Informal settlements in Nairobi record high household air pollution — study

Korogocho slums in Nairobi

Korogocho slums in Nairobi. When cooking indoors, despite poor ventilation, people close the doors for security reasons and the structures do not have windows.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Residents of informal settlements within Nairobi are at a high risk of developing adverse health impacts from indoor pollution.

According to a study conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) in Korogocho slums in 2021, more than 90 percent of residents cook in the same room they live in.

The study also discovered that stand-alone double or single units powered by liquefied petroleum gas, bioethanol, or kerosene were the most often used technology for cooking.

“The study found that kitchens were typically attached within the living room or bedrooms, with one door. They also had permanently barricaded windows with no exhaust fans. The study found homeowners utilised the kitchen three times a day with each cooking session ranging between 30 and 90 minutes,” she said.

The Institute also did a similar study in Mukuru slums, where they found peak pollution episodes, especially in the evenings between 6pm and 9pm when most women are cooking indoors, with poor ventilation.

The women close the doors for security reasons, and the structures do not have windows.

Exposure to high particulate matter (PM) has been linked to numerous adverse health impacts, such as heart diseases, pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In Kenya, 23,000 people die yearly from household air pollution from cooking with fossil fuels such as kerosene, firewood, crop waste, and animal dung.

Experts have called for enhanced access to improved cooking stoves in the informal settlements of Nairobi. This will help preserve human health and the environment.

This will mean accelerated efforts among key partners to ensure women in these settlements have access to improved cooking stoves, such as biogas, jikokoa, and clean fuels, such as LPG and briquettes.

Improving indoor air quality (IAQ) aligns with several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) as improving health and well-being (Goal 3) by providing affordable and clean energy (Goal 7) in sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11).

According to the study, improving IAQ is crucial for gender equality (Goal 5) and reducing inequalities (Goal 10), as women in most developing countries are disproportionately exposed to emissions from burning of solid fuels such as coal and biomass for cooking, thereby subjecting them to a higher risk of IAQ related diseases.

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