Articles

The Increasing Risk of Air Pollution in Nairobi

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

Air pollution is considered the greatest environmental health risk globally. Many parts of the world currently record high levels of air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 90% of people worldwide breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Air pollution causes 1 in every 9 deaths globally.

Nairobi is one of the cities with poor air quality that exceeds WHO recommended limits. With its rapid urbanization, fast rising population and increasing motorization, Nairobi faces similar air pollution problems to other cities in developing countries.

According to the State of the Global Air 2020 report, air pollution was responsible for around 5,000 premature deaths in Kenya in 2019 alone. The 2017 National Economic Survey estimated that 19.9 million Kenyans suffer from respiratory ailments that are exacerbated by poor air quality.

These respiratory illnesses are caused by exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate into the lungs. They include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and pneumonia.

Understanding the full impact of poor air quality in Nairobi is difficult. This is because the city does not have on-the-ground pollution monitors.

The data gap in air quality in Nairobi has been a major challenge in coming up with strategies to curb the situation. This is according to Nairobi County Air Pollution Action Plan 2019-2023.

The action plan suggests crucial steps to be undertaken by Nairobi County in solving air pollution. They include building scientific evidence for regulatory interventions for air quality management, raising public awareness on the health and environmental impacts of air pollution, developing effective approaches for air quality management, and building effective implementation and enforcement programmes for air quality legislation.

In the implementation of the action plan, the county should also consider imposing traffic restrictions by closing major streets to traffic to reduce pollution from cars and trucks, establishing efficient public transport systems to reduce car journeys and improving waste management to reduce the open burning of residential trash in Nairobi.

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