A UNEP study has identified areas such as Koriokor Market, Baba Dogo, and Donholm as some of the worst air pollution blackspots in Nairobi.
Last updated: 4 March 2020 9:17 AM (EAT)
By Muntaka Chasant | 1674 words | Reading time: 6 min
Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Nairobi, Kenya | November 2015
AIR Pollution in Kenya
Related: Ghana Has The Second Dirtiest Air in Africa - Latest Report
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 the use of biomass-fuelled cookstoves (indoor air pollution) in cities such as Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, 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.
Air pollution is associated with a number of conditions, including heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, a 'huge' reduction in intelligence, miscarriage and even mental illness.
Despite the adverse health effects of air pollution, PM2.5 and PM10 information were identified for only Nairobi (in the whole of Kenya) - according to the 2016 version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) outdoor air pollution database.
PM2.5s are ultra-fine particles of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter which can penetrate and lodge deep inside our lungs. They are measured in micrograms per cubic meter [μg/m3].
Kenya does not regularly measure and report its PM2.5 and PM10.
The current WHO data on Nairobi's air go as far back as 2009. You can explore the database, here.
Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Deaths From Air Pollution in Africa & 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.
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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 has revealed. 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 is linked to around 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year.2
The dirty air clogging our lungs indoors and outdoors 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 5 times as many of the deadly PM2.5 as the WHO guideline for outdoor air pollution (25.8 micrograms per cubic meter [μg/m3] ).4
The WHO recommended annual guideline for PM2.5 is 5 μg/m3 (September 2021 WHO update).
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
Air Quality Monitoring in Kenya
Like many countries in Africa, 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.
According to a 2017 UNEP study, Nairobi's air breaches all limits set by the WHO. The study measured air pollutants such as PM2.5, Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and Ozone (O3).5
What Are The Causes Of Air Pollution in Kenya?
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).
Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Nairobi, Kenya | November 2015
More than 80% of people in sub-Saharan Africa use solid fuels such as charcoal and wood for cooking, according to a World Bank report.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.
Solid fuels such as wood and charcoal are used widely in Kenya and many African countries for cooking
Credit: Muntaka Chasant | Nairobi, Kenya | November 2015
What Are The Effects of Air Pollution in Kenya?
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), the 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 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.”
NUMBER OF DEATHS ATTRIBUTABLE TO AIR POLLUTION IN KENYA (1990-2017)
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.
What Are Some Potential Solutions For Air Pollution in Kenya?
Kenya's air quality regulations already provide the framework to tackle air pollution in the country.
1. Removing old motor vehicles — which do not meet emission standards — from Kenyan streets would help to reduce air pollution from cars and trucks.
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 Nairobi residents of the high pollution levels in areas such as Koriokor Market, Donholm and Baba Dogo?
NEMA should regularly issue air quality alerts especially when air quality conditions are expected to impact health.
Air quality alerts would help to inform vulnerable groups — including children, older adults and those suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease — about the pollution levels in Kenyan cities.
4. Traffic restriction. Kenya could consider 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 helping to reduce air pollution levels in specific urban areas.
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 motor vehicles.
6. Investment in pollution-free transport. These include cycling and walking.
7. Improving waste management systems could also reduce the open burning of residential trash in Kenyan cities.
8. For indoor air pollution, subsidizing improved cookstoves, and an increase in education should help to minimize exposure, especially among poor households.
“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
Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!
Download this article in a 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)↩
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for the comment.
Pollution is made worse by corruption. Even if we had the best laws to check pollution, the enforcement staff would be compromised like we have seen in many govt departments. Corruption is our leading pollutant.