Health ministry: Dangers of air pollution on the rise

Doctors during a surgical operation at one of the hospitals in Kigali. The Ministry of Health has warned that polluted air is increasingly affecting the well-being of Rwandans, claiming about 3,000 lives every year. / Photo: File.

The Ministry of Health has warned that the health threat posed by air pollution is growing, urging stakeholders to develop more initiatives to preserve air quality.

In Rwanda, diseases related to air quality claim about 3,000 lives annually, hence ranking among the top ten killers.

 

Dr Zuberi Muvunyi, the Director General of Clinical and Public Health Services at the ministry, warned that polluted air is increasingly affecting the health of Rwandans.

 

“We are recording an increase in respiratory diseases and this is related to air quality,” said Muvunyi during the first-ever celebration of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies held on September 7.

 

The clean air day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 2019 during its 74th session.

“Respiratory diseases are among the top ten causes of mortality, and we can confirm that poor air is the cause,” Muvunyi stated.

Increased pollution

Researchers at the University of Rwanda and Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) revealed that air pollution has picked up again, after a 20 per cent drop between March and May.

During the period, air pollutants (PM2.5) decreased by 24 percent countrywide. Cleaner air was observed globally as countries entered lockdowns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the study, September recorded 100 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, marking a peak from around 60 in May. Pollution is at its highest during evening hours (between six and 10pm) and dry seasons.

Dr Zuberi Muvunyi, the Director General of Clinical and Public Health Services at the Ministry of Health.  Photo: File.

“Household air pollution in Rwanda is the major risk factor for the countrywide burden of disease,” said Egide Kalisa, researcher.

A study conducted by the ministry showed air pollution accounts for 13 percent of more than three million Rwandans who suffer from respiratory diseases every year.

Deaths attributable to poor air quality in 2017 reached 12,000. Up to 9,040 deaths were due to indoor air pollution and 2,960 due to ambient air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution levels in Rwanda adds on top of those coming from neighbouring countries, according to researcher Jimmy Gasore. In some cases, he revealed, 50 percent of particulate pollution comes outside Rwanda.

Use of electric buses

On the clean air day, REMA launched Air Quality Data Management, an online tool intended to provide real-time information on air quality status in Rwanda.

“The air pollution monitoring is a must for us to preserve the air quality. We will continue to put in place initiatives aiming at preserving the air quality,” said Minister for Environment Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya.

Hinting that the charcoal ban in Kigali will be expanded to other cities, the minister urged the public to take individual actions to improve air quality by planting trees, using clean energy and public transport.

Transport and industry sectors as some of the major contributors to outdoor air pollution, are gaining much attention through various anti-pollution government efforts.

Pudence Rubingisa, Mayor of the City of Kigali revealed that electric buses will soon be introduced in the city’s public transport. The move will add to a pipeline project to adopt the use of personal rapid transit with cable cars.

Rubingisa didn’t reveal when the electric buses will start operations but added that two new car-free zones are soon to be announced. There are plans to increase the number of car-free days once movement restrictions are eased, as well.

The Mayor also said that the City authority is planning to include the use of green energy in requirements to people seeking construction permits in line with the newly unveiled master plan.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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