On Tuesday, Amrita Sunar from Barahatal Rural Municipality Ward No. 5 took her 21-month-old infant to Madhya Paschim Child Clinic in Birendranagar following complaints of breathing difficulty, itchy eyes and common cold.
“My son has been unwell for the past week so I took him to the clinic. The doctors had to administer supplemental oxygen to him after his health condition worsened,” she said. “The doctors say he is having health issues because of air pollution. They say he is still in danger.”
Sunar said all of her four children have fallen sick due to poor air quality.
“There’s been a wildfire raging in a nearby community forest for the past week. The air has become unbreathable,” she said.
Health professionals in Birendranagar say an increasing number of infants and children have been visiting hospitals across the city with complaints of difficulty in breathing and discomfort to the nose and the eyes.
According to the data of the Karnali Provincial Hospital, 300 children were taken ill due to chest infection and other respiratory diseases in Surkhet district in the last three weeks.
“Surkhet residents have been hugely affected by air pollution. Children are the worst affected,” said Dr Nawaraj KC, a paediatrician in Karnali Provincial Hospital.
According to him, forest fires near human settlements are the main cause of air pollution in Surkhet.
“Immediate measures must be taken to control the wildfires that are contributing to the worsening air quality,” said KC. “If the concerned stakeholders do not take initiatives to control air pollution, it will pose a grave danger to public health.”
Air quality in Surkhet has worsened in the last one month. However, the Department of Environment in Kathmandu has not been able to retrieve the exact data on the extent of the pollution since the equipment used to record the Air Quality Index is out of order.
“The air quality in Surkhet has gone from bad to worse in the past few days. The equipment kept at the provincial police office is defunct so we haven’t been able to determine the exact data,” said Shankar Prasad Paudel, information officer at the Department of Environment.
The District Administration Office in Surkhet recently notified its citizens to avoid outdoors except in emergency situations.
“The District Administration Office has requested children, senior citizens and patients with critical illnesses to adopt necessary precautions while stepping out. These groups are most vulnerable to air pollution and are at risk of experiencing respiratory problems,” the statement signed by Shree Shamsher Ranamagar, information officer at the District Administration Office reads.
According to the data of the District Police Office in Surkhet, wildfires have been reported in 39 community forests of the district in the past few months.
“In the last week itself, 3,345 hectares of forestland have been burning,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police in Surkhet Ram Prasad Ghartimagar.
This month, two individuals died while trying to douse wildfires in Simta Rural Municipality Ward No. 2 and Ward No. 7, according to the data of the District Police Office.
The majority of fire incidents result from human activities such as man made fire in the forests to hunt wild animals or burning of farmland to make way for the planting of new crops.
“Discarded cigarette butts are among the biggest causes of forest fires,” Ghartimagar told the Post. “Most wildfires are a result of human negligence. People should be careful when entering forests during the dry season.”Surkhet air pollution puts residents at risk
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