By Sean Froeb, UNCW

As I landed in Nepal I remember a distinct sense of confusion washing over me when I breathed the air for the first time. I remember the air not feeling as if it were at the right elevation. My brother used to live in the Appalachian mountains at around 3300 feet, almost 1500 feet below Kathmandu yet in Kathmandu the air felt significantly heavier. It wasn’t until I was in the cab from the airport to the hostel that I realized why the air felt so heavy.  

Kathmandu air pollution. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When people think Nepal they tend to think of snowy peaks and lush valleys not dust and smog. The second you set foot outside the airport in Kathmandu you’ll see almost all of the locals on the roads wearing dust masks to keep the dust and exhaust out of their lungs. As our cab drove through the streets of Kathmandu the amount of dust kicked up from the street was more reminiscent of a desert than a valley. As our microbus sat stalled in traffic (a frequent occurrence in Kathmandu) I remember watching huge clouds of black smoke pour from the exhaust pipes of the cars and motorbikes around us. Despite switching to the cleaner burning EURO IV Petrol products earlier that summer, many of the cars trucks and bikes in Nepal are older and do not run as cleanly as their contemporary counterparts. After navigating the roadways of Kathmandu for a month and breathing the idling exhaust mixed with kicked up dust, it was little surprise that Nepal ranked 5th in the 2017 pollution index.

Kathmandu – Photo: Sean Froeb

The more time I spend in Nepal the more I realized how many obstacles there are to improving air quality and creating effective environmental policy. Coming from the west I was used to the only obstacle to effective environmental policy being corporately backed lobbying groups and general political obstinance, but the more I learned about Nepal the more I realized the enormous cost of improving an ecosystem. Living in one of the most polluted cities in the world, I’m sure the people of Kathmandu would do anything to improve their air quality and subsequently their quality of life but they lack the capital and infrastructure required to do so. Many of the people I met while I was in Nepal told me that Nepal had one of the greatest capacities for hydroelectric power in the world but lacked the resources to capitalize on it.

Shangri-Lost: Summer Internship in Nepal – Part 1

Sean Froeb is a senior at The University of North Carolina, Wilmington.


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