Kenya which is officially known as the Republic of Kenya is situated in East Africa. In 2019 it had an estimated population of almost 50 million people. Its capital city is Nairobi, while its oldest city and first capital is the coastal city of Mombasa. In 2020, Kenya was the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa coming behind Nigeria and South Africa.
In early 2021, the capital city of Nairobi was classed as the dirtiest city in Kenya with a US AQI reading of 73. With a figure such as this, the air quality can be classed as “Moderate” according to recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The city which recorded the second worse level was Ngong in the Kajiado region.
The cleanest city was Lodwar in the Turkana region with a “Good” air quality figure of 46.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 19,000 people die each year in Kenya due to air pollution, with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) citing 70 per cent pollution levels in Nairobi.
It is thought that 9 out of 10 people are exposed to air pollution beyond the global health standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and that this trend is reducing life expectancy and damaging the global economy. This polluted air causes 7 million deaths each year, worldwide and also causes chronic diseases such as asthma and reduces the developmental potential of the unborn baby.
As in so many other countries, one of the main pollutants in Kenya comes from the suspended particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10. These tiny particles come from many sources, including burning fossil fuels for lighting and transportation, chemicals in mines, burning garbage in open areas, burning forests and fields, using indoor stoves as well as heating oil.
Multiple studies have been conducted and the conclusion reached was that poor neighbourhoods often have worse quality air than more prosperous ones. All of these studies concluded that the main source of pollution in these areas came from vehicle emissions. Black carbon (BC) or soot is the result of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. This is typically produced by older, inefficient vehicles that are not as technologically advanced as the modern ones.
It was found that fuel economy was 2-3 times worse than Japan, China and India where most of the vehicles are imported from. Much higher levels of manganese and lead were found which are chemicals used as fuel additives. These should be considerably less now as leaded gasoline has been phased out.
A lot of the polluted air in the big cities comes from vehicle emissions and Kenya is no exception. The “matatu” are privately-owned minibuses and are used as a mode of public transport in the big Kenyan cities. The exact number of matatus operating in Nairobi is unknown, Kenya’s Transport Ministry estimates that 70 per cent of the city’s 4.5 million commuters rely on these minibuses in order to travel within the city and especially for commuting. Their name comes from the Swahili word for the number “three” because when they first became available in the 1970s, it cost 3 pennies to ride from point A to point B.
The main problem with them is the way that they wait for more customers with their engines running to indicate they are leaving soon which encourages people to board. But it is not uncommon for these vehicles to stand with their engines idling for over 30 minutes or more. All of this time, though, the exhaust is pumping pollution into the environment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that very small particles (PM2.5) of metal, dust and chemicals from the exhaust fumes from the engine metal or dust can penetrate the lungs and cause heart and lung diseases.
These passenger buses have been described as dangerous as they are also found near schools and put children at greater risk of exposure to polluted air because children breathe faster than adults and inhale more polluted air as their bodies and brains mature.
Most of the industries which are located in Nairobi’s industrial zone fall into the main categories; iron and steel, engineering and vehicle assembly. Manufacturing of cement and textiles can also be found, as can, food and drinks manufacturing and tobacco processing.
Several ways which could influence cleaner air in Kenya is by taxing or fining those caught polluting the environment, stopping the burning of fossil fuels and stop building new coal-fired power plants.
Most of Kenya’s energy comes from geothermal power plants, followed by hydroelectric stations built on the dams on the Tana River. Shortfalls of electricity occur from time to time, especially in the dry season when the water levels drop. In order to become completely self-sufficient, Kenya has invested in solar energy and wind-powered generators. They also have plans for a nuclear power plant by 2027.
There is currently an ongoing survey which is monitoring the air quality in Nairobi and also in the remote forest on Mount Kenya. This information will be used for comparisons. Once collated, the data will be used to forecast the future of controlling air pollution in the country.
In 2017, it was estimated that 20 million Kenyans suffered from respiratory problems which were exacerbated by the poor quality of the air that they breathed. Regulations were imposed in 2014 and national standards agreed on. These laid down maximum permissible concentrations of different pollutants for both residential and industrial areas. The regulations also laid out measures to be taken for “prevention, control and abatement” of pollution because of the toll it takes on health.
The enforcement of these regulations has not really taken place due to a lack of high-quality air quality monitoring data, to compare with the standards.
