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Nairobians to wear masks if current pollution trend persists

Nairobi residents may soon be required to walk around the city wearing masks if measures are not taken to urgently curb rising air pollution.

Air pollution has become a silent killer with unseen but profound negative impact on the health of city residents, a report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

“The air in Nairobi is poisonous and cause serious ailments including heart and lung diseases as well as cancer. The amount of cancer-causing elements in the air is eight times higher than the threshold recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO),” the report reads.

According to the UNEP report, respiratory diseases associated with poor air quality such as asthma, lung cancer and eye infections among infants and elderly people are causing more deaths in Nairobi than Malaria.


Kariokor Market, Baba Dogo, Donholm, Hazina Estate, Kangemi and parts of Gachie are among the most polluted areas in Nairobi.

The report says that out of every 100,000 respiratory infections reported in the city, 20 people die prematurely.

More than 80 per cent of people living in Nairobi are exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO limits, arising from emissions from vehicles in city’s chaotic public transport, industrial gas and open burning of municipal waste.

“In Nairobi, residents are inhaling highly polluted air that threatens lives, affects productivity and hinders economic growth. The situation could worsen as global air quality declines, if urgent measures are not taken,” the report says.

Other causes of air pollution are burning agricultural residue, coal-fired factories and indoor pollution brought about by cooking.

The report which was released last week during the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 2) indicates that each year, air pollution kills seven million people as the global urban air pollution levels increased by eight per cent between 2008 and 2013.


Out of the seven million premature deaths linked to air pollution annually, 4.3 million are attributable to indoor air pollution particularly young women and children exposed to sustained use of inefficient cooking methods.

“More than 50 percent of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children are caused by inhaling polluted air in households,” the UNEP report reads

However, the report titled Actions on Air Quality, found improvements in areas such as access to cleaner cooking fuels pointing to a growing momentum for change.

United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director, Achim Steiner said: “A healthy environment is essential to healthy people and our aspirations for a better world under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Mr Steiner warned that Nairobians may be forced to wear masks as the city would be as polluted as Beijing in ten years if concrete policies are not put in place.