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'There is no escape': Nairobi's air pollution sparks Africa health warning

A growing population, increasing numbers of old and inefficient road vehicles, and a lack of air pollution monitoring all spell health danger for African megacities like Nairobi

The need for increased monitoring of air quality in low-coverage areas such as Africa is urgently clear as Kenya’s capital, Nairobi finds its main roads choked with air pollution, yet very few measurements available to clarify what exactly its citizens are breathing.

Nairobi suffers from similar problems to other growing African megacities, many of which are experiencing increasing levels of dangerous air pollution. A growing population and surging numbers of cars on the roads across the continent are prominent contributors to pollution. Other key factors contributing to the problem include:

  • Old, inefficient vehicles imported from Europe and Japan, with catalytic converters removed
  • Commonplace outdoor burning of rubbish (including plastics)
  • Cooking with inefficient solid fuel stoves
  • Millions of small diesel electricity generators
  • Petrochemical plants


One professor from York University studying air pollution in West Africa suggests, that Africa “is in the same position that China was 20 years ago – if Africa does not regulate its air pollution, it will be a disaster.” With this insight into the route some African cities may be taking with regard to increasing air pollution, what solutions may be available to avoid reaching the predicted “disastrous” levels?

Suggestions for short-term improvements include tighter regulations on the age of imported vehicles, to create a more modern and cleaner fleet in African cities. Additionally, the promotion of electric bikes, such as successfully encouraged by China, is suggested as an effective way of cleaning up popular transport methods.

Additionally, more regular and widespread monitoring of air quality across the continent would be critical in facilitating targeted action against the pollutants causing most harm.

Read the full report on Kenya’s air pollution crisis here.

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