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Causes, effects and solutions for Air Pollution in Kenya


A UNEP study has identified Koriokor Market, Baba Dogo, and Donholm as some of the worst air pollution blackspots in Nairobi. We strongly urge caution if you live or commute near these areas.


Last updated: 4 July 2019 8:53 PM (EAT)


By Muntaka Chasant | 1674 words | Reading time: 6 min





Air Pollution in Kenya 

Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Nairobi, Kenya | November 2015




Kenya’s rich diversity in habitats and biological life are unsurpassed beauty - lush rolling hills, idyllic pastoral valleys, vast expanses of rich grasslands, and abundant wildlife. But dirty air from cars (mostly with their catalytic converters removed) rubbish fires and biomass-fuelled cookstoves in cities such as Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, and Mombassa, is killing thousands of people every year.


To make it worse, Kenyan cities suffer from a serious lack of air quality data. Reliable air pollution exposure information are scarce in Kenya.


According to the 2016 version of the World Health Organization (WHO) outdoor air pollution database, PM2.5 and PM10 information were identified for only Nairobi (in the whole of Kenya).


Kenya does not regularly measure and report its dirty air.


The current WHO data on Nairobi's air go as far back as 2009. You can explore the database, here.


See also: Pictures: The Rwandan Genocide


Maasai Mara, Kenya | Muntaka Chasant


Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya


Nearly a million people died from air pollution in Africa alone in 2016. Children, women, older adults and the poor were the most impacted.


Dirty air remains a leading risk factor for early death in Kenya.


See also: Agbogbloshie, Ghana: An E-waste Hell


More than 18,000 premature deaths in Kenya every year are linked to air pollution, according to figures from the WHO. 1


Kampala, Uganda's capital, has the worst air pollution in Africa (PM10) and the 15th in the world (PM2.5), the WHO database reveal. Uganda also does not regularly measure and report its dirty air.


Data was identified for only 8 of 47 countries in Africa for the 2018 version of the WHO database.


Air Pollution in Africa


Source: WHO


Air pollution is linked to around 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year.2 


The dirty air in our homes and cities is now the world's largest environmental health threat, says the WHO.


Air pollution now kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined in many countries (including Ghana).


See also: Agbogbloshie, Ghana | Africa & World Population Statistics


Population growth and rapid urbanization are expected to worsen air quality in African and Asian cities. Africa alone is projected to be home to more than 20% of the world’s population by 2050.3


How would African cities tackle the health and environmental threats posed by air pollution in the years ahead if they are not willing to spend their own money to monitor the air they breathe?




How Bad is Air Pollution in Kenya?


In 2016, Kenya’s dirty air contained more than two times as many of the deadly PM2.5s as the WHO guideline for outdoor air pollution (25.8 micrograms per cubic meter [μg/m3] of ultra-fine particles of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter which can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs).4


The WHO recommended annual guideline for PM2.5 is 10 μg/m3.


Kenya does not currently have daily and annual ambient standards for PM2.5. Its annual and daily guidelines for PM2.5 are for industrial areas (35 μg/m3 for annual average and 75 μg/m3 for daily average).


Figures on air pollution in Kenya usually comes from international organizations such as the Health Effects Institute (HEI), the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the WHO.


See also: What is Air Pollution?


See also: Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10) Basics





Like most developing countries, Kenya does not regularly monitor and report its air quality.


Kenya lacks real-time or near real-time, sufficient and publicly accessible air quality monitoring networks.


Publicly accessible data on air quality in Kenya usually comes from private and multilateral institutions like the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).


Lack of air quality data and air pollution exposure information could be contributing to the mortality and disease burden attributable to air pollution in Kenya. The same for countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda.


Nairobi’s air, for instance, breaches all limits set by the WHO, according to a 2017 UNEP study. The measured pollutants include PM2.5, Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and Ozone (O3).5




Air pollution in Kenya is driven by population growth and rapid urbanization in cities such as Nairobi and Mombassa.


Main sources of air pollution in Kenya include traffic, roadside rubbish fires, road dust, industry and the use of solid fuels such as charcoal and wood to cook in open fires and leaky stoves(indoor air pollution).



Air Pollution in Kenya


Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Nairobi, Kenya | November 2015


According to the World Bank, more than 80% of people in sub-Saharan Africa use solid fuels such as charcoal and wood for cooking.6


Almost half of the 7 million people who died from air pollution worldwide in 2016 were due to inhaling smoke from biomass-fuelled cookstoves like those used widely in Kenya and many African countries.



Air Pollution in Kenya


Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Nairobi, Kenya | November 2015


See also: Agbogbloshie and Air Pollution in Accra, Ghana


Agbogbloshie - A short film




Air pollution is linked to more than 18,000 premature deaths in Kenya every year, a WHO report has revealed.


