Air quality in Kenya

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Kenya

Last update at (local time)


Real-time Kenya
Most polluted city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Nairobi, Nairobi


2 Nakuru, Nakuru


(local time)



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Real-time Kenya
Cleanest city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Nakuru, Nakuru


2 Nairobi, Nairobi


(local time)


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How polluted is Kenya?

The national flag of International

2022 Air quality average

Human face indicating AQI level


2022 average US AQI





2022 average PM2.5 concentration in Kenya: 2.3 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value

2022  Kenya cleanest city Pumwani , Nairobi


2022  Kenya most polluted city Nairobi , Nairobi


2022 aqi country ranking

How does Kenya rank globally in air pollution?

83/ 131 countries ranked in 2022

Which country had the worst air quality in 2022?

1The national flag of InternationalChad17,179,740


2The national flag of InternationalIraq43,533,592


3The national flag of InternationalPakistan231,402,117


4The national flag of InternationalBahrain1,463,265


5The national flag of InternationalBangladesh169,356,251


6The national flag of InternationalBurkina Faso22,100,683


7The national flag of InternationalKuwait4,250,114


8The national flag of InternationalIndia1,407,563,842


9The national flag of InternationalEgypt109,262,178


10The national flag of InternationalTajikistan9,750,064


83The national flag of InternationalKenya53,005,614



How to best protect from air pollution?

Reduce your air pollution exposure in Kenya


What is the air quality forecast for Kenya?

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 capitalcity is Nairobi, while its oldest city and first capital is the coastal city ofMombasa. In 2020, Kenya was the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africacoming behind Nigeria and South Africa.

In early 2021, the capital city of Nairobi was classed as the dirtiest city inKenya with a US AQI reading of 73. With a figure such as this, the air qualitycan be classed as “Moderate” according to recommendations by the World HealthOrganisation (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.

How bad is the air pollution in Kenya?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 19,000 people dieeach year in Kenya due to air pollution, with the United Nations EnvironmentProgram (UNEP) citing 70 per cent pollution levels in Nairobi.

It is thought that 9 out of 10 people are exposed to air pollution beyond theglobal health standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and thatthis trend is reducing life expectancy and damaging the global economy. Thispolluted air causes 7 million deaths each year, worldwide and also causeschronic 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 thesuspended particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10. These tiny particles comefrom many sources, including burning fossil fuels for lighting andtransportation, chemicals in mines, burning garbage in open areas, burningforests and fields, using indoor stoves as well as heating oil.

Multiple studies have been conducted and the conclusion reached was that poorneighbourhoods often have worse quality air than more prosperous ones. All of these studies concluded that the mainsource of pollution in these areas came from vehicle emissions. Black carbon(BC) or soot is the result of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. This istypically produced by older, inefficient vehicles that are not astechnologically advanced as the modern ones.

It was found that fuel economy was 2-3 times worse than Japan, China and Indiawhere most of the vehicles are imported from. Much higher levels of manganeseand lead were found which are chemicals used as fuel additives. These should beconsiderably less now as leaded gasoline has been phased out.

What are the main causes of air pollution in Kenya?

A lot of the polluted air in the big cities comes from vehicle emissions andKenya is no exception. The “matatu” are privately-owned minibuses and are usedas a mode of public transport in the big Kenyan cities. The exact number ofmatatus operating in Nairobi is unknown, Kenya’s Transport Ministry estimatesthat 70 per cent of the city’s 4.5 million commuters rely on these minibuses inorder to travel within the city and especially for commuting. Their name comesfrom the Swahili word for the number “three” because when they first becameavailable 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 theirengines running to indicate they are leaving soon which encourages people toboard. But it is not uncommon for these vehicles to stand with their enginesidling for over 30 minutes or more. All of this time, though, the exhaust ispumping pollution into the environment. The World Health Organisation (WHO)says that very small particles (PM2.5) of metal, dust and chemicals from theexhaust 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 nearschools and put children at greater risk of exposure to polluted air becausechildren 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 themain 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.

What can be done to improve the air quality in Kenya?

