Located between China and India, two of the world’s biggest polluters, the Himalayan nation has experienced the worst pollution levels since 2016.
Nepal has ordered schools closed for four days after air pollution reached dangerous levels, forcing millions of students to stay at home across the country.
The country of 30 million people is located in the Himalayas between China and India, two of the biggest polluters in the world.
Air pollution is a chronic problem in the rapidly growing capital of Kathmandu and an additional headache for the government, which is struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the weekend, pollution levels hit their highest level in the capital since the government began keeping records in 2016, government official Shankar Paudel told Reuters news agency.
Education Ministry spokesman Deepak Sharma said about eight million students have been affected by the closures.
On Sunday, the 24-hour average level of PM2.5, fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, was 214 micrograms per cubic meter in the upscale Bhaisepati district of Kathmandu, according to data from the Ministry of the Environment. The government standard level is 40 micrograms per cubic meter.
Air quality in the capital has deteriorated recently, but average pollution readings were not available.
Dust from construction work, exhaust fumes from poorly maintained old vehicles and smoke from coal-fired brick kilns mix in a hazy haze that hangs over the ancient city of four million people, increasing the risk of cancer, stroke, asthma and high blood pressure, experts say.
“It also adds to the risk of COVID-19,” said Sher Bahadur Pun, a doctor at a tropical and infectious disease hospital in the capital.
Arjun Khadka, 65, owner of a grocery store in Kathmandu, said he experienced itching and burning sensations in his eyes and nose which could be due to pollution.
“I don’t remember this level of pollution in Kathmandu in the past,” Khadka told Reuters.
People should stay safe inside and not go outside except in an emergency, the health ministry said.
Officials at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu said poor visibility, which had dropped to 1,000 meters on Monday, had largely disrupted flights.