At a recent meeting for the launch of a new World Bank report on air pollution in Kathmandu, Nepal, Pema Gyamtsho, director general of ICIMOD, asked by a show of hands how many people in the room actually saw the peak of Mount Everest on their way to Kathmandu. Sadly, and predictably, there were no hands raised. Gyamtsho was of course alluding to Nepal’s air pollution – among the worst in the world – that often keeps the world’s tallest mountain peak hidden from view.
South Asia is a global hotspot of air pollution, home to 37 of the 40 most polluted cities in the world. 60% of its population lives in heavily polluted areas where levels of deadly dust particles called PM2.5 – responsible for chronic respiratory disease and more than two million premature deaths a year in the region – exceed the least stringent WHO air quality standard.