Air Pollution in Nairobi
Air is life. Clean air is healthy. Humans, plants, and animals need clean air to survive. Quest for clean air is impossible in big cities like Nairobi, characterized by heavy industrial production and continuous developments.
After a careful observation, I have concluded that Nairobi’s air is choking. The atmosphere from Ngara to Thika Town manifests a smoke-like layer, an indication of suspended particles in the air. You need no microscope to see.
The smell of exhaust from diesel and petrol and unidentifiable chemicals dominate the air. Inhaling this kind of air burdens the lungs and is not safe.
It is proven that polluted air has health implications, mainly respiratory problems such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. While short-term and long-term exposure to polluted air cause health problems, exposure to high levels of pollutants increases the risk of heart failures and cancer, according to World Health Organization.
Persons who are already ill, suffer severe effects. Young children, the elderly and poor people are more vulnerable.
This article was published in the Standard Newspaper as Sensitise public on the dangers of air pollution in cities
Possible causes of air pollution in Nairobi?
Exhaust fumes from vehicles and motorcycles are one of the main contributors to air pollution around the city. Nairobi has been witnessing an increase in the number of vehicles portrayed by the congestion on the roads. According to a 2011-2019 review of the automotive sector by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, the number of newly registered motor vehicles in Kenya increased from 205,841 in 2011 to 327,176 in 2019. Most of these vehicles are used in Nairobi and its environs.
Most vehicles on our roads emit black smoke, which goes straight into the atmosphere. Besides, I estimate that about 99 percent of our cars use petrol and diesel, most of which are very old or not serviced hence emitting more pollutants into the air.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have resorted to using private vehicles to run their daily errands, increasing the number of cars on the road; thus, more smoke is injected into the atmosphere.
Another evident bad practice causing air pollution in Nairobi is the open burning of waste. Look around, you will see smoke at a distance, or as you drive/walk along the road, you will come across heaps of solid waste burning or residues from previous burns.
Open burning of waste is common in some residential areas around the city. The smell of plastics alone is a constant reminder that someone close is openly burning waste.
When plastics are burnt, they release toxic chemicals such as Dioxins, Butane, and Hydrogen Chloride into the atmosphere, impacting human and environmental health.
Despite knowing the serious health and environmental effects of open combustion of wastes, why is it being allowed to go on? Don’t we have designated dumping sites and estate waste pickers? Where are the public health inspectors?
Unsustainable industrial production could be blamed for increased air pollutants as well. While it is impossible to pinpoint a specific industry, it is a known fact that industrial operations use chemicals that, if emitted in large quantities and at levels exceeding the supposed safe standards, can be hazardous to humans and nature.
Increased developments such as roads, commercial and residential buildings are apparent within Nairobi and neighbouring satellite towns. Any construction emits dust particles into the air. Some of the dust emitted is highly poisonous.
For example, the construction of the expressway linking Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway, and Waiyaki way is a significant activity that involves the use of a lot of chemicals that find their way into the atmosphere either in liquid or gaseous form.
The population of Nairobi and neighbouring towns is gradually increasing as people move in, in search of new opportunities. The same city is welcoming expats, investors, and international students. Meeting the needs of the growing population has prompted the construction of new residential and commercial buildings. Several chemicals are used in the process in the form of paint or cement; some of these chemicals are heavy metals posing health problems.
What should be done?
Some of the ways to minimize air pollution in Nairobi include prohibiting the open combustion of waste. The county government needs to compel all the landlords/ladies to ensure they engage waste pickers to collect the household waste and dispose of them in the designated areas. Ensuring the waste pickers dump the collected waste in the right places mandates having them registered or working under an umbrella to avoid the noticeable irresponsible disposal such as by the roadside.
Tightening the road safety rules, including weeding out unroadworthy vehicles on the road, is necessary to minimize the harmful emissions from incomplete combustion of fuel. This means the National Transport and Safety Authority needs to go back to inspecting the vehicles and making sure car owners regularly service their cars as is required.
Maybe it is time to think of electric cars or motorbikes! Or upgrade the transport system such that the public transport is more appealing to the commuters instead of using personal vehicles.
Promoting sustainable development and cleaner production is ideal. We can never grow without infrastructural or industrial development. To keep up with our focus towards middle-income economic status, we ought to improve every sector. Nonetheless, development should not be at the expense of clean air.
Regular monitoring of the air quality within the city and its environs and sharing the data with the public is a good way to motivate the citizens to be cautious of their activities and their individual carbon footprint contributing to air pollutants.
Policy enforcement on waste management, collection, and disposal is crucial. Regulations exist; the only problem is the implementation.
All said and done, most of the population has limited knowledge on air pollution, the causes, and ways of curbing it. It is prudent to avail information to the public, such as the dangers of their activities to the same air they breathe. They need to be informed that openly burning waste is an unhealthy habit that can clobber their lungs and that their young children are at a higher risk of contracting diseases as a result.
Therefore, public awareness of air pollution, policy implementation, cleaner production, and hybrid or fully electric vehicles will significantly reduce air pollution in the city.
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