KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: The right to protection from air pollution

Air is a necessity for the existence of all living things. Clean air is necessary for healthy living. Without clean air, people fall sick, plants die and the environment gets destroyed. It is for this reason that a law which prevents air pollution is in place.

By definition, air pollution according to article one paragraph one of law no. 18/2016 of 18/05/2016, the law governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda, is a “condition of the atmosphere in which pollutants are present in such a quantity as to be likely detrimental to public health, flora, fauna, property or to interfere with materials and environment.”

Flora and fauna simply mean plants and animals in a given place.

Air pollutants include chemicals, gas and other dangerous and toxic substances that interfere with the cleanliness of the atmosphere. The emission of such substances is “prohibited unless such emission is authorized by the Authority in charge of the protection of environment.” This is according to article 6 of the law governing the preservation of air quality and prevention of air pollution in Rwanda.

The above-mentioned article adds that any person who produces, transports, trades, uses, stores or possesses dangerous chemicals or toxic substances must preserve the safety of human beings and other living things while also avoiding environmental degradation. 

Although Rwanda Environment Management Authority is the authority in charge of preserving the environment,preserving air quality is every person’s responsibility. This is according to article 15 of law no. 18/2016 of 18/05/2016 which states: “Every person has the obligation to safeguard and preserve the air quality.”

Preserving air quality requires abstaining from participating in activities that pollute the atmosphere. Such activities are mentioned in article 2 of Ministerial Order N°003/16.01 of 15/07/2010 preventing activities that pollute the atmosphere.

One of the activities mentioned as an air pollutant is open burning of substances and it is prohibited according to article 3 of the ministerial order that prevents activities that pollute the atmosphere. Exceptions are made for campfires as long as the wood used is not coated with paint or glue. Fires which are set for agricultural control of pests and diseases are also allowed. It is also acceptable to have kitchen fires for cooking.

Another element considered to pollute the environment is exhaust fumes from vehicles. As such, article five of the ministerial order that prevents activities that pollute the atmosphere says, “The traffic police shall carry out road worthiness tests on vehicles and if need be ban further use of a smoking vehicle until it has been properly repaired.”

Article 5 of the ministerial order that prevents activities that pollute the atmosphere prohibits industries from emitting dark smoke from their chimneys into the air.

As a country that is developing at a fast rate, there is always the risk of air pollution. Because of this, the ministerial order that prevents activities that pollute the atmosphere says that the list of pollutants can be updated on the basis of research advancement or whenever it is deemed necessary. 

Stay vigilant; air pollution affects everything and everyone.