EA ASAP web1
Delegates to the ASAP East Africa conference held at the University of Birmingham

Air pollution in Nairobi is likely to become significantly worse by 2030 – putting thousands of lives at risk from one of the biggest killers in urban Africa – unless action is taken now, according to an alliance of African and British experts.

They agree that, if nothing is done, people living in the Kenyan capital face increased health risks from air pollution as the population is set to nearly double, the number of people driving cars rises and per capita energy requirements increase.

The experts were attending a three-day conference led by the University of Birmingham, as part of a major international research project looking at how rapid urbanisation in three African cities - Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi impacts upon air quality.

The ASAP East Africa conference saw delegates discuss possible scenarios for Nairobi’s air pollution in the year 2030. Delegates included scientists from the UK, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, as well as representatives from the UN, African Development Bank and leading international development think tanks.

In discussions chaired by Professor Tim Softley, University of Birmingham Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer, the experts identified a number of other major themes, including:

• New technologies such as electric vehicles and micro-energy production from solar offer possibilities for drastically reducing air pollution emissions;

• Positive messages about the benefits of reducing air pollution are needed to engage both public and governments.

• The importance of local knowledge - no one size fits all. The situation in Nairobi is distinct to Kampala and Addis Ababa, for example.

Dr Francis Pope, from the University of Birmingham, said: “Exposure to air pollution is one of the biggest causes of premature death in urban Africa today. Exposure to this silent killer increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and many respiratory conditions. 

“Urban air pollution is one of the most pressing and under-studied challenges facing Africa’s cities today. This conference at the University of Birmingham represents the first step on the road to saving many lives in East Africa and beyond.

“We reached agreement on a number of major themes, but it is clear that East Africa’s local governments need good quality, timely data to develop policies that deliver most impact in reducing pollution and preventing premature deaths.”

‘A Systems Approach to Air Pollution in East Africa’ (ASAP East Africa) brings together leading UK and East African researchers in air pollution, urban planning, economic geography, public health, social sciences and development studies to provide a framework for improved air quality management in East African cities. 

Speaking about the ASAP East Africa project, Dr George Mwaniki, from the African Centre for Technology Studies (Nairobi Kenya), said: “This ambitious project brings together leading UK and East African researchers across a range of inter-linked research disciplines. The greatest opportunities to address air pollution are in rapidly urbanising areas and we’re aiming to work with East African cities to reduce air pollution and save lives.”

Funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through the East Africa Research Fund, the study aims to develop new ways of monitoring air pollution to gather evidence on the causes, consequences and levels of air pollution in African cities.

Air pollution presents a global problem - causing an estimated 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide - one in every ten total deaths. Given the lack of air quality data in low and middle income countries, local governments often struggle to understand how air pollution impacts on urban residents or factor air pollution concerns into urban planning. 

This challenge is particularly pressing in East African cities where population growth between 2015 and 2030 is expected to be substantial; for example, Addis Ababa’s population is projected to increase by 80%, Kampala’s 103% and Nairobi’s 82%.

• The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
• Project Aims: ASAP applies a rigorous approach to diagnosing the integrated urbanisation challenges facing East African cities, with a focus on the development of a holistic diagnosis that places the causes and impacts of air pollution in the context of the city’s interlinked systems.
• It seeks to address the numerous development issues associated with poor air quality, and initiate a new framework for deconstructing cities, fostering a more liveable and sustainable urbanisation.
• Specifically, ASAP will deliver against the following overarching aims:

  1. study urbanisation trends and their impact on air quality;
  2. develop robust and cost appropriate approaches to monitoring air pollution;
  3. generate a holistic evidence base on the causes, consequences and levels of air pollution;
  4. identify and engage with locations and communities which are most vulnerable;
  5. identify social, environmental, policy and management measures to tackle air pollution;
  6. understand the dynamic political economies of focus cities and how these influence urban governance and air quality management;
  7. raise awareness of air pollution problems and impact policy uptake.