We need to pay attention to air pollution before it’s late

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

What you need to know:

The issue: Air pollution

Our view:  To deal with the pollution that comes from the millions of homes, we need to promote clean energy. Nothing new from what has always been said, but worsening air quality perhaps gives us a new way to look at this silent crisis.

Two reports this month have given us a glimpse into just how bad and costly pollution is to humans and the environment.

Experts say air, among other forms of pollution, was responsible for more than nine million deaths in 2019. A report released this week by the Lancet Commission on pollution and health raised a red flag on the increasing deaths from breathing outside air and the horrifying toll of lead poisoning.

And in Kampala Metropolitan areas, air pollution levels are 10 times higher than the tolerable limits, according to a report released at the beginning of the month by AirQo, a Makerere University project that monitors air quality.

Although it does not kill immediately, experts warn that air pollution is responsible for heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems, among other health problems, and its effect is “much greater than that of war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol”.

Besides causing damage to one’s brain, kidneys and liver, experts say air pollutants cause birth defects. This is not to mention the economic impact with experts estimating it to be at almost $1 trillion globally every year due to diminished economic productivity. In short, that is the price you have to pay for breathing polluted air.

In Uganda, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has developed air quality regulations and standards. These guidelines are meant to regulate emissions produced from cars, industries and homes.

We also have collaborations between government agencies, NGOs and development partners geared towards improving air quality, with initiatives such as AirQo that measure air quality in real time. Despite these initiatives, the situation seems to be worsening and more needs to be done. Fast.

As is usually the case in Uganda, we have policies but implementation becomes a problem. Nema has both the mandate and guidelines to lead the struggle for better air quality, but inadequate funding always comes as their excuse for poor performance. More money needs to be allocated for this cause so that concerned agencies can plan better.

We also need to rethink transport within Kampala City so as to check the number of cars on the streets. We could, for instance, improve on the mass transport systems so that more people are transported at once in buses and trains, other than having thousands of commuter taxies on the streets.

Finally, to deal with the pollution that comes from the millions of homes, we need to promote clean energy. Nothing new from what has always been said, but worsening air quality perhaps gives us a new way to look at this silent crisis.

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