The Problem Of Air Pollution In Kathmandu


Air pollution has been a major problem of 21st century for both developed and developing world. It has a negative impact on various environmental aspects which directly or indirectly affect the quality of human health. Nepal, especially Kathmandu, in the current situation, is observing rapid urbanization and various infrastructure development projects. As a result, these sorts of human activities have been responsible for increasing air pollution in an enormous rate inside Kathmandu Valley. Chronic exposure of deteriorated air increases vulnerability to diseases like lung disease, heart disease, and cancers. Short term exposures also invite respiratory diseases and allergy.

Research carried out, has helped interpretation of the situation that reveals the current scenario in the context of Kathmandu’s air quality status and its impact on human health. The lack of awareness in the general public and limited resources possessed by the government is the major concern on whether or not we will be able to overcome crisis situations that not even India and China could properly handle.

This essay discusses the potential hazards of air pollution on public health, major causes and sources of air pollutants, status quo of air quality in Kathmandu Valley, and finally the potential modes of prevention and control required to bring about change in the current scenario of things. 


Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal is the vanguard of the country, namely economy, tourism, culture, politics, and administration. Due to these reasons, the population of Kathmandu valley is increasing day by day. Apart from this, the infrastructure development has never been able to keep up with the unmanaged and accelerating growth. As a result, this has led to increase in slums, inadequate and polluted drinking water supply, polluted air to breathe, haphazard manner of dumping the solid waste in the neighborhoods. Everyone has rights to breathe clean air. Increase in population, vehicles, energy consumption and industries have contributed to degrade air quality in Kathmandu valley.

Air Pollution in Kathmandu

World Health Organization defines air pollution as, “contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical, or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.” Common sources of air pollution are household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and forest fires.

Kathmandu Valley, well known as a city of many cultural heritage sites and shrines, has now been transformed into city of dust and smoke. The city of temples is also now referred to by locals as “Dust-Mandu”. At times, after a huge downpour one may gaze upon the famed pristine blue hills and crystal clear sky that covered for a moment before the dust lays it clam back on the city. The valley that our fathers spoke up of have all but disappeared as a stagnant haze of dust and smoke seldom covers the city.

But the major concerns lie in the repercussions that follow the massive unplanned urbanization and infrastructure development of Kathmandu valley, and the beautiful topographic structure that might turn out disastrous in the end.


To fulfill the study objectives, a systematic study approach was followed. The major base for research founded with the collection of relevant secondary data and information from various national and international sources. The field-based study was not conducted.

Literature review on science journals, organization official websites and newspaper articles helped cement what was already obvious. Need for proper research into air pollution and its direct and indirect impact to the residents of Kathmandu Valley. So that the general public can be made aware of the potential hazards that they are presented to every time they breathe.


Topographic Structure

The valley has a unique bowl shaped topographic structure that is covered by high hills and mountains on all sides. This restricts the dispersion of pollution into the atmosphere, thus making the valley particularly vulnerable to air pollution. Like a snow globe, we are living in a practical dust globe that never ceases to shake.

Over Population

Kathmandu is severely over-populated as it has a population density of 13,225 per km2, with population growth rate of 4.78% (CBS, 2011). This is primarily due to Kathmandu valley being the capital city, people from all over the country pour into the city in pursuit of better life and opportunities. Secondly, it also harbors the only international airport making it the focal point for almost all arrival and departure of people. Finally as our government failed to implement proper planning, rabid urbanization has led to destruction of forest/farm lands, leading to problems such as air pollution.

Rabid Urbanization

Similarly, along with the rapid and uncontrolled urbanization and haphazard developmental projects, people are being victimized with serious airborne diseases (Lodge, 2014). Melamchi Water Line Project is major reason to many of the valley’s unfinished roads, which then have contributed to the bulk of the dust flying in the air. Though few studies and publications have been done regarding air pollution in Kathmandu, the city has now been regarded as severely polluted place (Govinda & Bhuwan, 2018). This trend is increasing rapidly and it is estimated that urban population will reach 60 million by 2040.

Steep Increase in Vehicle Ownership

It is evident that, the sky rocketing number of vehicles on the streets is one of the main culprits of air pollution. Kathmandu Valley has seen a steep increase in vehicle numbers in the last 15 years. Data have shown that in 2000/1, number of registered vehicles was 24,003 and by 2015/16 it has increased to 7, 79,822 (Govinda & Bhuwan, 2018). This shows an increment by more than 32 times in the last one and a half decade. This can be directly linked to lack of an efficient public transport system, many residents therefore have chosen to buy private vehicle. Private vehicles are increasing in comparison to public transport vehicle. Emissions from vehicles are particularly toxic as diesel powered vehicles, which are considered deadly pollutant and are more numerous than the petrol powered ones.