In Kenya, there is no publicly available, official air quality monitoring data. But there have been 33 air pollution studies that report concentrations of widespread pollutants in Kenya since the early 1980s. However, most of these were recorded in Nairobi so it was not a true reflection of the whole country.
The main source of air pollution away from the main cities is undoubtedly the burning of biomass in stoves. As in so many developing nations, the rural community is often poor and use what means are available. Many household stoves are fuelled by dried animal dung, usually cow dung. It is often mixed with leaves or dry straw to help it stick together. They are traditionally made by hand by village women and stored in large piles for use when needed. Very often young children and babes in arms are close to mum as she does the cooking and therefore susceptible to the smoke and fumes emitted from the stove. Firewood is used as well when it is available. This too produces fine PM2.5 particles when burned.
There are surprisingly many benefits of using dried dung as a fuel. It is cheaper than most other fuels and it is very efficient. It is readily available and convenient. It can even be used as “currency” in exchange for other goods.
Many of the roads in rural areas are unpaved and therefore traffic travelling on them will create a huge amount of dust which will rise up into the atmosphere and be blown by the wind to wherever.
Kenya is in the process of drafting a new climate change law, which is expected to be approved. Meanwhile, the private sector is preparing to start drilling for oil in the north of the country. The question is: will oil extraction affect Kenya's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
A British company has discovered seven oil wells in the northwest of the country in Turkana county. In a recent statement in January 2018, the company said it had discovered more than 600 million barrels of oil reserves, adding that, in total, the area could supply more than one billion barrels. It is thought that there is a strong possibility that the area will become a new hydrocarbon gas region.
Kenya hopes that the use of this resource will create jobs and wealth. However, it is believed that these go against efforts to tackle climate change. The ambition of environmentalists is to see that air pollution is reduced, the level of clean energy consumption increased and that of fossil fuels is reduced.
It is planned to build two ground-level monitoring stations in Nairobi which will record concentrations in the air 24/7. Currently, samples are recorded at the University of Nairobi’s engineering department on top of a four-storey building. This site is in the north of the city. The other samples are taken from equipment at the Kenya Medical Research Institute which is located in the south-west of the city and is 5 kilometres west of the industrial zone. Mobile monitors are being used around various parts of the city, especially in and around the industrial zones.
In Kenya, more than 70 universities are required by the United Nations Environment Program and the Government of Kenya to work together to make their facilities "greenest in the world". Universities across Africa can be run on solar energy and set new standards that can last. But it does not stop there, students need to be taught how to make decisions for the benefit of the planet and in their personal lives.
Strathmore University has had its own grid system from 600 kilowatt light for about five years and not only enjoys free energy from the sun but also sells the surplus to Kenya Power Company.
Another project that the college is researching consists of "green buildings" that use natural light, systems that cool and evaporate water and rainwater, which is a situation that leads to lower costs than conventional buildings.
The Copernicus Satellite Sentinel-5P has been operational since early 2018 and is beginning to reproduce high-resolution maps of air pollutants that are invisible to the human eye.
The satellite can provide high-resolution maps of gases and particles that pollute the air. Air pollution puts the health of millions of people at risk so it is important to understand what is in the air so that accurate forecasts can be made, and, perhaps more importantly, appropriate mitigation policies put in place. It is able to measures the global level of essential trace gases: ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4 ) and formaldehyde (HCHO), as well as aerosols in the earth's atmosphere.
Gases such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide are a result of burning fossil fuels. If inhaled by humans, these gases can significantly affect the amount of oxygen entering the bloodstream, which can have devastating effects.
Methane is a gas produced by the burning of oil and the decomposition of organic materials at waste filling sites. It can also come from the digestion of cattle and other livestock.
Additionally, the satellite can monitor aerosol particles that are formed by oil combustion, forest fires, desert dust, or volcanic eruptions. This new data on air pollution access has the potential to improve air pollution coverage and enable governments, especially in developing countries, and other stakeholders to make the impact of poor air quality on human health and the environment a priority better to solve the problem.
Currently, the USA and the UK are assisting Kenya in its fight with air pollution but through the use of relatively low-tech devices. Using data available from such satellites all governments will have access to data which will allow then to devise new policies aimed at making cleaner air available to its citizens.