Kathmandu to mitigate air pollution with UHI: First in Asia

In Nepal, the annual average air pollution concentration is five times above the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines, which poses a serious health risk for hundreds of thousands of Nepalese.

Hence, for a cleaner and healthier air in Kathmandu, Urban Health Initiative (UHI) pilot program is being held in Kathmandu Valley, for the first time in Asia.

What is UHI?

Initiated by WHO together with the Ministry of Health and Population, in close collaborations with the Ministry of Forests and Environment, ICIMOD, UN-Habitat, and other local stakeholders, UHI will provide concrete data which will advise appropriate solutions to be implemented in the Valley. The data can be compared internationally as well.

The analysis, looking at the health and economic impact of air pollution, is carried out by a team from Kathmandu University, supported by international experts. The data will help policymakers and stakeholders make selected interventions that can lessen the adverse effects of air pollution. “The Urban Health Initiative is a project that helps Nepal to think about other ways it implements urbanization and transitions towards cleaner energy, by focusing on the impact of current pollution levels on people’s health”, states Dr. Jos Vandelaer, Country Representative for WHO Nepal.

What are the viable solutions to mitigate air pollution?

UHI has identified four major sources of air pollution - solid waste, transport, industry/brick kilns, and household energy sectors - in the Kathmandu Valley, as well as several viable solutions to mitigate air pollution and improve public health.

For Solid Waste:

• Immediate prohibition of open burning of waste,

• Separation of waste (for composting, biogas, recycling, and reusing) at source from all levels.

For Transport:

• Shift mobility in the Kathmandu Valley towards a sustainable transport system with more investments to improve public transport,

• Easier and smoother financial support to existing operators (private companies or cooperatives) to convert to electric vehicles,

• Investments to improve and expand sidewalks and bike lanes,

• Promotion of policies that make driving more restrictive in the inner core of the city, especially heritage areas,

• Promotion of electric vehicles by import tax and road tax rebate,

• Investments in green parks and corridors for shading and cooling.

For Brick Kilns:

• Shift from traditional brick-making technologies to cleaner ones,

• Provision of effective methods, equipment, and capacities (such as emissions measurement and environmental monitoring) to authorities,

• Development of industrial parks to accommodate industries on flood-free land,

• Conducting social programs to reduce child labor, occupational safety, and health measures.

For Households:

• Strong use of cleaner fuels for cooking at the households of Kathmandu Valley, such as electricity and LPG, as this could not only harvest large health benefits but also help tackle air pollution, indoors and outdoors.