Today, AirQo of Makerere University, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in collaboration with the US Mission Kampala join the rest of the world to commemorate the 15th annual Air Pollution and Air Quality Awareness Week (AQAW) 2021.
Held under the theme “Healthy air - Important for everyone!”, the AQAW is an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution on human health, economies, and the environment, as well as actions people can take to reduce health risks.
Air pollution contributes to over 7 million premature deaths annually.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 80% of populations in monitored urban centres are exposed to ambient pollution levels above the guideline levels.
In Uganda, it is estimated that over 30,000 people die annually due to air pollution-related illnesses while ambient air quality levels in monitored urban centres are estimated at over 5 times the WHO annual guidelines. Despite these grim numbers, there is still limited capacity for effective management and interventions to mitigate air pollution.
Speaking during the press conference, Dr. Tom Okurut the Executive Director National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) noted that the Authority has been involved in the development of National Environment Air Quality Standards for Uganda which will among other things set parameters and limits for the protection of public health, focus on industrial emissions putting limits beyond
which industries and other facilities should not exceed.
The Environment Air Quality Standards will also focus on vehicular emission limits to manage and control emissions from automobiles as well as occupational health and safety standards limiting pollution exposure for workplaces.
According to NEMA, a study done last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the countrywide lockdown to establish the extent of air pollution caused by the transport sector revealed that a drop of up to 60% of the NO2 vehicular exhaust emission within the Kampala city centre.
This, according to Dr. Okurut means that regulating the emissions from vehicular emissions would greatly reduce the air pollution around the city.
Without air quality data, it is very difficult to raise awareness of the emerging issues, or for government, business and individuals to know which actions to take to improve air quality and protect community health. Therefore, there is a need for sectoral monitoring to know what is the dominant source of air pollution and what to tackle first.
Prof. Engineer Bainomugisha, Principal Investigator at AirQo stressed that one of the major keys in the fight against air pollution is monitoring air quality levels.
”We need to know how bad or good the air pollution is and devise appropriate actions to improve the air quality in our cities.” He added that in order to fill the data gap, AirQo has developed a wide network of low-cost monitoring devices that continuously provide data on the extent of air pollution in major cities in Uganda.
”There are over 100 monitors installed that we have placed in different physical settings including on boda bodas to bridge this gap, making Kampala the most monitored city in Sub Saharan Africa.
The information collected from these monitors is then analysed to predict the level of pollution in the air. ” Engineer said. Long-term monitoring data from AirQo shows that pollution is highest in the morning and evening, and lowest in the afternoon during hot sunny days, while the average concentration is about 55 µg/m3.
Findings from the pilot source apportionment study, an ongoing collaboration between the U.S. Air Quality Science Fellows and Uganda air quality community facilitated by the US Mission in Kampala, indicate that pollution largely comes from biomass burning, direct exhaust emissions, and dust.
The week-long initiative happening from the 3rd - 7th May 2021, will seek to expand awareness and support for local air pollution solutions.
This, according to the stakeholders, will amplify Uganda’s air quality story among health practitioners, policymakers, opinion leaders and environmental enthusiasts and the general public.
The Authority has also installed monitors across the 5 urban divisions of Kampala city to monitor pollution and data collected will be used to design strategies to curb pollution in the city including areas of priority for tarmacking of roads, non-motorized ways, signaling of road junctions, tree planting and introduction of cleaner public transport to reduce the number individual of cars used by citizens in Kampala.
KCCA is developing a Kampala Clean Air Action Plan with support from UN Environment to guide coordinated activities for cleaning Kampala air and spell out all activities aimed at reducing air pollution in Kampala city.
In 2018, the Authority developed an emissions inventory, under the Covenant of Mayors in Sub Saharan Africa initiative, and will, in the coming months, develop the source apportionment to identify the precise sources of air pollution.
The stakeholders have urged Ugandans to avoid exposing themselves to pollution while minimising activities that contribute to poor air quality.
They advised on simple actions that can be taken including planting trees and grass in bare areas, and avoiding burning rubbish and idling engines in traffic, adopting cleaner cooking practices, servicing cars in time, and embracing car-sharing and non-motorized
However, a mindset shift is critical if we are to realise significant long-term gains.