Tag Archives: Nepal

Poor air inflicts billions of premature deaths in Asia

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

Nepal's glaciers retreat – but why?

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT Saturday 23 February
One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. In the last of his reports from the region he describes the difficulties of establishing why so many of Nepal’s glaciers appear to be shrinking.

KATHMANDU, 21 February – Mohan Bdr. Chand is at the sharp end of glacier research. A climate researcher at Kathmandu University, Chand is carrying out vital field work, looking at high mountain glaciers as indicators of climate change.

The work involves spending time clambering up and down the ice, taking measurements and readings to calculate mass balance – the sum of the snowfall which builds up on a glacier and the melting that shrinks it.

“Getting to a glacier can take five days from Kathmandu – two days driving and three days trekking”, says Chand, one of only a few native glacier specialists in Nepal. “We stay on the glacier for over two weeks at heights of between 5,000 and 6,000 metres. Conditions are tough, with altitude sickness a big problem.

“What we’re seeing is that almost all glaciers in Nepal are in retreat”, says Chand. “There are a few in the far west of the country which appear to be stable or increasing in size, but these – influenced by westerly winds rather than the Indian monsoon – are very much the exception.”

Calculating mass balance is seen as critical to understanding a glacier’s long-term behaviour. According to a 2011 study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are an estimated 54,000 individual glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, an area of mountains stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east.

“The glaciers in much of the region show signs of shrinking, thinning and retreating”, said the study.

What is noteworthy is how little detailed knowledge there is of this region, which is considered to be highly vulnerable to climate change and to be warming faster than many other areas on the planet.

Retreat rates vary

 

“A serious lack of reliable and consistent data severely hampers scientific knowledge about the state of Himalayan glaciers”, said a late 2012 report by the United Nations Environment Programme’s global environmental alert service.

The region has been referred to as a “white spot”, a term in the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s) Fourth Assessment Report used to describe an area with “little or no data”.

Confusion was added to the debate when, in the same IPCC report, it was suggested that the probability of  the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 “is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the present rate.”

It was a claim the IPCC later said should never have been published, but one that was eagerly seized on by climate sceptics in efforts to try to undermine the whole body of the Panel’s work.

Mohan and his team are investigating two glaciers – one at Rikhashambha in north-central Nepal at 6,000 metres, described as a valley glacier, and one at Yala to the east, on the border with Tibet at between 5,100 and 5,700 metres, described as a plateau-type glacier.

“In general plateau-type glaciers – mostly found in Tibet – seem to be retreating faster than valley types”, says Dr Mohan. “The number of glacial lakes at high altitudes is increasing, with between 20 and 26 in Nepal. If these burst, they pose a serious danger.

“Rising temperatures and sudden rainfalls of great intensity are factors that seem to be causing the retreat of some glaciers. But recently it’s been realised that black carbon could have a major impact on the mass balance of glaciers.”

Black carbon – particulate matter that in South Asia comes mainly from the burning of wood and waste and from cooking fires, or from coal-burning and diesel exhausts – falls on snow and darkens the surface, in the process reducing reflectivity and causing the surface to absorb more heat.

Data too sparse

 

Most of the black carbon falling on the Himalayas and the south of the Tibetan plateau comes from the plains of India, while that of the eastern and northern sections of the plateau comes mainly from China.

According to recent ICIMOD estimates, black carbon is probably responsible for a large part – around 30% by some calculations – of glacial retreat in the region.

ICIMOD and other bodies admit there is far too little field data available to draw solid conclusions, whether on overall glacial melt or on the influence of black carbon. Part of this is to do with the inhospitable terrain. Also, in a tense region where transboundary cooperation is severely limited, studies that have been done often use differing methodologies.

Advances in satellite technology have significantly increased the volume and quality of data gathering across the region. However, satellite survey results have shown considerable variation, with one survey finding large glacial retreat and another a much smaller rate of melt. Scientists say there is often no substitute for fieldwork but admit that the extent of such activity is still woefully inadequate.

