3. Air Quality in Nepal

South Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world where increasing development and population has led to a large environmental and human health burden. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is now the single largest environmental health risk leading to significant health impacts, high economic costs, and welfare losses (~5% GDP equivalent).

Credits: Anobha Gurung

Nepal is a landlocked South Asian country which lies between China to its north and India to its east, west, and south. It covers 147,181 square kilometer, extends about 145-241 km north to south and about 850 km west to east, and ranges in elevation from about 300 m above sea level in the flat Terai to the highest point of 8848 m at the summit of Mount Everest. Within this small country is a diverse range of topography, vegetation, climate and culture.

Based on the recent Environment Performance Index (EPI) of 2016, Nepal ranked 177 among 180 countries in terms of air quality with only India, China, and Bangladesh performing worse than Nepal. According to the report, in Nepal nearly 75 percent of the population is exposed to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter (Hsu et al 2016). The average annual PM2.5 concentration in Nepal is 78 μg/m3 compared to a global average of 51 μg/m3, and the latest Global Burden of Disease linked ambient PM2.5 pollution to 20,543 deaths attributed to PM2.5 annually. Separately, exposure to household air pollution has been linked to 21,154 deaths annually. Despite the large burden associated with air pollution and various other competing challenges, a nuanced understanding of the topic is largely absent. Nepal is one of the South Asian countries where air pollution has become a major environmental issue, and significant gaps still remain in terms of both data availability and policy interventions. Research has been conducted on the issue of air pollution in Nepal, but a majority of the work has either had a geographic focus (i.e. Kathmandu Valley) or source-specific focus (i.e. indoor solid fuel combustion).

3.1 Sources of Air Pollution in Nepal 

The first emission inventory in 1993 based on energy and non-energy sources was conducted by Urban Air Quality Management Strategy in Asia Project (URBAIR). Himalayan Cement Plant (~36% of total suspended particles (TSP); ~17% of PM10 and brick kilns (~31% of TSP; ~28% of PM10) were shown to be major sources of ambient air pollution while mobile sources contributed only a small percentage of emissions, although the emission factor used for mobile sources (2g/km) may have been underestimated. By the next inventory in 2001 by the Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA) – funded by the Environment Sector Programme Support (ESPS) Project Himalayan Cement Factory was moved outside Kathmandu valley (moved on 20 December 2001 and closed on 1 May 2002), improvement was made on the kiln technology but with large increase in vehicles. The second emission inventory listed vehicle as the main source (Synthesis Report on Urban Air Quality Management, 2006). The most recent inventory in 2005 showed vehicular emission as being responsible for 38% of total PM10 emitted in Kathmandu Valley compared to only 18% from agricultural sector and 11% from brick kilns (Gautam, 2006).For the whole country of Nepal very limited understanding is available on emission soruces. In 2006, for major anthropogenic sources excluding biomass burning emission estimates were 31 (SO2), 27 (NOx), 1659 (CO), 251 (non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC)), 205 (PM10), 186 (PM2.5), 21 (BC), and 103 (OC) Gg/year (Zhang et al. 2009). Rrom April 2000 – February 2009, using satellite based data called MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) burned area product (MCD45A1), nonagricultural open fire emissions estimates were 797 (CO2), 30 (CO), 4.5 non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) , 1.45 (NOx), 0.323 (BC), and 3.01 (OC) Gg/yr (Song et al. 2010).

Credits: Anobha Gurung

A recent study in Kathmandu Valley in winter identified the four primary sources of particulate carbon: brick kilns, motor vehicles, fugitive soil dust, and biomass/garbage burning (Kim et al. 2015, AE). In the Valley, major component of PM10 is observed to be particulate carbon (Shakya et al. 2010, AAQR). In wintertime in the Valley, major sources of elemental carbon (EC) were brick kiln (40%), motor vehicles (37%), and biomass/garbage burning (22%) while major sources of organic carbon (OC) were motor vehicles (47%), biomass/garbage burning (32%), and soil dust (13%) (Kim et al. 2015, AE). For PM2.5, traffic-related emissions and soil/dust/construction materials were noted as the main sources in Kathmandu Valley (Shayka et al. 2017, ACP).

