We’ve been asked many times why we aren’t going to certain countries. Sometimes it’s because of potential danger (e.g. Syria), sometimes it’s because of time and/or cost (e.g., Antarctica), sometimes because the timing doesn’t work out (e.g., Namibia) but sometimes it’s because of pollution. With the limited number of countries we’re able to actually visit in the short time we have, we must cut certain countries from our list of places we’d like to see… and I’d rather avoid getting sick from air pollution if we can.
One of the countries we recently added to our world trip was Nepal. It was partly a strategic trip to help shorten flight times between Singapore and Oman, but also because it simply felt like a beautiful culture I had wanted my kids to experience. Sadly, it appears that Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, might be in the “midst of a pollution crisis” as one blogger called it. A meta-review of journals in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, said that “short term exposures” to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution “invite respiratory diseases and allergy.” There are countless videos on YouTube that describe how bad the pollution can get, from having constant black goock in your nose if you don’t wear a mask, to all your belongings constantly being grimy, to actually getting seriously ill.
But Kathmandu is actually not even among the worst offenders. According to this article in The Guardian, India has about half of the top 50 cities in terms of air pollution. The next country, China, has 8 cities on the list. My kids have the occasional snow days at school, but it appears many unfortunate kids in these countries have smog days.
Of course, if we’re being honest, we’d only be in any of those three countries (and their specific polluted cities) for a short time, right? How much would Kathmandu’s or New Delhi’s pollution affect us? Likely very little in the long term. But why bother having our kids suffer with the smog and dirt when there’s simply so much beauty elsewhere in the world? This real-time air pollution index and World Health Organization’s outdoor air quality database give a good indication of other places with amazing history, temples and nature that we could visit instead.
Although the pollution above is mostly caused by cars and factories, we’ve been looking at carbon offsetting our travel (reading things like this blog entry from On The Luce). Carbon offsetting does mostly seem like a way to feel less guilty about your flights (since the flights are likely going to happen with or without you), but we don’t need to be doing this world trip while others might have to travel for work or family. There’s still a lot of research on this topic so expect another blog post or two in the future.
While I’m on the subject, I recommend NASA’s quiz on air pollution called The Air We Breathe.