Ever wondered how easily the organs so well protected by bones and muscles within the human bodies fall victims to the environment around us? We need to screen the air through masks, visors, or windshields. We need to fight with the visible and invisible impurities. And no, it’s not just the respiratory problems that we suffer from due to air pollution but diseases like cancer and heart diseases too, according to doctors. As I was gathering more knowledge on the health impacts of air pollution during the Air Quality Awareness Week last week, I recalled the time my parents would go on morning walks, from Banasthali to Swoyambhu, without covering their nose or mouth. Walking by the side of Peepal trees, breathing fresh air brought by the hustling of the leaves, listening to cuckoos—they are things I can only dream of now. I live in Syuichatar now, very close to Kalanki where construction of an underpass has taken a toll on our health. For the past two years, passing through the area has been a bit like going through a war zone, where bombs were dropped, messing up the whole area.
Development in recent times in the urban areas of Nepal have been very dirty. In winter, its dust all over the roads; come monsoons, there’s awful lot of mud and slush, and once the skies clear and sun shines, up goes the dust air too, just like fog. Our municipality and the government are strangely wise, who send people with brooms on the roads instead of road cleaning machines.
It’s obvious that those who live closer to construction sites or factories suffer more. Children and elderly who do not have strong immunity fall sick, which reflects in higher rates of hospital attendance, as per doctors and researchers. Still, something as simple as vacuuming the roads, to take care of at least one kind of air pollutant, has never been done and yet we dream of becoming cleaner and greener, maybe Singapore if not Switzerland!
Although our constitution regards clean environment as our “right” and we can be “compensated” if we suffer from unhealthy environment, no one knows how to claim that compensation. Pollution has limited our fundamental rights—our freedom of movement is compromised. Freedom of speech also gets affected when you are walking on the roads that are clouded with dust, not to mention additional spending in medicines, soaps and detergents.
But why isn’t there enough buzz or pressure to demand the right enshrined to us by our constitution? Maybe it’s not sexy enough for politicians. Maybe we are fine covering ourselves. No doubt, roads need to be built and expanded, industries must run, people need to be employed, those who can afford to buy vehicles must be allowed to do so as well. The economy should thrive, not through “dusty development” that is unfair to citizens but with the “duty to protect” people from diseases caused by pollution.