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Uganda’s air quality:  Public must support ongoing interventions

Industries among the pollutants across the country

In 2016, the U.S. Embassy in Kampala installed the first air quality standard monitor in Uganda and has continuously worked with key stakeholders to improve Uganda’s air quality

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Although the Uganda government and its partners in the private sector have recently stepped up efforts to improve air quality around the country, the public needs to support these interventions to realise positive results.

Speaking ahead of the Air Quality Awareness week which is now an annual event, officials from Makerere University’s AirQo project, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the U.S mission in Uganda and the National Management Authority (NEMA) want Ugandans at an individual level to do “small things” which can contribute to the overall improvement of the country’s air quality.

The week-long celebrations (4-8 May, 2020) are taking place under the theme “Better Air, Better Health,” with the aim of raising awareness on air quality and its effect on health.

Deteriorating air quality around Uganda is not only imposing a health burden on the residents but it is also making Kampala, the country’s capital city, unattractive for visitors and investments. In recent years, Kampala has been cited to be among the highly polluted cities in Africa with air pollution levels over six times higher than the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.

Eng. Andrew Kitaka, the executive director of KCCA says unpaved roads, vehicle emissions, open burning of waste, industrial activities, and burning of solid biomass for cooking are the main sources of pollution in Kampala.

The government has responded by coming up with stringent regulations to minimize air pollution in order to improve the population’s long-term health with NEMA leading the fight.

The National Environment Act was recently revised to address emerging issues of the environment, and the environmental agency is in the process of developing air quality regulations which are very critical in the control of air pollution from various emission sources. NEMA has also assisted some municipalities to develop ordinances and bylaws aimed at ensuring proper waste management practices as opposed to domestic waste burning.

The Ministry of Works and Transport has meanwhile developed the Motor Vehicle Inspection Regulations, a statutory instrument for mandatory inspection of vehicles operating in Uganda for over three months. This is in addition to restricting ‘fleet age’ for new imports to a maximum of 15 years from the date of manufacture.

From recent analysis carried out by AirQo and NEMA on the effects of restriction on movement during the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a drop in air pollution by up to 40% for Particulate Matter and more than 60% for nitrogen dioxide. This was largely a result of slow-down in traffic, commercial and other pollution generating activities.

In the past three years, the AirQo project from the College of Computing and Information Sciences, Makerere University, has designed and deployed over 80 low-cost air quality monitors across Uganda

Prof. Engineer Bainomugisha, the Project Lead at AirQo says the first step in being able to improve air quality is being able to measure it, knowing the prevailing air pollution levels and concentrations, identifying air pollution sources and its spatial-temporal variations, and generating evidence to inform actions that both policymakers and individuals can take.

In 2016, the U.S. Embassy in Kampala installed the first air quality standard monitor in Uganda and has continuously worked with key stakeholders to improve Uganda’s air quality.  However, reference-grade monitors are extremely expensive, hence, limiting the scale of air quality monitoring.

“Without access to air quality data, it is very difficult to raise awareness of the issues, or for government, business and individuals to know which actions to take to improve air quality and protect community health,” Prof. Bainomugisha says.

In the past three years, the AirQo project from the College of Computing and Information Sciences, Makerere University, has designed and deployed over 80 low-cost air quality monitors across Uganda that are built locally and uniquely designed to withstand the environmental and physical conditions such as dust and extreme weather conditions. Close to 25 of the air monitors are stationed within the city.

The monitors are optimized to work in settings characterised by unreliable power and intermittent Internet connectivity, typical in a Sub-Saharan African setting. These monitors have provided a wealth of data that can be used to achieve an impact on air quality.

Kitaka says besides the air monitoring equipment, KCCA is coming up with more interventions including the paving of roads to reduce dust, traffic control measures like signalization of junctions to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.

He says about 210 kilometres of roads completed and many more currently under construction. He also notes that non-motorized lanes along all major roads and the pilot non-motorized route on Namirembe road is nearing completion which will reduce air pollution exposure and boost business.

In addition, the city authority has started enforcing the Tobacco Control Act to reduce smoking in public. The authority is also working through the Pollution Task Force with industries on cleaner production mechanisms to reduce pollution.

Jeniffer Kutesakwe, the Senior Environmental Inspector at NEMA says “these interventions are a step in the right direction and if we moderate our activities, we can move towards achieving clean air for Uganda.”

But she quickly noted that while these institutional interventions are very important, they can only succeed with support from the general public.

“Attaining air quality goals will require collective efforts, and individually, we can all make contributions towards clean air,” said Kutesakwe.

Meanwhile, the officials say Ugandans should adopt the following measures to improve the country’s overall air quality:

  • Knowing your air by download the AirQo App (iOS) and AirQo App (android) and visit the US-Embassy website to regularly see real-time air quality levels for your preferred locations.
  • Stop pollution by avoiding activities that contribute to poor air quality especially burning rubbish and idling engine in traffic; consider adopting cleaner cooking initiatives, servicing cars in time, and minimizing driving and embracing carpooling and non-motorised transportation.
  • Protecting oneself. Minimize exposure from sources of pollution like smoke, high traffic on main roads, and during peak pollution hours.
  • Persuade: Join in raising awareness of air quality during air quality awareness week

 

 

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