Industrial Emissions

About two-fifth industries in Nepal are located in Kathmandu valley. According to the Department of Cottage and small industries, there were 14,971 up to 2006. Out of them, 111 are brick kilns and 89 are stone crushers. They contribute 14% of the total particulate matter in Kathmandu valley. Management of solid waste is another problem which also causes air pollution and vulnerable to health.

Natural Sinks

Scientists have identified areas on the earth that have the capacity to take in the greenhouse gases and clean the air around us. These areas are known as ‘natural sinks’. Some of these natural sinks are forest cover (trees, vegetation), ponds, rivers, and soil to some extent, all of which have the ability to take in carbon dioxide (Edugreen, 2015). Therefore, due to destruction of such natural sinks, there is no place where to dust or pollution can dilute into.

Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution is also emerging as a major threat to the whole ecosystem. The city is largely covered in smog, like a blanket of dust and smoke, especially during the dry season. This phenomenon further retains the pollution within the valley. The situation is so bad that, the smog in Kathmandu is five times worse than the levels which prompted Paris to ban cars. The situation of air pollution in the city has reached its peak. The air quality in majority of the places falls under the ‘unhealthy’ category that affects not only the sensitive groups, but people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teenagers (Lodge, 2014). All that live and breathe in the valley are vulnerable to serious health issues.

Particulate matter (PM) is the main problem, which not only affects the health but also the tourism industry. As observed in the website of Ministry of Forests and Environment, PM in and around the observation posts are always dangerously high. This is known to demotivate potential tourists who are very much concerned about health issues.

Furthermore, due to the poor health, human productivity is also loss. All these impacts finally affect the economic system of individual as well as of state.


Status In 2016, Environmental Performance Index (EPI) of Nepal’s air quality ranked 177th out of 180 countries (GOVNP, 2018) and, in Asia, Kathmandu is ranked one of the most polluted cities. According to a report of WHO, Air pollution has been a burning issue but adequate air quality monitoring stations have been limited only to a few places like Kathmandu, Kavre, Pokhara, Chitwan, and Rupendehi (GOVNP, 2018). No sufficient study regarding air quality of urban and suburban regions has been done and categorically published on the basis of pollution level. It has been generalized that poor air quality is having adverse effect on people’s health; however, studies are limited and no sufficient studies have been done across the country to find out short and long term effects, seasonal patterns, geographical variations, and other issues of air quality affecting human health. Knowledge and awareness of poor air quality’s threat on human health has finally started to reach the common public level as we can observe majority of the residents with masks and scarfs. Besides, other problems are economic conditions, malpractice in politics, and limited approach to health facilities.


Air pollution is an ongoing crisis situation to the residents of Kathmandu, threatening the lives of thousands of people of every year. Day by day, the level of vulnerability keeps on increasing as we are not taking steps towards adopting preventive measures. The scenario is obvious to worsen in the coming years if immediate preventive measures are not taken in time. That is why; it is of utmost urgency to educate the population on harmful aspects of air pollution and the necessary precautions to prevent a disastrous situation.

The most potent of solutions to Kathmandu’s air pollution problem can only be achieved when the government takes the leading role in addressing the situation. Rules and regulations are very effective measures to bring about progressive change.

The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has mentioned that clean and healthy environment should be guaranteed to the people as their primary right (ICIMOD, 2007). National health policy of Nepal has included air pollution as a priority research/public health agenda, but implementation part has not been efficient. The lack of political stability is one of the main reasons why the government has not been able to properly implement Benefit of doubt can be given to government as the political scenario is still in the transition phase after the Nepalese overthrew centuries-old monarchy and established the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Currently, people are awaiting a better political stability whereby a better economic growth can be achieved so that solutions to this public health issue be achieved.


  • CBS. (2011). Central Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved from Central Bureau of Statistics:
  • Govinda, P., & Bhuwan, S. (2018). The Threat of Ambient Air Pollution in Kathmandu, Nepal. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 7.
  • GOVNP. (2018). Air Pollution Of Kathmandu Valley. Minisrty of Forests and Environment.
  • ICIMOD. (2007). Report on Industrial Emissions.
  • Lodge, D. (2014). Has air pollution made Kathmandu unlivealbe? The Guardian.
  • NPS.GOV. (2018, January 17). National Park Service. Retrieved from Where does air pollution come from?:   
16 December 2021
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