Act on city air pollution now to save lives

A heavily polluted residential area in Nairobi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • With strong political commitment in enforcement, that can be achieved since some of the regulations and strategies are in place.
  • The recent non-motorised transport initiative in the city centre, while laudable, need to be extended outside the city for seamless use by cyclists and pedestrians, hence reduced reliance on vehicular transport with its attendant emissions.

& Tom Randa: Act on city air pollution now to save lives



The Nairobi City County government ought to move with speed to address the air quality concerns raised by ward representatives in a motion over the lack of implementation of the Air Quality Action Plan (2019-2023).

Citing Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data, the members of the county assembly (MCAs) pointed out that respiratory illness is still the leading cause of deaths in the capital city. They reiterated that, even with the action plan, nothing tangible has been achieved in curbing air pollution.

The MCAs’ sentiments resonate with most recent research findings that reveal the continually deteriorating air quality and increasing respiratory illnesses and deaths in the city. A 1974-2018 study in Nairobi, “A Systems Approach to Air Pollution”, found that schoolchildren and teachers at a school in the city centre were exposed to unhealthy air quality levels at 83 microgrammes per cubic metre on average during peak morning hours. This mostly arose from vehicular air pollution from an adjacent main street, which also had a bus stop.

In a similar study at the Dandora dumpsite, air pollution levels were at an unhealthy 63 microgrammes per cubic metre during peak times, mainly due to burning of solid waste at the dumpsite that has been running over capacity for years.

These amounts far exceed the recommended World Health Organization (WHO) levels of an average 25 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Environmental health

But despite empirical evidence of the deteriorating air quality and its adverse effects on human health and the environment, low-cost sensors and local technologies and expertise within our borders, there is no continuous, reliable and well-coordinated air quality monitoring system. How can the county government know if its in policy and operational interventions yield the desired outcome of improving air quality without monitoring?

Air pollutants know no bounds, affecting human and environmental health even beyond the city limits. The fate of the Nairobi metropolitan counties is intertwined, hence the need to collectively seek reliable and sustainable solutions — through an integrated air quality monitoring framework.

To curb air pollution, a continuous and reliable air quality monitoring system in the city and the larger metropolis by the relevant county governments with the support of the national government and other stakeholders should be fast-tracked and transport sector reforms and solid waste management prioritised.

With strong political commitment in enforcement, that can be achieved since some of the regulations and strategies — like the 2015 Solid Waste Act and Air Quality Action plan 2019-2023 — are in place.

The recent non-motorised transport (NMT) initiative in the city centre, while laudable, need to be extended outside the city for seamless use by cyclists and pedestrians, hence reduced reliance on vehicular transport with its attendant emissions.

Ms Asiti and Mr Randa are researchers at the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS). info@acts-net.org.

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