By Cheruto Valentine

In as much as air pollution affects all regions of the world, low income cities receive the highest impact due to the health risks caused by pollution.

Most of these cities are located in Africa and Asia. According to World Health Organization (WHO) ’s most recent air quality database, 97 per cent of cities in low and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in high-income countries, the number of cities that fail to meet this guideline stands at 49 percent.

Cities in low and middle income countries are most affected by air pollution due to the fast paced growth of urban areas within them. Fast-growing urban areas coupled with poor urban planning leads to large numbers of people living in congested and poorly serviced housing.

This, according to WHO, serves to intensify the problem of pollution. Cities in Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa rank among the top thirty metropolitan areas with the poorest air quality in Africa.

As air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in these cities.

However, the quality of air can be improved in the continent. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease caused by environmental factors. This can be achieved by implementing laws, policies, programs, investments and technologies that seek to manage and prevent the rate of air pollution in a country.

On May 2016, during the second session of the UN Environment assembly, UNEP released a report on air quality. The report, which is titled Actions on Air Quality, focuses on ten measures to improve air quality. It also highlights actions taken by some countries which are in line with these measures to curb air pollution.

Despite the long way to go, progress can be seen in areas where several African countries have taken different initiatives in the fight against air pollution. Seychelles, for example, was able to improve indoor air quality by transitioning the whole country from solid fuels and inefficient cook stoves to liquefied petroleum gas.

In addition, countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, decided that from 1 January 2015 only low sulphur fuels would be allowed in their countries. If this legislation is being met by similar vehicles standards, this could reduce vehicular emissions by over 90 per cent in these countries.

Rapid growth of urban centers has resulted in increased congestion; even in the transport sector. Maintaining and increasing the modal share of public transport is essential for increasing mobility while decreasing transport emissions. Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania and Egypt are some of the countries in the continent which have made major investments in public transport since 2011.

Every year, on June 5th, the World Environment Day is celebrated. Since the first World Environment Day in 1974, the event has grown to become a global platform for positive public outreach on the environment in over 100 countries.

The theme of World Environment Day 2019 is #BeatAirPollution, calling on governments, industry, communities and individuals to take action to explore renewable energy and green technologies, and improve the air quality in cities and regions across the world.

This year, multiple World Environment Day events took place in Kenya. They included a fashion show which showcased compelling pieces from different environmentally conscious fashion designers, a “Ride Out Carbon Emissions” bike ride through downtown Nairobi and the official national World Environment Day celebrations, at Nairobi Railway Training Institute.