Kathmandu: Living and breathing in one of the world's most polluted cities
Nepal's capital Kathmandu is one of the fastest-developing cities in the world — and also one of the dirtiest. The city's inhabitants are battling with the health consequences.
Then and now
Looking down on Kathmandu from Swayambhu temple, a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site in the west of the city, — last year and in 1967. Green spaces have been built over, and mountains have disappeared behind a veil of smog. In 2018, Nepal ranked as having the worst air quality of the 180 countries in the global Environmental Performance Index.
City of cars
The Nepalese capital is set in a valley, where air pollution gets trapped between the mountains. Much of it is dust from unpaved, dirt roads. Brick kilns on the outskirts of the city also foul up the air. But the biggest culprit is traffic.
No walk in the park
The number of vehicles in Kathmandu is rising by 14% each year, three times faster than the population. As the amount of traffic grows, pedestrians face cars whizzing by in terrifying proximity, deafening noise and smog that makes the eyes water and the breath shorter.
Pollution takes it toll on residents' health. "My nose is dry, I suffer from headaches and my lungs are not well. So I am using a mask to protect myself from dust," says 63-year-old Narayan Dahal, walking through Kathmandu's busy Kalanki district.
After two days wear in Kathmandu, a face mask is grimy from the air. While dust causes discomfort, these masks do little to protect the wearer from the fine particles in smog that go much deeper into the lungs and can cause heart and respiratory diseases, and even cancer.
Getting a lungfull
Many in Kathmandu don't bother with masks at all, and for street traders like this young cotton candy seller at one of Kathmandu's busiest crossroads, the fumes are an occupational hazard.
Rushing into the modern age
Just half a century ago, the Nepalese capital was a town of only a few hundred thousand people. Today, it's a metropolis of 3 million. Without proper planning, urbanization has exploded out of control. The city's main arteries, like Kanti Path, are choked with exhaust fumes.
Gasping for breath
A woman on a break from work holds her throat as she surveys the polluted city from above. Kathmandu is still being rebuilt after a catastrophic earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, killing 9,000 people. Some hoped new builds would adopt cleaner burning brick kilns, for instance. But for now, pollution remains a big problem.
Memories of fresh air
"I used to come to Kathmandu as a kid, and the air was not bad," says 29-year-old Buddhist monk Pasang Thunglu. "But when I came back in 2015, the air was unbreathable. The earthquake made things worse because now construction sites produce lots of dust."
Dirty and devine
Even the deities aren't safe. In a Kathmandu craftsman's showroom, this brass statue of the goddess Tara is wrapped in paper to prevent dust from ruining the painted details of her face.