“We will return to the glaciers in May to take more measurements”, says Chand. It is gruelling work but needs to be done if a full picture of what’s going in the glaciers of the Himalayas is to emerge. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT Saturday 23 February
One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. In the last of his reports from the region he describes the difficulties of establishing why so many of Nepal’s glaciers appear to be shrinking.

KATHMANDU, 21 February – Mohan Bdr. Chand is at the sharp end of glacier research. A climate researcher at Kathmandu University, Chand is carrying out vital field work, looking at high mountain glaciers as indicators of climate change.

The work involves spending time clambering up and down the ice, taking measurements and readings to calculate mass balance – the sum of the snowfall which builds up on a glacier and the melting that shrinks it.

“Getting to a glacier can take five days from Kathmandu – two days driving and three days trekking”, says Chand, one of only a few native glacier specialists in Nepal. “We stay on the glacier for over two weeks at heights of between 5,000 and 6,000 metres. Conditions are tough, with altitude sickness a big problem.

“What we’re seeing is that almost all glaciers in Nepal are in retreat”, says Chand. “There are a few in the far west of the country which appear to be stable or increasing in size, but these – influenced by westerly winds rather than the Indian monsoon – are very much the exception.”

Calculating mass balance is seen as critical to understanding a glacier’s long-term behaviour. According to a 2011 study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are an estimated 54,000 individual glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, an area of mountains stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east.

“The glaciers in much of the region show signs of shrinking, thinning and retreating”, said the study.

What is noteworthy is how little detailed knowledge there is of this region, which is considered to be highly vulnerable to climate change and to be warming faster than many other areas on the planet.

Retreat rates vary

 

“A serious lack of reliable and consistent data severely hampers scientific knowledge about the state of Himalayan glaciers”, said a late 2012 report by the United Nations Environment Programme’s global environmental alert service.

The region has been referred to as a “white spot”, a term in the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s) Fourth Assessment Report used to describe an area with “little or no data”.

Confusion was added to the debate when, in the same IPCC report, it was suggested that the probability of  the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 “is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the present rate.”

It was a claim the IPCC later said should never have been published, but one that was eagerly seized on by climate sceptics in efforts to try to undermine the whole body of the Panel’s work.

Mohan and his team are investigating two glaciers – one at Rikhashambha in north-central Nepal at 6,000 metres, described as a valley glacier, and one at Yala to the east, on the border with Tibet at between 5,100 and 5,700 metres, described as a plateau-type glacier.

“In general plateau-type glaciers – mostly found in Tibet – seem to be retreating faster than valley types”, says Dr Mohan. “The number of glacial lakes at high altitudes is increasing, with between 20 and 26 in Nepal. If these burst, they pose a serious danger.

“Rising temperatures and sudden rainfalls of great intensity are factors that seem to be causing the retreat of some glaciers. But recently it’s been realised that black carbon could have a major impact on the mass balance of glaciers.”

Black carbon – particulate matter that in South Asia comes mainly from the burning of wood and waste and from cooking fires, or from coal-burning and diesel exhausts – falls on snow and darkens the surface, in the process reducing reflectivity and causing the surface to absorb more heat.

Data too sparse

 

Most of the black carbon falling on the Himalayas and the south of the Tibetan plateau comes from the plains of India, while that of the eastern and northern sections of the plateau comes mainly from China.

According to recent ICIMOD estimates, black carbon is probably responsible for a large part – around 30% by some calculations – of glacial retreat in the region.

ICIMOD and other bodies admit there is far too little field data available to draw solid conclusions, whether on overall glacial melt or on the influence of black carbon. Part of this is to do with the inhospitable terrain. Also, in a tense region where transboundary cooperation is severely limited, studies that have been done often use differing methodologies.

Advances in satellite technology have significantly increased the volume and quality of data gathering across the region. However, satellite survey results have shown considerable variation, with one survey finding large glacial retreat and another a much smaller rate of melt. Scientists say there is often no substitute for fieldwork but admit that the extent of such activity is still woefully inadequate.

“We will return to the glaciers in May to take more measurements”, says Chand. It is gruelling work but needs to be done if a full picture of what’s going in the glaciers of the Himalayas is to emerge. – Climate News Network