As harvesting season starts, so does open burning

With the end of the monsoon and onset of harvesting season, open burning, which is among the chief culprits for the rise in the level of air pollution, is set to rise throughout the country.

Arjun Poudel

Arjun Poudel

The Kathmandu Post


Rubbish collected from a fruits market is burnt near Bagmati River at Kuleshwar. PHOTO: THE KATHMANDU POST

November 2, 2023

KATHMANDU – Officials deployed from the environment division of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City on Monday fined Rs5,000 each to two traders from India for open burning in the Kalimati area.

Officials say that those traders were ripening raw bananas by burning chaff and husks.

“Open burning is illegal not only in the metropolis but all over the country,” said Rabin Man Shrestha, chief of the division. “We will take stern action against anyone polluting the city by burning in the open.”

With the end of the monsoon and onset of harvesting season, open burning, which is among the chief culprits for the rise in the level of air pollution, is set to rise throughout the country.

Air quality across the country, mainly in the Kathmandu Valley, will reach unhealthy levels to hazardous levels in the coming days.

However, unlike the Kathmandu metropolis, most local levels throughout the country have not yet realised that preventing open burning is their responsibility.

“Open burning has already started in Tarai region,” said Bhupendra Das, an air quality specialist, who has carried out research on the impact of open burning of crop residue. “No concerned agency has taken any measures to prevent open burning yet.”

According to a report titled ‘A model-ready emission inventory for crop residue open burning in the context of Nepal’, trends in dry matter generation have increased from 2003/04 to 2016/17 and so have the trend of emissions in the country.

Das, who is one of the authors of the report, said that the growing use of combine harvesters by farmers, especially in the Tarai region, is among the reasons for the rise in the generation of dry matter and emissions.

“Use of combine harvesters has become popular in Tarai region but it has its fallout,” said Das. “The combine harvesters cut the paddy in the middle and the farmers burn the residue.”

The increase in labour migration in the country has raised labour charges, which has in turn increased the popularity of the use of machines in agricultural work in the Tarai region.

Apart from that, the short span of time between the harvesting of paddy crops and the cultivation of wheat encourages farmers to burn agricultural residue.

Environmentalists say that they are not against the use of modern technology in agricultural work but in favour of climate-smart technology, which not only reduces the cost but also the pollution. For that, concerned authorities should take initiatives to encourage the farmers, according to them.

“Alternative uses of residue (for animal feed, bio-briquette production, raw materials for industries, etc), deployment of modern technology (modified combine harvesters, reaper harvesters, and happy seeders) and emission control policies ought to be considered among the foremost steps to reduce air pollution,” the report states.

Along with the burning of agricultural residue, incidents of forest fire and several other factors—emissions from brick kilns, factories, vehicular movements and construction activities, among others, will contribute to the deterioration of the air quality of the country.

Experts say the deterioration of air quality seriously affects public health. According to doctors, poor air quality causes short- and long-term effects on public health. Bad air quality can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, skin allergy, stroke and heart problems, among others, in the short term, and ulcers and cancer of the lungs and intestine, kidney disease and heart problems in the long run.

Experts blamed the apathy of the authorities in enforcing measures to improve air quality and the people are bearing the brunt of their indifference.

Das said that launching awareness drives against the hazards of open burning, making waste management effective, prohibiting burning of waste in the open, and restricting unnecessary vehicular movement can help improve air quality. “All agencies concerned, especially local bodies, should shoulder responsibilities to lessen the emissions, especially those from open burnings,” he said.

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