pollution; may seem to be two different issues, but these are closely interlinked. So, by reducing air pollution we can protect the climate. Reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are essential, as they pose serious threats to both people’s health and the environment across the world. Furthermore, air pollution and climate change influence each other through complex interactions in the atmosphere.
From different activities and sources, different gases entered the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning coal, natural gas, oil, solid waste, trees, and other biological materials, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Carbon dioxide is expelled from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle. Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices, land use, and the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills. Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural, land use, industrial activities, combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste, as well as during treatment of wastewater.
Each gas’s effect on climate change depends on the concentration of gas in the air, the time they stay in the air, etc. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases alter the energy balance between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface which, in turn, can lead to temperature changes that change the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Direct emissions of air pollutants, or those formed from emissions such as sulfate and ozone, can also influence this energy balance. Thus, climate change and air pollution management have consequences for each other.
The health effects of air pollution are serious. There are some significant numbers of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is having an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than the effects of eating too much salt.
Long-term exposure to particulate pollution can result in significant health problems including surged respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing. Decreased lung function. Development of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive lung disease etc.
Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter whether we stay, like in the first world or anywhere else on the globe. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defenses, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart, and brain.
There have been lots of investments, nationally and internationally into it to reduce air pollution and its impact. When Donald Trump signed an executive order to step down from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, this was big news, and the world was completely upset. The new president Joe Biden has assured to re-join. Investment is one part but until and unless we do not change our behavior, things will not change. I am talking about it at the personal level and as well as at the Country level (each Country).
Policies, rules, regulations do not work until and unless it is rolled out, implemented, monitored, and penalized/awarded appropriately. At a personal level, as active citizens, we need to change ourselves first and need to spread awareness in the community we live in. Speak up when things do not happen. Reduce all the activities that contribute to air pollution. Also take precautionary measures (e.g wearing masks, reducing exposures) to lessen the impact of air pollution on our health.
Mr. Pandit is a student of Master’s in Science Development Management and Governance, Nepal Open University (NOU).
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