Before the lockdown which came with restrictions on the number of activities including traffic, commercial and other pollution generating activities, Kampala’s air quality was already six times worse than global standards mainly caused by dust from unpaved roads, fumes from cars and open burning of waste.
Pollution levels have plummeted in
Kampala over the last two months, resulting in an improvement in air quality.
According to previous air quality
indexes, Kampala had a high concentration of tinny air particles small enough
to invade even the smallest airways, and the air quality was six times higher
than World Health Organization acceptable standards. The pollutants in Kampala
are mostly caused by dust from unpaved roads, fumes from cars and open burning
But as the country was locked
down to contain the spread of coronavirus disease, there was a reduction in the
number of vehicles, on the otherwise busy roads in the city, as well as other
pollutants which suddenly reduced emissions especially in the central business
Boney Sensi, an official from
Advocates for Public Spaces who has been at the forefront of fighting for
greener spaces and creating awareness on air quality took us through the
streets of Kampala, on a mission to understand the change which could be an eye-opener on the overriding
contribution of road transport to urban air pollution.
The team, armed with a wearable,
portable air quality monitor called Atmo Tube Pro went to the streets to
measure air quality in selected areas of the city, among them, the Old Taxi
Park, Luwum Street, Nakasero market, hardware city area, and Nasser road. Sensi shares that he had moved to
the same places with his gadget before the lockdown whose sensors alerted him
to vacate the place, due to the poor air quality. This time around, the air pollutant concentrations had
greatly reduced and the sensors
remained in the normal range.
//Cue in; “when we came...
Cue out...better air
The Air Quality Index scale runs
from 0 to 500. The higher the scale value, the greater the level of air
pollution, and the greater the health concern. For example, a value of 50 or
below represents good air quality, while over 300 is hazardous air quality.
However, the gadget used in Kampala was designed to covert the scale in terms
On average, most of the areas in
Kampala had their air quality at 75 per cent. Sensi says that this is too far
good given the fact that before the lockdown air quality in the said areas
stood at as low as 40 per cent and to someplace like Nasser road it could as
low as 30 per cent.
But, around hardware city, the
air quality was still far below, with a reading at 39 per cent. Being in the place
is evident that the air here is very poor filled with fumes from trucks ferrying
produce and building materials.
//Cue in; “The air quality...
Cue out...for their
Similar observations have been
made by AirQo, a research initiative from Makerere University. The project leader
Prof. Engineer Bainomugisha notes that their preliminary validation with
historical comparisons for the same days of 2019 confirms the drop in pollution
levels of about 40 per cent of the daily mean from the two weeks leading to the
lockdown, and about 51 per cent reduction for the same days in 2019.
//Cue in; “WHO has put...
Cue out...to sixty per cent.”//
Prof Bainomugisha adds that the
general slow-down of pollution generating activities from traffic to industry
in the current circumstances could have had a strong immediate impact. to him,
the situation indicates that there is a possibility of achieving better air
quality in the city.
//Cue in; “This tells us...
Cue out...in air quality.”//
Exposure to poor air quality is
one of the leading causes of death globally, greater than smoking or war. The
World Health Organization (WHO) says that air pollution is poisoning millions
of children, stunting their brains and affecting their health in more ways than
was previously suspected.
The threat to human health comes
from exposure to near-invisible toxins that are present in polluted air as fine
particles. The pollutants penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream and
cause a range of diseases, which include narrowing blood vessels which could
result in a heart attack, chest pain, stroke, or other respiratory diseases
such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and pneumonia. It estimates that over 85 people die in Uganda every day due to causes related to air pollution.
Unfortunately, people working in
the polluted areas like Kampala city are not aware that they are breathing to
death. Eddie Lutaaya, a city dweller found at the Nakasero market, told our reporter
that air quality is not one of their worries because, to him, Africans are
immune to such things.
Luganda byte //Cue in; “Enakuzino
Cue out...nze mbeerawo
Dr Tom Okurut, the National
Environment Management Authority Executive Director, says that they are coming
up with the standard of air quality for Kampala and the country. Okurut adds
that other interventions to ensure that Kampala has cleaner air even after the
lockdown are being discussed with stakeholders including but not limited to
Kampala Capital City Authority.
//Cue in; “We are concluding...
Cue out...here and there.”//
Dr Okurut further argues that
some of the interventions that could lead to greener air like putting up a
the better mass transport system, paving streets and putting up a non-motorized
transport system in addition to creating green spaces in the city have been