The high rate of uncontrolled urban growth in Africa has let to significant growth in urban pollution and traffic clogging.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK reported in April 2020 that particulate matter pollution levels in Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa have increased by 182%, 162% and 62% respectively between the 1970s and 2020 based on visibility data, as direct air quality monitoring has been limited in Africa.
“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,” said Ajit Singh one of the report’s authors.
Sustainable Transport Africa, a Kenyan NGO, has noted that the urban poor that tend to suffer most from the impacts of urban pollution since they often live or work in the most polluted areas, contract pollution-related diseases that hinder their ability to earn a living, and are the least able to meet healthcare costs.
These are also the people least likely to own their own vehicle, so they bear the negative weight of transport pollution, while not benefiting much from the transport itself.
Air quality has become a health concern globally as air pollution from industrial activity and environmental degradation have become more common.
Data from Berkeley Earth air quality in 2019 revealed that particulate concentrations reached 151 micrograms per cubic metre on the worst day of air quality in Nairobi, a level considered very unhealthy where people are advised to limit outdoor activity.
Other Kenyan cities with high recorded micrograms per cubic metre include Thika, Nakuru, Kisumu and Eldoret.
Many African cities with populations over 100,000 have grown speedily making it difficult for governments to match the demand for power infrastructure. The result is that many homes and businesses are who are not connected to reliable national or regional grid supply seek alternatives in polluting diesel generators.
“However, with the biggest phase of Africa’s urbanisation still to come, countries have the opportunity to implement lessons learned the hard way in other parts of the world and take measures to ensure that next stage happens in a healthier and more sustainable way,” writes Ian Lewis on African Business.