Air quality monitoring across Kampala capital city has been improving in recent years but authorities are yet to use the generated data to effect positive and tangible change in communities.
In the last four years, private bodies like Makerere university-based AirQo have been installing air quality monitoring units across the city expecting that their data could inform policy and projects in the city with the sixth-worst air quality in the world.
Associate professor Engineer Bainomugisha, the project lead of AirQo, says that city authorities need to use the data generated to ensure that they tackle the poor air quality problem which is silently killing the city dwellers.
Associate professor Bainomugisha made the remarks in an interview with our reporter on the sidelines of an event where Airqo with funding from the US mission to Uganda launched the installation of 10 more locally developed real-time air quality sensors to monitor the levels of air pollution in the Makindye Division.
Bainomugisha further noted that before enforcing some of the efforts like stopping the burning of waste and paving roads to reduce the amount of dust, KCCA should also sensitize people to change their attitude and start appreciating the relevance of initiatives implemented in the name of improving air quality in the city.
The scientist cites the non-motorized corridor which has failed to achieve its intended purpose as it is continuously abused by errant boda-boda and taxi operators.
Bainomugisha further points out that there is a need to increase the number of air quality monitoring units to generate adequate and dense data enough to address and inform the magnitude of air pollution.
Amy. B. Petersen, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Kampala, also states that if government and city authorities prioritize the use of the data generated by air monitors to inform policy and implementation of projects, it will let off some burdens on the health budget.
Petersen says that air pollution currently threatens the progress of the health sector in Uganda which the Americans have financed with billions of funds in the last 60 years.
Air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in the world and it contributes to poverty through increased medical expenses, reduced labor productivity. In Uganda, the burden of disease caused by air pollution has increased in recent years.
The World Health Organisation data shows that the mortality rate for air pollution in Uganda was 155.7 for every 100,000 in 2016, which amounts to over 70,000 deaths that year.
Kampala’s dirty air is characterized by smoke from car exhaust, industry, residential trash burning, road dust, and soot from indoor biomass-fueled cookstoves for cooking. During the COVID-19 induced lockdown, pollution levels plummeted in Kampala resulting in an improvement in air quality but the situation worsened as restrictions were lifted.
Abdu Njuki, the Acting Town Clerk at Makindye Division, accepts that there has been a gap in the utilization of the air quality data. He however adds that as more monitoring units are being set up, KCCA – and Makindye in particular – will be engaging partners like AirQo to guide them on how air quality information can be used at different levels to identify air pollution hotspots and develop solutions.
Previously, city authorities under the leadership of former ED Jennifer Musisi had designed a programme to implement actionable points to improve air quality in the city in collaboration with several agencies. According to the plan, KCCA had pledged to strengthen and develop interventions that improve air quality in the city. One of the fruits of this programme was the establishment of a non-motorized transport system.
However, with time, nothing much more has been done to better the city’s air quality even after getting more data from affected areas, and the leading causes of the situation in different areas across the city.
Many cities across the world are investing in public transport and non-motorized transport to reduce emissions from private cars. Others are creating more parks and green belts with plants converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, filtering particulates out of the air, and helping to cool down cities subject to the “urban heat island” effect.
The new World Health Organization-WHO air quality recommendations recently revealed that Uganda’s air quality is far worse than previously assumed, putting pressure on the nation to take steps to improve it, with NEMA working on the country’s first air quality standards and regulations.
Emission restrictions for industrial sources, vehicles, trucks, motorbikes, and other mobile sources are included in the proposed regulations, as are odor criteria and requirements for interior air, as well as worker protection. They also create a permission and compliance scheme for industrial sources, as well as the costs that go along with it.
According to a draft recently obtained by Uganda Radio Network, NEMA forbids any person or entity from emitting unpleasant substance or annoying odors like as smoke, gases, vapors fumes, grit, or dust.