Hazardous Levels of Air Pollution in Nepal Subjects Young Children to Multiple Health and Developmental Related Risks

Nepal is addressing the urgent issue of air pollution in Kathmandu, causing health issues like asthma, requiring comprehensive measures for public health protection and sustainable development.

Hazardous Levels of Air Pollution in Nepal Subjects Young Children to Multiple Health and Developmental Related Risks
Nepal is facing a serious air pollution crisis, by Berna Tosun, via Pexels, 2023/June 7th

29-04-2024

Pauliina Majasaari

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

 

An eight-month-old baby girl, from Arubari in the capital of Kathmandu, was rushed to the hospital due to experiencing shortness of breath. When reaching the hospital, the paediatrician told the parents that the child was suffering from childhood asthma. The baby received oxygen therapy and it took three days for her condition to take a turn for the better. 

 

This is not the only case when a child is brought to the hospital due to shortness of breath, in fact hundreds of children are treated for childhood asthma at the Kathmandu hospitals. The quality of air within the capital, Kathmandu is increasingly deteriorating due to vehicular and industrial emissions, forest fires, the burning of agricultural residue, and household combustion, leading to hazardous levels of air pollution. A new report published by Save the Children has drawn critical links between air pollution and multiple hazards which children are subjected to. The most immediate health hazards for children include neurodevelopmental problems, asthma, decreasing lung functioning, and childhood cancer, while broader issues such as climate change and ecological degradation can be showcased as a result of high levels of air pollution.[vii] Furthermore the children who are subjected to toxic air face risks of declined cognitive development and have their future potential undermined. As the consequences of breathing toxic air are severe, the life expectancy of the children is limited. In addition to health concerns, participants within the study of the report, expressed fears in relation to schools closing, limited social interaction and the effects such has on mental well-being, all of crucial importance for the development and well-being of children.

 

As set under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the State Parties must ensure to a maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child. Moreover, article 24 of the CRC obliges the State Parties to take all measures to combat diseases while taking into account the dangers and risks of environmental pollution as well as ensure that parents and children are informed and have access to education on the basic knowledge of child’s health. As such the vast air pollution crisis in Nepal is decreasing the survival rate of children and severely hampering the development of children. According to studies, air pollution can cause risks to the development of babies’ brains which can have an everlasting impact on the development of a child. Furthermore, as mentioned before breathing toxic air has severe repercussions for the health of the children, causing critical health conditions, which can limit their life expectancy. In line with Article 24, Nepal has been establishing several monitoring sites around the Kathmandu valley to inspect air pollution levels. Additionally, the Kathmandu Valley’s Air Pollution Management Action plan allows for the authorities to declare a public health emergency when air quality indexes go over 300, however the agencies involved have not considered to go forward with declaring a public health emergency even though the air quality indexes have gone far beyond the level of 300. Furthermore, Nepal has multiple policies in place to combat the air pollution crisis, which indicates Nepal’s awareness of the risks related to air pollution, however the effective implementation and enforcement of the measures in place are not realising. Furthermore, Save the Children Report expressed the lack of knowledge amongst women and mothers of the possible negative impacts of air pollution on the health of  newborns and young children. Therefore Nepal is not abiding by its commitments to take all measures to combat diseases which are caused by air pollution and is lacking in educating and informing parents of the risks related to air pollution and the health consequences arising from it.

 

In order to ensure longer life expectancy and the full development of children, Nepal is urged by international organisations such as Save the Children and UNICEF, to take comprehensive measures to safeguard the public health of the Nepalese population, especially of children, living in Kathmandu and to promote sustainable development to make sure our planet can endure for the lives of future generations and the future lives of the children. In order to address the vast problem of air pollution, Nepal is asked to take measures to change the societal norms which raise development and industrialisation over environmental matters. Such attitudes gears people towards accepting air pollution as part of the country’s economic progress while the environment, the people’s health and children’s development suffer greatly. It is the obligation of Nepal to ensure to the maximum extent possible the development and survival of children as being a state party to the CRC.

Sources and further readings:

 

Arjun Poudel, ‘Kathmandu Valley’s toxic air exacerbates respiratory illness’ The Kathmandu Post (10 April 2024) <https://kathmandupost.com/health/2024/04/10/kathmandu-valley-s-toxic-air-exacerbates-respiratory-illness> accessed 29 April 2024.

 

Arjun Poudel, ‘Toxic air is giving young children asthma’ The Kathmandu Post (29 April 2024) <https://kathmandupost.com/health/2024/04/29/toxic-air-is-giving-young-children-asthma> accessed 29 April 2024.

 

’Breathless Future: Unveiling Impact on Air Pollution on Children and Women in Kathmandu and Saptari’ Save the Children (2024).

 

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

 

Sonika Paudel, ‘The very air we breathe’ UNICEF (9 April 2023) <https://www.unicef.org/nepal/blog/very-air-we-breathe> accessed 29 April 2024.