Bleak Outlook for Environment in Kathmandu Valley
Concerted Effort Needed to Check Negative Impacts
Kathmandu/Bangkok, 25 January 2007 - Kathmandu’s growth could be severely compromised unless effective measures are taken to stem the tide of environmental degradation resulting from economic and human pressures, according to the Kathmandu Valley Environmental Outlook released today during the 10th Governing Council Meeting and Silver Jubilee of the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP). The report gave a strong picture of environmental decline in the valley, citing growing urbanization, population growth, unhampered and poorly planned land development and insufficient coordination among government agencies as major causes of environmental deterioration.
Solid waste and wastewater management were mentioned as two of the most critical environmental problems facing the Valley. “Managing solid waste and wastewater in Kathmandu has become a daunting task as urban areas have grown haphazardly without provisions or plans for appropriate infrastructure and services in these sectors,” the report stated. Other environmental problems highlighted include poor air quality and traffic management, unplanned settlement, degradation of water resources, and weak disaster preparedness.
Rapid urbanization, poor transport management and maintenance is leading to deteriorating air quality in the Kathmandu Valley, where population more than doubled between 1995-96 and 2003-2004, the report said. Vehicular emissions were cited as a primary cause. According to the report, exhaust fumes increased by four times between 1993 and 2001 and PM10 concentration tripled over the past decade. Deteriorating air quality is also having serious impacts on tourism and health. A survey of 1,702 tourists indicated that air pollution was the number one area in which they felt improvement was needed. Visibility was also severely reduced, decreasing from more than 25 days/month in 1970 to 5 days/month in 1992. In addition, studies indicate that poor air quality is taking a toll on human health and health costs. Around 1,600 premature deaths yearly are attributed to poor air quality and health costs reached 210 million rupees (close to US$3 million) in 1990. Availability of agricultural land is also being hampered by increasing urbanization, the report said. Between 1984 and 2000, agricultural land in the valley decreased from 62% to 42%. “If this trend continues, by 2025 there will be no agricultural fields left in this once fertile valley,” the report said.
Water pollution was cited as the most serious public health issue in the Kathmandu Valley. “Solid waste disposal and dumping household and industrial effluents into the rivers are responsible for the deteriorating quality of river water, causing water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and skin diseases,” the report stated. Poor sanitation and drainage in rural and urban areas, where only 15% of homes are connected to sewage networks, resulted in the dumping of sewage and garbage into rivers, one of the valley’s primary sources of water for household and industrial use. Around 100 tons of waste generated daily, close to a quarter of the total, remain uncollected and are left to decay on streets and in rivers. These rivers are key sources of surface water and the main repository for the Valley’s untreated sewage, solid waste and industrial affluent. Groundwater, an important alternative to water supply has also been declining with a drop in level from 9 m to 68 m in a matter of years.
The report recommends a number of measures to prevent and minimize negative impacts. These include improved planning and zoning, land pooling, better solid waste management, rainwater harvesting, a variety of infrastructural and technical measures and vastly improved coordination and enforcement. Community mobilization was also cited as critical to achieving these goals, particularly in an area that is prone to natural disasters.
“With the potential for catastrophic disaster from earthquakes, many of these measures are not only important for human health, tourism development and the quality of life but essential to the preservation of life,” the report said.
While the growth in trade and tourism has created jobs and improved living standards, development in the last 30 years has created several physical, social, and environmental problems in Kathmandu. The fragile ecosystem is affected severely by uncurbed building and incompatible economic activities.
“Institutional weaknesses in managing urban development have resulted in haphazard growth, manifested in unplanned settlements, increase in vehicular emissions, polluting industries in or near urban areas, traffic congestion, and poor waste management. Kathmandu will continue to grow in future and, if rational planning and development strategies are not formulated, its growth will become a nightmare in the environmental sense,” the report added.
The Kathmandu Valley Environment Outlook was produced by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, Government of Nepal.
For more information, please contact:
Ms. Satwant Kaur, Regional Information Officer
United Nations Environment Programme Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific,
Tel: + (66 2) 288 2127; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms Bidya Banmali Pradhan, Environment Officer
Tel: + (977 1) 5003222; E-mail: email@example.com
NOTES TO EDITORS
Kathmandu Valley has five of the 58 municipalities in the country and is home to about 30% of the total urban population. The city of Kathmandu is by far the largest city in the country, with more than 20% of the total urban population.
The population of the three districts of Kathmandu Valley increased from 1,107,370 in 1991 to 1,647,092 in 2001. The annual population growth rate in Kathmandu district was 4.71%. The population of Kathmandu district was 1,081,845 in 2001 (4.7% of Nepal’s population). The urban population density of Kathmandu Valley is 10,265 (the population is 995,966 and the area 97 sq.km). On the other hand, the rural population is also increasing slowly in the valley. The average annual growth of the rural population is comparatively higher than for Nepal as a whole. If present growth continues, the population of the valley in 2020 will reach 2.5 million.
Air pollution is becoming a significant problem in urban areas in Nepal, particularly in the bigger cities. Kathmandu Valley is particularly vulnerable to air pollution because of its bowl-shaped topography which restricts air movement. Vehicular emissions are responsible for 38% of the total PM10 emitted in Kathmandu Valley, compared to 18% from the agricultural sector and 11% from brick kilns.
The rapid urbanization in Kathmandu is stretching municipal boundaries and converting open spaces and agricultural fields into concrete jungles. Between 1984 and 2000, agricultural land in the valley decreased from 62 to 42%. If this trend continues, by 2025 there will be no agricultural fields left in this once fertile valley.
Lack of proper sanitation and drainage in urban and rural areas has resulted in dumping of sewage and garbage into the rivers. In most cases, the drainage system, which was designed for storm water only, is being used as a sewer; and the sewage directly flows
into the river without any treatment.
Water in the Kathmandu Valley is derived from two sources: surface water (rivers and ponds) and groundwater. They are basically fed with rainfall. Rivers are important running surface water in terms of water volume and potential development. Over time, requirements for water for drinking and personal hygiene, agriculture, religious activities, industrial production, and recreational activities, such as swimming and fishing, have increased in the valley. The Kathmandu Valley hosts more than 72% of the country’s water-polluting industries.
Most of the buildings in Kathmandu Valley are vulnerable to even moderate earthquakes, and loss of life in earthquakes can often be attributed to inadequate buildings. More than 4,000 buildings are constructed every year by builders or owners, most without any knowledge of engineering.
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