Living in Kathmandu your body becomes one with the dust or it rebels. My body has rebelled. The dust of burning plastic, car fumes, shit, a rubbish collection strike, manufacturing unchecked and unpaved roads has knocked me over in the last week.
I have been coughing and spluttering, wheezing like and old lady so today I succumbed and went to the traveler’s medical center. $100 US later and I have been told that basically all the dirt and fecal matter in the air here I am a allergic too – hence the spluttering – but my nice doctor has given me drugs and an inhalers -so she’ll be right!
But my experience has got me to wondering about clean air as a human right issue.
Not having clean air in a country with user payers medicine creates a furthering of the poverty framework. Environmentally caused illness and the inability to access health-care are a nasty combination.According to a recent issue of the Kathmandu Post heart conditions and breathing problems/illness are increasing at alarming rates in the Kathmandu Valley due to air pollution and “development”. Basically the air here is poison. A local doctor I know says on anecdotal evidence the increases are lessening life expectancy significantly in the valley.
Kathmandu is an amazing place but the water and air quality and access to clean water is pretty appalling. I am concerned at the cost people living in this country are paying to meet Western expectations of living standards and development.
For a country that has only been open to the West since 1950 it appears to me, at least, the people of Nepal are paying a huge price environmentally to meet Western expectations of what a good life is.
After staying in a village here for a short period of time village life- living on less then $2 US a day is not poverty – these people can feed themselves, can support their families and can lead a good life. It may not be an easy life but it isn’t what I’d call poverty ,though by the United Nations and Non Government Organisation’s it is classified as such. My question is why? Who benefits from this definition of poverty? ( I will add in the city this definition of poverty and the hard task of accessing clean water etc the definition makes more sense.)
Problems in countries like Nepal seem to occur when Western/ first world expectations and infrastructures are imposed. We make a business out of it. We place conditions on aid and help so the markets are opened up and their resources can be exploited by our companies – we create a poverty market and then exploit it and the population to meet our own needs. Not only of the market but our needs to make the world a “better place” to impose our understandings and ultimately control the populations of non Western nations to our expectations of living.
These behaviours and expectations are killing and/or crippling countries like Nepal. ( For example look at Africa – all the aid in the world will probably not improve what is the dire straits of many African nations) Our interference ,our insistence of help is a hindrance to what would have been their natural path of development. This seems obvious in a country with over 40.000 NGO’s – the benefit of which sometimes is hard to see – with the exception of the flash cars driven by the UN and Red Cross which they fly in-what a bloody travesty. It makes me angry and frustrated. We make a nation a victim when perhaps this is not the case, we make a culture reconfigure itself to met our expectations creating political and economic instability which plays into the business of poverty – to the first world’s economic and political advantage.
I do realise I am speaking a large generalisations here, and these are perspectives from my personal observations. I am not pretending to know and nor to I have any specific answers. But surely we can do better?
Novemeber 2010 -It has been quite a while since I wrote this, but evidence suggests, that though there are some holes in my argument this business of poverty and pushing developing nations towards western models of what “developed” is, is a real issue for nations like Nepal. Nations like Nepal should be able to develop at their own rate with our support and political stability should always come first. Markets being opened up to foreign investment should not be a condition of aid or development loans. Assisting access to clean water and regular power supply should be supported financially without a nation sacrificing the means to maintain political stability. The Guardian has started to cover this issue in depth if you are looking for more information.