Lumbini, a sacred site that Buddhist tradition considers to be the Buddha's birthplace in Nepal, is becoming increasingly polluted.
According to Buddhist tradition, Siddharta Gautama was born in the gardens of Lumbini in 623 B.C. Thus, the site is one of the most sacred places in Buddhism. In 1997, UNESCO declared Lumbini to be a World Heritage Site.
However, even sacred places aren't safe from worldly pollution. Air quality monitoring stations across Nepal have collected enough data to conclude that high levels of air pollution are plaguing Lumbini.
Monitoring stations found that there were 173.035 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter in Lumbini in January this year. Fine particulate matter, also called PM2.5, is a pollutant that can enter human blood streams and lungs. PM2.5 can impact health in ways ranging from short term conditions to fatal ones.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the safe limit of PM2.5 levels is 25 micrograms per cubic meter. At 173.035 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter, PM2.5 levels in the Buddha's birthplace are much higher than the WHO standard. It's higher than even the Nepalese government's national standard, which is 40 micrograms per cubic meter.
The areas around Lumbini are also quite polluted. Chitwan, a neighboring town, registered a level of 113.32 micrograms. The Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, meanwhile, registered 109.82 micrograms. Kathmandu, though infamous for being quite polluted, is actually less polluted than the sacred site.
As a World Heritage Site, international treaties have a mandate to protect Lumbini. UNESCO has decided that Lumbini has an important role in preserving the cultural heritage of the whole of humanity. As the Buddha's birthplace, Lumbini of course holds a religious and cultural significance as well.
Unfortunately, the high levels of pollution in the area are affecting the significant relics and archaeological remains in the site as well. The site contains structures dating back to the third century BC, including the remains of Buddhist monasteries and memorial shrines. The Mauryan king Ashoka also built a commemorative statue in the site in 249 BC.
A report by the IUCN found that the air in garden at the core of Lumbini has gaseous and solid compounds. The Nepalese government designated the area around the site as the Lumbini Protected Zone (LPZ). However, there are steel, cement, noodle, and paper factories along the borders of the zone. A number of these factories, in fact, have encroached into the LPZ in a clear violation of government regulations.
Pilgrims and visitors to the Buddha's birthplace are also suffering from the pollution. Some report that it's difficult to breathe, and the pollution has also triggered asthma symptoms in some individuals. The monks find it necessary to meditate with face masks on. The site is a major tourist destination, and in 2016, it saw about a million visitors. To preserve the value of Lumbini not just as a major tourist but as an important religious and cultural site as well, the Nepalese government needs to take the necessary steps to reduce pollution in the area.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!