Several ways which could influence cleaner air in Kenya is by taxing or fining thosecaught 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 hydroelectricstations built on the dams on the Tana River. Shortfalls of electricity occurfrom time to time, especially in the dry season when the water levels drop. Inorder to become completely self-sufficient, Kenya has invested in solar energyand 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 Nairobiand also in the remote forest on Mount Kenya. This information will be used forcomparisons. Once collated, the data will be used to forecast the future ofcontrolling air pollution in the country.

In 2017, it was estimated that 20 million Kenyans suffered from respiratory problemswhich were exacerbated by the poor quality of the air that they breathed.Regulations were imposed in 2014 and national standards agreed on. These laiddown maximum permissible concentrations of different pollutants for bothresidential and industrial areas. The regulations also laid out measures to betaken 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 ofhigh-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 ofwidespread pollutants in Kenya since the early 1980s. However, most of thesewere recorded in Nairobi so it was not a true reflection of the whole country.

What is the level of air pollution in Kenya away from the large cities?

The main source of air pollution away from the main cities is undoubtedly theburning of biomass in stoves. As in so many developing nations, the ruralcommunity is often poor and use what means are available. Many household stovesare fuelled by dried animal dung, usually cow dung. It is often mixed withleaves or dry straw to help it stick together. They are traditionally made byhand by village women and stored in large piles for use when needed. Very oftenyoung children and babes in arms are close to mum as she does the cooking andtherefore susceptible to the smoke and fumes emitted from the stove. Firewoodis 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 cheaperthan most other fuels and it is very efficient. It is readily available andconvenient. 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 onthem will create a huge amount of dust which will rise up into the atmosphereand be blown by the wind to wherever.

What does the future hold with regards to air quality in Kenya?

Kenya is in the process of drafting a new climate change law, which is expected to beapproved. Meanwhile, the private sector is preparing to start drilling for oilin the north of the country. The question is: will oil extraction affect Kenya's efforts to reduce greenhousegas emissions?

A British company has discovered seven oil wells in the northwest of the countryin Turkana county. In a recent statement in January 2018, the company said ithad discovered more than 600 million barrels of oil reserves, adding that, intotal, the area could supply more than one billion barrels. It is thought that thereis 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 isbelieved that these go against efforts to tackle climate change. The ambitionof environmentalists is to see that air pollution is reduced, the level of cleanenergy consumption increased and that of fossil fuels is reduced.

It is planned to build two ground-level monitoring stations in Nairobi which willrecord concentrations in the air 24/7. Currently, samples are recorded at theUniversity of Nairobi’s engineering department on top of a four-storeybuilding. This site is in the north of the city. The other samples are takenfrom equipment at the Kenya Medical Research Institute which is located in thesouth-west of the city and is 5 kilometres west of the industrial zone. Mobilemonitors are being used around various parts of the city, especially in and around the industrial zones.

Kenyan universities intend to be the “greenest universities in the world.

In Kenya, more than 70 universities are required by the United Nations EnvironmentProgram and the Government of Kenya to work together to make their facilities"greenest in the world". Universities across Africa can be run onsolar energy and set new standards that can last. But it does not stop there, studentsneed 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 fiveyears 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, whichis a situation that leads to lower costs than conventional buildings.

Where does the information come from that records Kenya’s polluted air?

The Copernicus Satellite Sentinel-5P has been operational since early 2018 and isbeginning to reproduce high-resolution maps of air pollutants that areinvisible to the human eye.

The satellite can provide high-resolution maps of gases and particles that pollutethe air. Air pollution puts the health of millions of people at risk so it isimportant to understand what is in the air so that accurate forecasts can bemade, and, perhaps more importantly, appropriate mitigation policies put inplace. 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), aswell as aerosols in the earth's atmosphere.

Gases such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide are a result ofburning fossil fuels. If inhaled by humans, these gases can significantlyaffect 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 organicmaterials 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 airpollution access has the potential to improve air pollution coverage and enablegovernments, especially in developing countries, and other stakeholders to makethe 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 butthrough the use of relatively low-tech devices. Using data available from suchsatellites all governments will have access to data which will allow then todevise new policies aimed at making cleaner air available to its citizens.

Kenya air quality data attribution


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