Building Nepal's Air Quality Public Information System

Participants of the workshop to discuss the need of Nepal air quality data on 18 July 2016. 
Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD

Deteriorating air quality in Nepal and its adverse effects on health and daily activities of the public has drawn the attention of various stakeholders. 

The Department of Environment, (DoEnv) with technical support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), designed a decade-long air quality monitoring plan for Nepal in 2015. Fifty-six locations around the country, including 14 in Kathmandu Valley, were identified as locations for air quality monitoring stations. News of the installation of at least a half-dozen stations by the end of 2016 was widely covered by the media. A range of stakeholders came together to discuss their needs on Nepal air quality data at a workshop, ‘Air Quality Public Information System in Nepal: From Data to Aware Public and Responsive Decision Making’, jointly organised on 18 July 2016 in Kathmandu by DoEnv and ICIMOD. 

DoEnv requested ICIMOD design an air quality data portal for Nepal to maximise use of live air pollution data. Data from various stations will be sent to a central server where it can then be distributed to the public.

Ganesh Kumar Shrestha, the Director General of DoEnv of Nepal said the Ministry of Population and Environment (MoPE) is highly interested in creating environmental management plans, policies and legal frameworks for a range of activities within the sphere of activities that affect the lives of people. DoEnv is the key implementing agency for all environmental issues and expressed its intention to take on the issue of air pollution. 

Referring to the BBC 13 February 2016 published article indicating most deaths caused by air pollution occur frequently in developing economies like China and India, Mr Shrestha said because Nepal lies between China and India, ’it may affect our atmosphere due to the transboundary movement of pollutants. Data collection alone is insufficient in combatting adverse effects of air pollution but proper communication of data has real value’. Mr Shrestha said increasing public awareness will lead to reducing exposure to air pollution. 

Speaking on the occasion, ICIMOD’s Director Administration and Finance, Shekhar Ghimire acknowledged the contribution of Government of Nepal, Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the US Embassy for their support in moving forward with the design of an air pollution monitoring network and for setting up stations.  

‘The new stations that are being set under the new monitoring network are focused on retrieving real-time data’, said Arnico Panday, Programme Coordinator of Atmosphere Initiative at ICIMOD. 'In comparison to the previously set stations in Nepal which measured a single parameter of PM10 data, took only daily averages, and used to take a few days to get the data from the filter samples, the new stations are equipped with state-of-the-art instruments which measure real-time data and take various parameters. The instruments measure PM2.5, PM10, black carbon, and have meteorological sensors and a gas analyser that measures ozone, NOx, SO2, CO, etc. will be installed,' said Dr Panday in his presentation. 

Managing Nepal’s growing air pollution crisis requires continuous monitoring of air quality at many locations. A mockup of the data visualisation public web portal was presented to participants by Saroj Dhoj from Real Time Solution (RTS), the company assigned with development of the real-time web data portal.

The participants of the workshop were academics, traffic police, private sector, individuals, government agencies, media, and the health sector.

After the formal programme, participants were divided into groups of similar backgrounds and discussed the importance of air quality, access to information, useful types of information, access to that data, and how progress can be made. Many interesting and innovative ideas to use air quality data in effective ways emerged and were shared in the workshop. A comprehensive report of the outcomes of the workshop has been developed and will be closely referred to while working on the development of web portal and other effective interpretation of data to share with public.