New study says charcoal, car emissions leading air pollutants in Rwanda

A new study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment has revealed that motor vehicle emissions and biomass energy mostly from domestic cooking, are the biggest contributor to poor air quality in Rwanda.

The report, which is set to be released this week but whose copy The New Timeshas seen, suggests that despite the fact that the levels of air pollution in a specific area are dependent on its location in relation to pollution sources, high car emissions and biomass could be the leading environmental hazards in the country, mainly in urban areas.

The survey calls for responsible organs to find alternative energy solutions to cooking with biomass to enforce vehicle emissions inspection in order to reduce pollution from vehicles.

The report, dubbed “Inventory of Sources of Air Pollution in Rwanda”, was commissioned in January this year and seeks to inform the engagement of responsible institutions to determine the future trends in air pollution and act as guideline in development of a national air quality control strategy.

Air pollution, also referred to as poor air quality, is considered the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

In 2012, over three million premature deaths globally were attributed to poor ambient air quality. Approximately 87 per cent of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries, the report says.

“In locations adjacent busy roads, motor vehicle emissions are the biggest contributor to poor air quality whereas in residential areas away from busy roads the biggest contributor is domestic cooking with biomass.

Power plants may have higher emission rates of pollutants compared to household cooking but their effects on air quality in areas where there is high population density is low because the plants have stacks to aid dispersion and they are not located in residential areas.” the report reads in part.

Oxides of Nitrogen (nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)), Sulphur dioxide (SO2), Particulate matter (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 microns (PM10) and 2.5 microns (PM2.5)), Ozone (O3) and Carbon monoxide (CO) are some of the pollutants which were considered in the study.

“The study found that the main pollutants of concern in Rwanda are nitrogen dioxide particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 microns,” it says.

The two gasses are said to be of “greater concern” among those considered harmful to human health and the environment.

The survey also established that existing East Africa Standards adopted in Rwanda for ambient air quality standards are unsuitable for achieving effective regulation.

It also adds that the current emission standards are not tailored to Rwanda’s needs where there is more small-scale power generation rather than large combustion plants.

Reduce old car imports

The survey recommends that the Ministry of Environment should work with Rwanda Revenue Authority and the Ministries of Finance and Infrastructure “to find ways to limit importation of older vehicles in Rwanda and find alternative energy solutions to cooking with biomass”.

The study suggests that there is need to enforce vehicle emissions inspection in order to reduce pollution from vehicles and to commission a readiness study for Rwanda to adopt electric cars in its transport fleet policy mix.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Infrastructure, in collaboration with United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), has launched a two-month long countrywide campaign on “Clean Cooking”—encouraging citizens to shun using environmental-threatening biomass cooking energy to more sustainable cooking fuels.

About 93 per cent of Rwandans use either charcoal or firewood (biomass) for cooking.

In an interview last week with The New Times, Environment Minister Vincent Biruta said he believes switching to clean cooking fuels such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas and other the improved cooking technologies will go a long way in mitigating climate change, let alone cutting on indoor and outdoor air pollution.

“Air pollution from biomass is a huge health issue; it leads to deforestation,  hence climate challenges and health risks. It is everyone’s responsibility to play it safe for our environment,” Biruta said.



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