Noise pollution: Kigali City Council must get this right

It is a fact of life that we all make noise. Whether we are talking to others, playing music, entertaining, driving in our cars or just going about our daily business, we all generate noise.

It is a fact of life that we all make noise. Whether we are talking to others, playing music, entertaining, driving in our cars or just going about our daily business, we all generate noise.

However, it seems that what is noise to one person may be pleasurable to another. And in Kigali, striking a balance between these two has turned out to be tricky, so tricky that many businesses have been shut down and party goers left bewildered. Equally, places of worship have not been spared. As it appears, not everyone shares the same enthusiasm of some Kigali churchgoers who have been accused of excessive noise. So, what is the big deal?

Well, proponents of the recent closures insist that it’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to complain that all it takes to close a nightclub, bar or a house-party is one complaint. In fact, one friend of mine insisted that before an entertainment venue is shutdown, officials have to take a judgement about what is reasonable to the average person. He further explained that a judgment call considers the time of the day/night, location, and more importantly, noise made by party goers as well as sound equipment in question. But, when I asked what constituted a ‘reasonable’ amount of noise, his argument started to crumble.

But, before I explain the obvious (the need to have sound level equipment), what is noise pollution and what are effects on our health? Noise is ‘unwanted or disturbing sound’. More often, sound, which is measured in decibels (dB), becomes unwanted when it either interferes with normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts or diminishes one’s quality of life. Experts believe that the threshold for human hearing is 5dB, and that a sound of around 150dB is thought to produce instantaneous hearing damage. Here we can remind ourselves that an average nightclub speaker produces in excess of 120dB at any one time.

Though for some, the persistent and escalating sources of sound can often be considered an annoyance, this ‘annoyance’ can have major consequences, primarily to one’s overall health.

For instance, health experts have shown that there are direct links between noise and health.

Problems related to noise include stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity. Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is the most common and often discussed health effect, but research has shown that exposure to constant or high levels of noise can cause countless adverse health effects.

Now, back to the lack of sound-level equipment – As I explained to my friend, as long as City authorities have no equipment in place, any decision taken by them will remain a subjective one at best. In other words, what is acceptable to one person can be unbearable to another. Again, I explained that when a City Council officer is called to investigate a noise complaint, the crucial point on which a judgement must be made is whether or not the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance. The officer cannot simply take the word of the complaint and shutdown a business or private party. There must be guidelines to follow.

Of course, the continued closure of businesses will have a devastating impact on Kigali’s night-time economy. It is the bars and clubs, cafes and restaurants and so on. This night-life, which is supported by other services such as public transport, brings money into the city by way of jobs, sales, and general ambience. Also, the tourists who come from all over the world bring in vast sums of money to entertain themselves and they need a place to spend their money. However, if we take away entertainment venues, those dollars will not be spent, which of course limits our economy.

Consequently, the solution to noise pollution should not be closure of businesses and places of worship. Instead, City authorities must invest in sound-level equipment to ensure that technicalities are followed. Also, bars, clubs, and places of worship should have soundproofed venues in place to minimise unnecessary sound levels.

In addition, door supervisors, close circuit television (CCTV), sufficient public transport should be made available to get people out of the area when they leave the venues. All stakeholders must come together to better manage Kigali’s night-time economy because without better co-ordination, there will be no businesses to run, no jobs to go to, and no places to just have a good time. Likewise, we must make every effort to ensure that the right to worship is not tampered with – after all, our constitution protects this right.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.

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