About 82% of Nepal’s population use solid fuels (wood, dung, crop waste, coal, charcoal) for cooking (WHO Household Energy Database 2010). Burning of solid fuels for cooking and heating using inefficient combustion devices leads to high indoor air pollution, a major concern in Nepal especially in rural areas. In Nepal, differences in stove design, fuel type, and cooking practice leads to large variation in indoor air quality (Gurung and Bell 2012, JESEE). In 2011 residence accounted for major share energy of consumption (80.4%), followed by industrial (7.9%), transport (7.1%), commercial (3.4%), and agriculture (1.2%) (Central Bureau of Statistics 2013). Indoor sources are also a major source for outdoor air pollution.

Credits: Anobha Gurung

Nepal is surrounded by countries with polluted cities such that transboundary air pollution is a large source of air pollution leading to higher background pollution level in many places in Nepal. Mainly during the dry season (October to June), transboundary air pollution from the south and west bring air pollution to large parts of the plains and hills in Nepal. Dust particles reach places in Nepal mostly in the Terai belt during dust storms in Rajasthan, India. Pollution from agriculture burning in places like Punjab and Haryana in India also reach Nepal. In Lumbini, a major share of CO originated from the Ganges Valley (46%), followed by the Nepal region (25%), and Indian region (17.5%). It was also noted that in Lumbini, other South Asian countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan contributed to about 11% of CO while China contributed to about 1% of CO (Rupakheti et al., 2016, ACP).

3.2 Air Quality Policy Landscape in Nepal

Nepal’s Environment Protection Act 1997 provides legal provision towards maintaining clean and healthy environment. The Act also supports environmental protection, natural resource management, and sustainable development. Similarly, the Interim Constitution of 2007 states that every person shall have the right to clean environment. In 2003, Sustainable Development Agenda for Nepal (SDAN) was endorsed with access to clean air being one of its broader goals.

Various policies and legislations are also already in national level to support cleaner air (Table A). In 1997, the National Conservation Strategy pointed air pollution especially in urban and industrial area and made environment impact assessment (EIA) required by projects. In 1992, the Industrial Policy, stated to prioritize environmental impacts with formulation and implementation of guidelines for pollution control. In 1993, the Nepal Environmental Policy and Action Plan (NEPAP) again emphasized urban and industrial pollution and stressed the need for EIA (Kathmandu Valley Environmental Outlook 2007). In 1993, the Vehicle and Transportation Management Act required compliance with emission and age of vehicles. In 2001, the National Transport Policy focused on road infrastructure for traffic, initiatives for electric vehicle use, reliable, accessible and pollution-free public transportation, ban on import of old vehicles, and rebates on pollution free vehicles.

Table A: National Policies Taken by Nepal Government Towards Air Quality Management

Year National Policies
1987 National Conservation Strategy
1992 Industrial Policy
1993 Nepal Environmental Policy and Action Plan
1993 Vehicle and Transport Management Act
2001 National Transport Policy
2002 -2007 10th Five Year Plan
2003 Sustainable Development Agenda for Nepal
2007 Interim Constitution
2009 National Indoor Air Quality Standards
2012 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (Updated from 2003)
2012 Nepal Vehicle Mass Emission Standards (NVMES)
2014 Environment Friendly Vehicle and Transport Policy

Under these national policies various initiatives have been introduced in Nepal especially in Kathmandu Valley (Table B). For the ongoing fiscal year 2016/2017 and the next fiscal year, Air Pollution Control Taskforce of experts and senior government officials was called to present simple actions to control the rising air pollution in the Valley. The recommendations were submitted to the National Planning Commission to ensure that air quality management was incorporated into rest of the government plans. Under the direction of the Good Governance Committee and Prime Minister’s initiative, the Cabinet Secretariat prepared a comprehensive work plan on minimizing air pollution in the capital city. Based on the proposed plan, twenty-three government agencies, including ministries and departments, will make efforts to reduce air pollution in the capital. As a direct means to mainstream air pollution in the city Kathmandu, the workplan intends to form a Strategy and Action Plan Implementation Coordination Committee and a Strategy and Action Plan Implementation Unit that will specifically work on the air pollution in Kathmandu (Air Pollution Faltering Race 2017). Despite these initiatives present, the main challenge has been on implementation.