The mortality rate for air pollution in Kenya was 78 for every 100,000 people in 2016. The rate was 60 for every 100,000 deaths in 2012.


Globally, air pollution causes about 24% of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 29% from lung cancer, and 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), WHO estimates show.


The HEI and the IHME recorded more than 18,000 air pollution-related deaths in Kenya in 2017.


Indoor air pollution in Kenya claims more lives than outdoor air pollution.


About 14,000 premature deaths in Kenya in 2016 were due to indoor air pollution, the HEI and the IHME figures show.


The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.




Air Pollution in Kenya

Source: Stateofglobalair.org


The plots above compare Kenyas's air pollution-related deaths between 1990 and 2017 with Tanzania and Uganda.



Increased pollution exposure in Kenya does not always imply increase in death rate.


Your risk of death from air pollution-related disease is determined by a number of factors - including your exposure level, overall health, quality of life and your country’s standard of healthcare.  


Countries with poor healthcare system generally record more deaths (when air pollution levels are high or even stable) as opposed to countries with better healthcare systems (even when pollution levels are high).  


People in developing countries such as Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya generally tend to have less access to health services.








Kenya's air quality regulations already provide the framework to tackle air pollution in the country.


1. It’s time Kenya ditches old cars from its streets altogether. Kenyans deserve a less-polluted life. Vehicles which do not meet emission standards should not be on streets in cities such as Nairobi, Mombassa and Kisumu.


2. Air quality assessment and management should be a major priority for Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).


3. On NEMA - why don’t you regularly issue air quality alerts to warn residents of the high pollution levels in areas such as Koriokor Market, Donholm and Baba Dogo?


NEMA should regularly issue air quality alert to inform the public, especially the sensitive population (including children, older adults and those suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease) about the pollution levels in Kenya. 


4. Traffic restriction. When will Kenya start closing major streets to traffic to reduce tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks?


Cities around the world are now restricting the most polluting cars from entering city centers.


Car-free zones are a great idea. Time to emulate similar measures, Kenya!


See how cities around the world are tackling air pollution in this link: Air Pollution Killing More People in Ghana   


5. Efficient public transport system could also help to tackle air pollution in Kenya. This could result in fewer car journeys, thereby reducing air pollution from cars and trucks.


It’s also time Kenya start investing in pollution-free transport. Alternatives to cars include cycling and walking. 


Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains,” says Dr Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.  


As individual actions are not helping, it's clearly time responsible agencies start enforcing public actions to reduce air pollution in Kenya


Tightening emission controls and enforcing already existing laws could help to tackle air pollution in Kenya. 


See also: Air Pollution in Uganda: Causes, Effects and Solutions


See also: Air Pollution in Nigeria: Causes, Effects and Solutions


See also: Air Pollution in Ghana: Causes, Effects and Solutions


See also: Videos and Photos of Agbogbloshie, Ghana


See also: "Urban mining" and Air Pollution in Accra, Ghana




Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!


Download this article in a PDF:


Air Pollution in Kenya PDF









1. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved March, 2019)
2. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action (Retrieved March, 2019)
3. https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html (Retrieved March, 2019)
4. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved March, 2019)
5. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317256296_Nairobi_Air_Quality_Monitoring_Sensor_Network_Report_-_April_2017 (Retrieved March, 2019)
6. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/164241468178757464/pdf/98664-REVISED-WP-P146621-PUBLIC-Box393185B.pdf (Retrieved March, 2019)








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Comments (4)

  • Grace

    Very interesting article. I leave around Kariokor area and the pollution that come from the garages and filled up drainages leaves a lot to be desired. The houses are always filled with dust. We are aleays coughing with congested chests. Trusting that something will be done to alleviate this.

  • Ellis


    Thanks for leaving feedback. Makes me sad to hear you live around Kariokor, and that the pollution levels are taking a toll on you. You certainly need protective masks to minimize your exposure. Contact us using the contact form, email address or our whatsapp number. We’d be more than happy to mail you some free ATC MASK Urban Anti-pollution Face Masks from our Ghana fulfillment center.

    Customer Support Team.

  • simon

    First I think there is need for metrological department in Kenya to play a critical role of monitoring and regularly informing citizens about air quality situation. This can help citizen aware. On the other hand, simple technologies should be made availabe that people can use on their own instead of relaying on expensive and complicated machines which requires training to use or analyse data.
    Last but not least, I have interacted with Nairobi University lecturers and some students, and it occurred to me that they have quite brilliant ideas on how we can handle air pollution in Kenya.

  • Ellis


    Thanks for the comment.

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