APR 27, 2020 10:13 AM PDT

Air pollution increasing in Africa

New research published in Environmental Research Letters reports that air pollution in Africa has increased significantly in the last half-century.  Using Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda as case studies for measuring particulate matter pollution levels (PM) and visibility, the study’s findings call for the urgent need for improved air quality monitoring. 

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham. They looked at capital cities Addis Ababa, Nairobi,  and Kampala to determine how emissions from vehicles and energy generation since the 1970s have impacted the region. 

Coauthor Dr. Ajit Singh reported: "Evidence indicates that ambient air quality in urban African locations is often poor, because of high rates of urbanization and population growth leading to large-scale construction, increased energy use, vehicle emissions and industrialization.

"PM air pollution is a major concern in East Africa because of its impact on human health. There are few air quality monitoring networks, resulting in little long-term air quality data, but visibility measured at major cities can be used as a proxy for PM pollution. We're tremendously proud of our work in East Africa and the analysis techniques we developed to study Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa are translatable to other parts of the world where air quality data is limited."

Their findings show a significant reduction in visibility with Nairobi at 60% loss, Kampala at 56% loss, and Addis Ababa at 34% loss. PM pollution levels have increased by 182%, 162%, and 62% respectively over the last 45 years. 

Coauthor Dr. William Avis commented: "Air pollution poses major health, economic and social threats to cities around the world -- inextricably linked to how we plan, manage and live in urban areas. East Africa is no exception to this, but lacks robust air quality data."

This needs to change, say the researchers. Coauthor Professor Francis Pope added: "We need to understand the causes and effects of air pollution in these three cities, which are rapidly developing and will likely experience further increases in PM. Poor air quality acts as a brake on development through increasing expenditure on health, loss of labor productivity, and the impact of illness on education.

Traffic in Nairobi is infamous and contributes to the rising levels of PM pollution. Photo: Pixabay

"To date, no studies have been able to assess the role of socio-economic factors upon the evolution of air pollution in East Africa. Our work provides data that helps us understand this relationship and provides a much-needed baseline for East African urban air quality that can help assess future air quality improvement interventions in the region."

Sources: Environmental Research Letters, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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