Increasing number of motor vehicles has contributed to local air pollution. Besides tailpipe emissions, other related emissions include particulate matter from tire and break wear-out, and re-suspended road dust
The quality of air in Bhutan has always been considered pristine however according to the Bhutan State of Environment Report 2016, rapid development is placing pressure on the air quality especially in the major urban areas.
The report states that among others, one of the major factors contributing to air pollution is increase in the number of vehicles. To curb this the National Environment Commission (NEC) will soon be coming up with new environment standards, which will also have stricter Vehicle Emission Standards.
According to Senior Environment Officer from NEC, Tshewang Dorji, air in the country is certainly being polluted due to various activities including increase in the number of vehicles therefore the commission is coming up with new environment standards that will be ready to be implemented by the coming fiscal year.
In 2015, there were 76,118 vehicles excluding vehicles owned by armed force, diplomatic missions and foreign construction company.
“Increasing number of motor vehicles contributes to local air pollution. Besides tailpipe emissions, other related emissions include particulate matter from tire and break wear-out, and re-suspended road dust,” the report states. The increase in the vehicle population also contributes to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Air pollution in Bhutan has been monitored with varying degrees of reliability since the early 2000. The longest data available is for measurement of particulate matter of less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) in Thimphu. PM10 is generally understood as “repairable dust” that is inhaled by humans.
Although, the levels are still within the national permissible limits for mixed area, it is exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and EU directives for annual average levels of PM10 emissions.
The estimated total national GHG emissions have increased by 45% from 1,549.64 Gigagrams of Carbon dioxide Equivalent (GgCO2e) in 2000 to 2,253.333 GgCO2e in 2010.
The highest emissions are from the agriculture sector.
According to WHO, air pollution has direct impact both on health of human and environment. PM 2.5, particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, is among one of the most harmful air pollutants.
Although particulate matter can cause health problems for everyone, certain groups of people are especially vulnerable. These sensitive groups include children, the elderly, exercising adults, and those suffering from asthma or bronchitis.
While there has been no study conducted for assessing the impact of air pollution in Bhutan to date, there has been an increase in the number of patients suffering from lung cancer in recent years. In 2015, 31 new cases of lung cancer were detected in Thimphu alone.
Medical Superintendent of Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital (JDNRH), Thimphu, Dr.Gosar Pemba said some of the patients who are suffering from lung cancer included non-smokers and small children. Dr.Gosar Pemba said the cause for the increase in the number of those suffering from lung cancer is not yet known. Apart from lung cancer, another common condition caused due to exposure of pollutants in the air is Asthma.
However the Medical Superintendent said that the number of patients suffering from the respiratory illness over the years is not alarming. “We are still at a very good sate in terms of quality of air,” he said.
Along with human health, air pollution also affects crop production. Several reports claims decreasing yield of fruits and vegetable to the increasing particulate matter concentration in the local area. The major source of particulate matter according to NEC is however mining and industrial emission.
Despite fiscal measures by the government like revision of taxes such as import duty and green tax, there has been minimal impact on the number of vehicles imported. The number of vehicles in country has almost doubled from 40,532 to 76,118 in 2008 and 2015.
After Thimphu, Phuentsholing has the highest number of vehicles. In 2015 Thimphu had 5,045 new vehicles registered and Phuentsholing had 2,764 respectively.
According to the NEC report, provisions of vehicle quotas for import of vehicles exempting payment of customs and sales tax for eligible individuals and institutions is in conflict with measures to curb the increase in vehicle numbers.
Apart from the revision of taxes, presently the import of used or secondhand vehicles, machinery and equipment are restricted in the country. Import of two-stroke engine vehicles have also been banned. The minimum permissible engine standards are Euro III and Bharat III.
In addition, electric vehicles and bicycle are exempted from all forms of taxes while hybrid vehicles are liable for green tax only.
The government provides subsidy for operating the city bus services in Phuentsholing and Thimphu. Proposals are being developed to improve the efficiency and reliability of urban transport systems for Thimphu.
Apart from the vehicle emissions, some of the other major sources of air pollution include: trans-boundary air pollution, road resurfacing and re-suspended road dust, industrial and mining/quarrying activities, construction activities and forest fires.