EDITORIAL: Reducing air pollution is a matter of urgency

3000 people are a significant number. They could fill a small stadium or mid-sized market. They are more than the capacity of some commercial buildings in the city. This is the number of lives lost annually owing to air pollution-related ailments.

Air pollution has emerged as one of the top 10 causes of mortality in the country with related diseases claiming about 3,000 lives annually.


Health practitioners say that by the day, they have noted a growth in respiratory-related ailments stemming from air quality. Other studies show that air pollution accounts for 13 per cent of more than three million Rwandans who suffer from respiratory diseases every year.


The statistics not only showcase the consequences of deteriorating air quality but hint on a curve that could maintain an upward trend if remedial measures are not taken immediately.


The Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown period briefly and momentarily slowed the air pollution as researchers at the University of Rwanda and Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) noted a 20 per cent drop between March and May.

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

Globally, air pollution has often been perceived as a trade-off or consequence of industrialization and urbanization. The more the air pollution, the greater the perception of increased industrial activity and urbanization.

What if it comes at the cost of 3000 lives annually, is that an acceptable tradeoff for industrialization?

It’s probably never going to come down to an either-or dilemma, not when we can have both; industrialization and quality air.

Having both; quality air and industrialization will among other things require government, private sector and household involvement. For instance, household air pollution in the country has been reported to be major cause of air pollution.  Curbing this will require house hold level involvement to adopt cleaner cooking energy to reduce reliance on firewood which has been known to be a major pollutant.

Private sector players will have to bring closer their respective deadlines to review their production processes and consequently their emissions.

The government has already announced plans to install ambient air quality monitors in ten locations countrywide to track pollution from major roads, industries and infrastructure facilities which will also inform corrective measures.

All these and more measures by all stakeholders have to be handled with the urgency of savings lives, 3000 annually are too many preventable deaths.


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