Below skies darkened by thick black smoke, hundreds of thousands of brick kiln workers endure back-breaking labour and suffocating heat working in almost medieval conditions across South Asia. But in one corner of the region, the need to rebuild after Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake has presented an unexpected opportunity.
Along with much of Nepal, the industry was devastated by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit in 2015, killing around 9,000 people and flattening about a third of the country’s brick kilns.
There are more than 150,000 kilns in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal belching out thousands of tonnes of soot — known as black carbon — a major air pollutant and the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.
The Brick Kiln Initiative, launched by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, found a way to redesign the ovens and stack the bricks differently so that less toxic soot is produced.
By stacking the bricks inside the kilns in a zig-zag pattern, the heat snakes through the gaps more efficiently, ensuring coal is completely burned so less soot is produced.
Halving coal consumption
Emissions are cut by 60%. But more importantly for the kiln owners, it nearly halves coal consumption.
“The environmental factor does not necessarily motivate most kiln owners, but the zig-zag method has an economic benefit. We are using less coal and getting better bricks faster,” said Mahendra Chitrakar, president of the Federation of Nepal Brick Industries.
Most of the 100 brick kilns in the Kathmandu valley have already adopted the new technology, according to Mr. Chitrakar.