Air pollution in Kampala worsens

Pollution is majorly driven by emissions from automobiles and industries, and smoke. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

What you need to know:

  • Kampala Metropolitan registering higher pollution levels compared to Jinja and Fort Portal Cities where AirQo has monitoring systems.

A report released yesterday by AirQo, a Makerere University project that monitors air quality, indicates that pollution levels recorded in Kampala Metropolitan areas were 10 times higher than the tolerable limits. 

Air pollution has serious short and long term effects such as heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as asthma which are on the rise in the country. It can also cause damage to people’s brain, kidneys, liver, and scientists suspect air pollutants cause birth defects. 

The AirQo project leader, Prof Engineer Bainomugisha, told journalists in Kampala that they detected the worrying levels of pollution after analysing the data collected from their 120 air quality monitoring machines in the metropolitan areas and other urban areas such as Jinja and Fort portal. 

He explained that in the data from their monitoring systems, in the last seven months, pollution increased to its peak in January 2022 across the country. 

“Daily air quality levels were largely within the moderate and unhealthy zones, with Kampala Metropolitan registering higher pollution levels compared to Jinja and Fort Portal Cities where AirQo has monitoring systems. Pollution hotspots in Kampala Metropolitan include Busega in Lubaga Division, Kireka in Kira Municipality and the City Center,” Prof Bainomugisha said.

In January, Busega had a pollution level of as high as 230 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3), which is more than 10 times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) tolerable limit of 15 μg/m3, for a healthy environment.  

Kampala city centre had 189 μg/m3, Kireka had 162 μg/m3 and Bukasa had 85 μg/m3. Other areas such as Jinja Main Street, Fort Portal and Tororo Town had better air quality, according to Prof Bainomugisha. 

However, the overall pollution levels have declined over time from February to April as the rainy season sets in. 

April had the least pollution levels and this may be due to it being a rainy month, according to experts at AirQo. 

The trends in pollution sometimes follow the metrological condition, according to air quality experts. 

January is very dry and this increases soil dust from unpaved roads as winds bring in pollutants from other areas. In wet seasons, the pollution is majorly driven by emissions from automobiles and industries, and smoke from cooking.

“There is evidence that cities have higher outdoor air pollution levels compared to other areas because of the inevitable huge number of vehicles and heavily congested areas. This means that we as urban dwellers are at a higher risk of exposure to air pollution and therefore need to take personal responsibility,” the AirQo leader noted.

According to National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), the main sources of air pollution in the country include dust from unpaved roads, domestic solid biomass energy use, exhaust and non-exhaust emissions from vehicles, industrial emissions and open burning of solid waste. 

Dr Akankwasa Barirega, the Nema executive director who was represented by Mr Arnold Waiswa Ayazika, the Nema director of compliance, said there is need for joint action to reduce air pollution in Kampala which is a big threat to human survival. 

The briefing comes at a time when the country is joining the rest of the world to commemorate the 16th annual Air Quality Awareness Week (AQAW 2022) under the theme “Be Air Aware and Prepared.”   

The goal of this theme is to share information on air quality and how it affects health, as well as to encourage people to take action to reduce air pollution. 

“Nema has developed air quality regulations and standards for Uganda. These standards will regulate emissions generated from; vehicles, workplaces, industries, fugitive emissions, indoor air quality and the general ambient air quality,” Dr Akankwasa said, adding that the standards also form a basis for enforcement if one violates the set cut-offs.

Mr Waiswa on the other hand noted that collaboration among Nema, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Airqo and other development partners has led to the establishment of a robust air quality monitoring network within Kampala and other districts. 

“This network provides real-time air quality data which is essential for decision making.  Currently, KCCA is in the process of developing the Kampala clean air action plan to guide coordinated activities to reduce air pollution within the city. This action plan spells out the strategies for reducing air pollution within the city,” he said. 

The KCCA director of public health said they plan to reduce sectoral contributions to annual ambient pollution (particulate matter (PM2.5) and dioxide) concentrations by 10 percent by 2025.

Dr Dan Okello, the KCCA director of public health, said they intend to do this through promoting and implementing green mobility alternatives including proper waste management, electric mobility and non-motorised transportation (NMT) and mass-transit alternatives. Other methods include tarmacking of city roads and increasing the number of signaled junctions for traffic management.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda inclusive, air pollution is known to be more deadly and costlier than malnutrition and unsafe water and recently HIV/Aids, and yet systems and deliberate policies to manage air quality are not fully established,” Dr Okello said. 

Dr Ivan Kimuli, a physician at Makerere University Lung Institute, said a population survey conducted in 2019 put the overall prevalence of asthma, one of the diseases triggered or exacerbated by polluted air, at 11 percent with a higher prevalence of 13 percent reported among residents from urban centres. The 11 percent prevalence is higher than the 2003 estimate of 8 percent. 

“The rising prevalence of asthma in Uganda could be attributed to the increased exposure to air pollutants such as particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) from multiple sources such as ineffective use of biomass fuels,” he said. 

Place                                         Air Quality Index  in Oct 2021    Average
Kitebi                                          120                                                 93
Kisenyi                                       160                                                 109
Kawempe                                  155                                                  99
Kamwokya P/s                         120                                                  93
KCCA star times                       120                                                 101
Kisugu                                        120                                                 90
Kyebando                                   135                                                155
City Hall                                      116                                                96
Min. of Health headquarters   110                                                95
KCCA Kyanja farm                    130                                                103
Kiswa Health center                 120                                                102
Komambogo                             118                                                 92
Bugolobi                                        -                                                   22
        
Interpretation: 0-50 is good, 51-100 is moderate, 101-150 is unhealthy for sensitive groups, and 151-200 is unhealthy. 
 

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