April 25th 2017

Society / Environment

Nairobi traffic jams cost money and health, UN says

Number of vehicle trips between 2004 and 2025 will increase by 148 per cent, while the average speed of trips will decrease from 35km/hr to 11km/hr, making it clear that urban air quality will worsen.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 20 May 2016 13:21 EAT

Traffic jam in Nairobi

Preliminary results of a pilot project to test air quality in Nairobi indicates that thousands of Nairobians are exposed on a regular basis to high concentrations of fine particle air pollution with potentially serious long-term implications for health.

The pilot project, inaugurated in Nairobi in August 2015, by the government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), tested air quality in some pollution hotspots by a mobile monitoring unit. The results show that large parts of the city may have unsafe levels of air pollution, with certain areas particularly affected to unprecedented levels.

The results show that motor vehicles are a big culprit in raising air pollution, contributing an estimated 90 per cent in Nairobi alone. Increasing road congestion, along with a high prevalence of old, poorly-maintained vehicles and of low quality fuels, contribute to this problem.

Linked to other earlier studies, the survey estimates that in a 'business as usual' scenario, the number of vehicle trips between 2004 and 2025 in Nairobi and its peri-urban areas will increase by 148 per cent and that the average speed of trips will decrease from 35km/hr to 11km/hr as congestion increases.

UNEP Chief Scientist Jacqueline McGlade warned that the results “make it clear and reasonable to assume that if nothing is done, urban air quality will worsen in the coming days”. McGlade spoke last week at a press briefing ahead of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) currently underway in Nairobi.

A vehicle inventory study for Kenya released in 2015 showed that on average, the country was importing less fuel efficient vehicles. The average CO2 emission of vehicles imported in 2012 was 178.2 g/km compared to 185.4 g/km in 2012.

Although there are no immediate figures on respiratory ailments being linked to motor vehicle fumes, the acting director for Public Health, Dr Kepha Ombacho confirmed to the Free Press that carbon monoxide from fuel pollution can cause breathing-related diseases. “Yes, we have data on respiratory ailments, and it is possible to say that some respiratory diseases have a link to motor vehicle fumes, but for now we can specifically pinpoint that,” said Dr Ombacho.

UNEP's Transport Unit says this is equivalent to an average fuel consumption of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres in 2010 and 7.7 l/100kms in 2012. A new UNEP assessment report released yesterday indicates that the rate of environmental damage is increasing across the world, however, there is still time to reverse some of the worst impacts if governments act now.

“The environmental change sweeping the world is occurring at a faster pace than previously thought, making it imperative that governments act now to reverse the damage being done to the planet,” says the study described by a diverse experts as the most authoritative.

Under the title: Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): six regional assessments find that the world shares a host of common environmental threats that are rapidly intensifying in many parts of the world. “If current trends continue and the world fails to enact solutions that improve current patterns of production and consumption, if we fail to use natural resources sustainably, the state of the world's environment will continue to decline,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Clever Mafuta, a co-author of the GEO-6 says that indoor air pollution is also a major environmental and health concern responsible for 600, 000 premature deaths every year in Africa. He said the continent's reliance on the use of biomass for cooking, lighting and heating means that 90 per cent of the region's population is exposed to this health threat.

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