Table B: National Policies Taken by Nepal Government Towards Air Quality Management

Year Initiatives
1991 Banning diesel operated three wheeler
1993 Initiation of vehicle emission test (green sticker)
1994 Introduction of electric three wheelers ( safa tempo)
1995 Establishment of MoPE
1995 Tail Pipe Emission Standards
1997 Lead free gasoline introduced in Kathmandu Valley (nationally in 1999)
1999 Ban on two stroke engines and old vehicles
2000 Introduction of Euro I emission standards
2001 10% additional tax per year on vehicles older than fifteen years
2002 Establishment of air quality monitoring stations (2002-2007)
2003 NAAQS introduced (updated in 2012)
2004 Removal of two stroke three wheelers from Kathmandu
2004 Ban of polluting bull trench kilns from Kathmandu Valley
2012 Euro III emission standards
2015 Plan for nationwide air quality monitoring network
2017 Euro IV standard
2017 Ban twenty-year old public vehicles
2017 Air Pollution Control Taskforce
2017 Comprehensive work plan on minimizing air pollution in the capital city

3.3 Air Quality Monitoring in Nepal 

The Department of Environment (DoE), under the Ministry of Population and Environment (MoPE) is the main responsible government agency in relation to air quality management in Nepal with air quality monitoring as one of their primary task. In 2015, DoE in collaboration with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has developed a ten-year plan to establish nationwide air quality monitoring network of fifty-six stations with fourteen located in Kathmandu Valley. Additionally, the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, in collaboration with U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have setup two air quality monitoring stations in Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Nepal. Table C provides information on the current network present.

Table C: Current Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Network in Nepal

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Is the air quality data publicly available?

Data collected as part of government monitoring efforts are reported on the official air quality monitoring website, but data archives are currently unavailable. Data from two stations (both real-time and archived)- US Embassy-Maharajgunj and Phora Durbar is currently available via the AirNow DOS website.

Data from Drishti Air Quality Sensor Network is also available on a daily basis (here), but historical data are not available for download. Drishti is a project by concerned citizens, run by volunteers, to give voice to our concerns about the growing air pollution problem in Kathmandu Valley. The Drishti network is publishing real-time data on air quality from across Kathmandu. (more about Drishti here)

You can also check the status of air quality in your area on your smartphone using the Safa Hawa app!

3.4 How can open data help? 

Use of open data, both air quality and other domains (e.g., energy use, urbanization patterns, transport and others) can help to improve the understanding of patterns of air pollution in the country, and influence the formulation of targeted plans. In addition, availability of open data allows for assessment of effectiveness of interventions, which can, in turn, lead to data-driven policymaking.

“Open data in air quality leads to awareness and engagement, turning insight into collaborative action.”



Additional Resources 

  1. Presentation by Dr. Anobha Gurung on the Nepal Air Quality Landscape (download the slides)
  2. Presentation by Mr. Rajan Thapa, Clean Energy Nepal  on Air Quality Management and Policy Response in Nepal (download the slides)
  3. Presentation by Mr. Parth Sarathi Mahapatra, ICIMOD on Addressing the trans-boundary air pollution in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region (access the slides)
  4. Presentation by Mr. Satish Joshi, Drishti Kathmandu on a low-cost sensor network on air pollution in Kathmandu City (access the slides)
  5. Situation Analysis of Ambient Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Effects in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal Health Research Council (download the report)
  6. Implications of Air Pollution on Health Effects in Nepal: Lessons from Global Research (nje-06-525)
  7. The state of scientific evidence on air pollution and human health in Nepal (download the paper)