Who is responsible for poor air quality in Rwanda?

A traffic jam around Kisementi area in Remera, Kigali. File.

The Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and the Ministry of Environment commissioned a study to identify the sources of air pollution and when the report was released yesterday, the top culprits turned out to be vehicle emissions and cooking with charcoal or firewood.

And now, REMA is looking into the eight recommendations contained in the report that target the culprits.

The study, dubbed “Inventory of Sources of Air Pollution in Rwanda,” analysed emissions from road traffic, power generation, to industries and homes. It was carried out by the Mott MacDonald, a UK based consultancy firm.

Among the recommendations is to put in place strict rules that prohibit old vehicles from entering the country. The average age of cars in Rwanda is currently 19 years with more than half of the vehicles made before 1999.

“95.2 per cent of cars are more than ten years old which explains why they are the main pollutants,” the study established.

“Older vehicles make a large fraction of Rwandan fleet and are likely to emit more pollutants. It might be hard to lock out old private vehicles but of course the Government has a huge responsibility to apply strict import regulations on vehicles to address this issue,” Dr Jimmy Gasore, from REMA, said.

The study also called for policies that ensure smooth traffic flows, arguing that idle cars in traffic jams have adverse effects on the quality of air. The proposals include introducing bus lanes to ease public transport.

The newly expanded road that connects Kigali International Airport to the city centre via Kicukiro has provision for a bus lane. The idea is to encourage more city dwellers to use public transport to reduce the toxic emissions from vehicles.

The study also suggests that movement of cargo trucks should be managed efficiently. The argument is that the City is already a traffic hotspot and cargo trucks transiting through Kigali should be given alternate routes to boost the quality of air in the city.

“Cargo trucks don’t have to drive through the city centre. Authorities should develop city bypasses to serve freight movements and reduce emissions in the city,” Gasore told The New Times.

According to the 2017 State of Global Air Report, long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to the deaths of 6.1 million people in 2016 with strokes, heart attacks, lung disease and lung cancer mainly to blame.

Air pollution is now the fourth-highest cause of death worldwide, trailing smoking, high blood pressure, and diet-related diseases.

“Sadly, the majority of these deaths are in poorer nations. The air pollution challenge is also affecting Rwanda. While we are yet to understand the full extent of the problem, we do know that in 2012 more than 2,000 deaths were attributed to ambient air pollution,” Minister Biruta said

The report indicated that between 2012 and 2015, the number of hospital admissions for acute respiratory infections in health centres across the country almost doubled to more than 3.3 million.

“Today, air pollution is not only an environmental challenge but also a risk to our national development. That’s why the Ministry of Environment and the Rwanda Environment Management Authority commissioned the study to assess the major sources of air pollution. Only by knowing the problem can we adequately respond to address it,” Biruta added.

Biruta noted that government welcomed the recommendations of the report.

“From continuing to enforce and strengthen strict import regulations on vehicles and smoothing traffic flows around hotspots, to reducing emissions from bus fleets and domestic stoves, we will take these ideas on board and examine how to best implement them,” Biruta said.

Rwanda Environment Management Authority director general Coletha Ruhamya called for collective efforts in addressing air quality matters.

“There is no single individual who can tackle air pollution alone. This is a collective challenge that we have to tackle together,” she said.

Ruhamya also urged the public to drive less and shun biomass energy and use more sustainable cooking solutions such as cooking gas and energy efficient cooking stoves.