Winter is here, and with it comes cold-related and respiratory illnesses. The worsening air quality, particularly in urban centers like Kathmandu, is fueling such diseases.
The Ministry of Environment and Kathmandu Metropolitan City have come up with a grand policy and program to curb air pollution, but they have little difference. Kathmandu is rated as one the most polluted cities in the world. This winter season, people need to pay extra attention, as the coronavirus is still circulating among us. It is difficult to distinguish covid infection from common cold or flu. In the Tarai, many people do not have warm clothes to see them through the winter. Distressing news is coming from Tarai that people are dying from extreme cold.
Two persons from Musahar community died of cold in the last two weeks. Those losing lives to chill are from Pidari of Haripur Municipality-9 in Sarlahi. Ramesh Majhi,40, from ward no 9 and Ram Bhagat Majhi, 65, from Haripur Municipality-6 lost their lives due to severe cold, according to the District Police Office. Ramesh used to work as a laborer. He died while sleeping. He had slept in a straw.
Many families, particularly in poor communities, rely on bonfires to keep them warm. The practice of making bonfires to ward off cold not only contributes to air pollution and respiratory diseases. It also raises the risks of death due to smoke asphyxia and household fire.
Availability of warm clothes could greatly minimize these risks. From an individual level, we could donate warm clothes to the least fortunate ones, either in person or through various charities and social organizations. When covid epidemic was at its peak, many people came out to support the poor. It is important that we show the same spirit of goodwill.
It is equally important that all three levels of government—federal, provincial and local governments—raise awareness among people about diseases associated with cold weather and the ways to prevent them. They should also equip health facilities with medicines because poor people cannot afford to go to private clinics and hospitals. As our healthcare system is still centralized, the federal government should take immediate measures to increase and improve the medical resources of health facilities in outlying regions of the country.
We are currently in the government transition process. The incumbent Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government has been rendered into a caretaker role, and the process of new government formation is likely to take some time. For our political parties and their leaders, preventing winter-related diseases and deaths is not a priority. But this cannot be an excuse not to address the issue. Government agencies should collect the data of people who do not have proper shelter and clothes, and take steps to protect them.