Atmosphere Programme

The HKH is vulnerable to increasing air pollution and climate change. It has experienced a rapid increase in air pollution in recent decades, with far-reaching and hazardous consequences on environmental and human health. In many places, both urban and rural, pollutants have reached alarming levels, threatening the health of millions of people in the region, particularly women, children, and the elderly; in each of these groups, the poor are the most vulnerable. 

The socioeconomic impact of this slow-motion disaster on the environment, human health, and society is immense. The largest sources of air pollution in the HKH are solid waste, household emissions from cook stoves, and open burning of agricultural residue. Forest fires, diesel engines, brick kilns, and fossil fuel based energy production also comprise a significant portion of air pollution. During much of the dry season a thick regional haze blankets the lower-elevations of the southern HKH and the Indo- Gangetic Plains (IGP). The haze affects regional climate, altering precipitation patterns, contributing to the formation of persistent winter fog, and reducing visibility and sunlight (which affects aviation, tourism, ecosystems, and agricultural production). At higher elevations in the HKH, black carbon and other aerosols contribute to a temperature increase that is among the swiftest in the world, leading to rapid melting of the Himalayan cryosphere and resulting in consequent changes in downstream water availability. 

In 2013 ICIMOD established the Atmosphere Initiative to increase scientific understanding of the HKH atmosphere and to seek mitigating solutions to air pollution challenges. ICIMOD identified major data gaps in this area and worked with the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to establish atmospheric observatories at five locations in Bhutan and seven in Nepal (ranging from 100 to 4,900 masl). ICIMOD established an in-house modeling centre, hired PhD fellows, hosted a variety of training courses, and launched collaborative studies to gain a better understanding of emission sources, the physics and chemistry of urban air pollution, as well as the recent persistent winter fog across the IGP. 


RMCs use science-based knowledge on air quality, atmospheric processes and climate to shape policies and actions leading to air pollution mitigation for improved environment and human health.