This Situation Report is generated based on initial scoping on brick kilns in Nepal through online search.
Brick is a primary building material in many parts of Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu Valley and in the southern plain of Terai. Brick demand has increased dramatically over recent decades with the demand for housing. It is estimated that about 1,100 Brick kilns are in operation in Nepal. The capacities of these kilns range from 15,000 to 50,000 bricks per day. Clay is the main raw material for brick making, which is available at very low cost. Brick making is an energy and labour-intensive process. Hand molding of green bricks is widely practiced in Nepal and there is no mechanization of this process. The industry is seasonal and operates mostly for about six months from December to June again except for large mechanized kilns with shades for storing bricks. The high demand for building materials has fuelled a demand for cheap labour and a lack of incentives for clean or socially responsible brick production.
Kathmandu Valley is vulnerable to air pollution problem due to its topography, which restricts the wind movement and allows pollutants to remain within the valley. Brick kilns, operating in the Valley, are known to be a prime cause of air pollution. There are currently more than 200 brick kilns operating in Kathmandu valley deteriorating its air quality and degrading the health of the people living near the kilns. Recent studies have found that the concentration of particulate matter in the air in an area with brick kilns is three times higher when the kilns are operating than during the off-season. Similarly, the health of students studying at a school situated near a brick kiln was found to be significantly worse than that of students studying in a similar school but located in an area without brick kilns. Other environmental costs of the brick kilns are the reduction in the soil fertility, reduced visibility, drying ground water sources. The use of an old and inefficient technology called Bull's Trench kilns and low quality fuel are the main causes of the problem.
According to a study, 70 percent of the fuel used by brick kilns is coal, 24 percent is saw dust and the remaining 6 percent is wood and others. The consequences of exposure to ambient air pollutants is very hazardous to human health as it can cause a number of respiratory and other health effects leading to high mortality and morbidity. Tinier the particulate matter deeper inside the respiratory tract it goes. School children are more vulnerable due to their continuous physiological growth and enhanced susceptibility to such exposures.
The Government of Nepal had taken a few steps to address the problems caused by brick kilns. Previously the Industrial Board had decided to ban brick kilns that outdated Bull's Trench kilns technology in Kathmandu valley. The board had also decided to start the legal and administrative work to change existing polluting industries toward the cleaner options. The government had also announced to stop registration for new Bull's Trench brick kilns in Kathmandu valley.
The Supreme Court of Nepal has given the following statements in relation to operation of brick kilns in Nepal:
1. The benefits generated by the brick kilns to the entrepreneurs, labour and the general consumers, cannot be compared with the adverse environmental impacts caused by such brick kilns. Since the brick kiln industry can be deemed as a necessary evil, it is the responsibility of all the concerned agencies and civil society to realize their responsibility and discharge their duties towards minimizing the adverse impact emanating from brick kilns.
2. Quantitative assessment of demand of bricks in the valley and the number of brick kilns operating are to be ascertained. How many of them are registered and how many are not? What is the extent of pollution emitted by the brick kilns in the environment of the Valley? ; How much is the impact of pollution on the public health, natural resources and the cultural heritage? What are the most appropriate counteractive measures to be taken immediately as well as those to be taken in the long run? Research work aiming at those end are to be conducted.
3. Based on such research findings, effective techniques should be devised and followed. In addition to that, priority should be given for lessening the impact of pollution emanating from such brick kilns that are operating in the vicinity of densely populated areas, schools, cultural and touristic zones, immediate measures are to be taken to lessen adverse impact in such areas.
The estimated 200 brick factories in the Kathmandu Valley are also the primary source of pollution in the region. Soot particles emitted from Kathmandu brick kilns contribute at least 40 per cent to the Valley’s air pollution in winter, and this is not just a health hazard but also hastens Himalayan glacial melting. Most use traditional Bull Trench models that are inefficient, energy-intensive and polluting. The improved Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln (VSBK) that burns less coal and emits less smoke is being used in only eight brick factories in Nepal, including two in the Valley.
Although work conditions are inhumane, the brick industry provides jobs to thousands of unskilled labourers. Over 175,000 workers, of whom as many as 60,000 are children, labour in unhealthy and unsafe conditions in Nepal’s brick kilns. Brick workers are some of the most marginalized of unskilled workers, often bonded by debt to exploitive labour brokers, and working at wages insufficient to pay off “recruiter” advances. The informal nature of the industry, which operates on the periphery of communities and with little government oversight, has served to entrench exploitive labour practices such as bonded and child labour. The sector is dominated by migrant and seasonal laborers who live on the kilns during the brick season and have almost no link to local government, community organizations, or representation by worker associations. Unrepresented, unregulated, and for the most part unwanted, brick kiln workers have seen little progress on social, economic, or human rights issues; but with few viable income alternatives they lack the leverage to improve their working conditions or pay.
Currently, around 65,000 underage children live in factory premises during the dry season. They accompany their families from the villages, who work for minimum pay, and help their parents in whatever way they can. Global Fairness Initiative recently started a pilot programme through which it hopes to eradicate unsound practices within the brick industry and then classify the factories into green, orange, and red categories so that buyers are aware of what has gone into making their bricks.
Cheaper, cleaner and more energy efficient technologies are available, yet brick factories continue to spew out thick black smoke from their stacks on the city outskirts. Kathmandu’s demand for bricks grows 15 per cent annually, as the construction industry booms. Unless cleaner kilns are used, the Valley’s air is bound to get dirtier.
Measures like shutting down illegal kilns, introduction of cleaner technologies such as vertical shaft kilns and fixed chimney kilns, substitution of traditional kilns with newer technologies, suggesting standards for emission from brick kilns will significantly reduce the air pollution as well as lower cost of production because of savings in fuel consumption. Similarly, provisions should be made that brick kilns are constructed away from the residential areas. Programmes should be established to ensure that the local people, brick kiln owners and the workers in the kilns are aware of the environmental and health impacts of the kilns. Proper steps should be taken to prevent the students who have to stay long hours in classrooms without proper ventilation from exposure to various chemical hazards present in the emissions from brick kilns.