Though the availability of firewood for cooking in Kathmandu Valley may bring respite from the acute fuel crisis, it could contribute to deteriorating air quality in the Valley with onset of winter season this year, experts said.
The government has already distributed more than 200,000 kilograms of firewood from various depots set up inside the Valley since the decision was taken on Sunday, according to the Timber Corporation Nepal. This is equivalent to 340 tonnes of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change and global warming as well as affecting the local environment. Besides carbon dioxide, other harmful pollutants, including methane, carbon monoxide and soot particles, are also released from burning wood.
Experts said though the decision was taken to address the severe shortage of cooking gas, the burning of firewood is likely to increase the emissions of air pollutants and contribute towards indoor air pollution. “Most people are using traditional fireplace to burn firewood in the open, releasing emissions containing harmful pollutants that pose severe health risks,” said Dhiraj Pokhrel of the Society for Legal and Environmental Analysis and Development Research (LEADERS Nepal), a non-governmental organisation working on indoor air pollution in the country.
Pokhrel’s organisation has been conducting air quality monitoring, especially of PM2.5 particles that pose greatest health risks, by setting up monitoring stations in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Kavre. “When we analysed the data collected from this three stations last week, we found that the concentration of dust and soot particles that pose severe health risk is three times higher in Bhaktapur than in Putalisadak area,” Pokhrel said, arguing that causes of the scenario may be due to the drop in number of vehicular movement along the main street in Putalisadak while increase in the use of firewood in Bhaktapur.
The decreasing number of vehicles on road due to fuel shortage could reduce the emissions, but other sources, including the operation of the brick kilns and the use of firewood, is likely to increase pollution level during the winter this year. The bowl-shaped topography of the Valley makes it vulnerable to pollution by restricting the movement and trapping pollutants, and the situation gets worse during the dry season.
Officials at the Department of Environment agree that the burning of firewood is not a sustainable solution to the ongoing crisis but state that the decision has not much considered its environmental aspect to address the humanitarian issue. “The crisis situation for more than two months now has led to hardships with people looking for any alternatives available to run their day-to-day life,” said Surendra Subedi, deputy director general at the department.