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Toxic trade: Old cars poisoning Kampala City

By Gerald Tenywa

Added 31st December 2017 11:17 AM

Old cars are often seen as status symbols in Kampala and other parts of the country, but unknown to people who treasure them is that old cars are poisoning the air they breathe and the environment.

Toxic trade: Old cars poisoning Kampala City

Old cars are often seen as status symbols in Kampala and other parts of the country, but unknown to people who treasure them is that old cars are poisoning the air they breathe and the environment.

PIC:A bodaboda man rides past a smoke-emitting taxi on Jinja Road. Old cars are one of the major causes of pollution in the city/PHOTOS GERALD TENYWA

All cars emit exhaust fumes, but some cars are worse than others.Old cars actually poison the environment and human health. That is probably why manufacturingcountries, such as Japan dump their old vehicles in sub-Saharan countries, including Uganda. But how bad are these fumes to our environment? And why is Uganda not bothered by the pollution? GERALD TENYWA found out

The Suzuki vehicle belonging to Godfrey Kaggwa at Kasangati town in Wakiso district is similar to the Biblical Lazarus, who came back to life in one of the many miracles performed by Jesus.

Though it celebrated its 30th birthday recently, it has not retired. And it is not alone. Many other vehicles that should be on the scrapyard are plying their trade in Kampala, despite the dangers they pose. Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), reckons that probably there is no better place in the world to dump old cars than in Uganda.

The cars, according to Okurut, that should have rested in their grave two decades ago, are still on the road. Old cars are often seen as status symbols in Kampala and other parts of the country, but unbeknown to people who treasure them is that old cars are poisoning the air they breathe and the environment. This could be behind the spike of ailments, including cancer and respiratory infections, according toenvironmental experts.

"Air is an important aspect to our lives," Okurut said, adding that many old cars produce partially burnt carbon, which comes out of the smoke-puking cars. This pollution is seen as a cloud of smoke or soot and causes damage to human health," he said.

Okurut added: "We have to police the quality of air because pollution is on the rise in Kampala. As the traffic of cars increases, so does pollution." The greater Kampala, which includes the city centre and parts of Entebbe, Wakiso and Mukono districts, has become the worst polluted part of the country because it holds most of the cars that are imported into the country.

Although NEMA and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) are yet to install equipment that monitors air pollution, Okurut said areas that are usually congested is where pollution could be taking the worst toll on the human population.

"Parts of Kampala where there is congestion during rush hours are among the worst polluted areas of the city," Okurut told Sunday Vision. Kampala's highly polluted areas Dr Bruce Kirenga, an expert in environment health, concurs with Okurut, pointing out that there are areas of high concentration of waste gases that are becoming troublesome to human health.

A report tilted: ‘The State of Ambient Air Quality,' which was compiled after research by a team led by Kirenga, discovered that Nateete on the western part of Kampala was polluted more than areas such as Naguru and Kololo, both city suburbs. As one enters the city on Masaka road, they are likely to find a high concentration of waste gases around Nateete.

This is likely to reduce as one continues to Mengo. Then as they move through Gadaffi Road and Makerere Hill Road, it will further drop. Naguru and Kololo have the lowest levels of dirty emissions in Kampala, according to Kirenga's report. The report pointed out that Kampala and Jinja have the most polluted air in Uganda.

"That mean particulate matter (PM) concentration is 5.3 times the World Health Organisation (WHO) cut-off limits, while the nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone concentrations are below WHO cut-off limits," states the 2015 report.

Car emissions, fatalities Kirenga said exhaust emissions from cars contain dangerous gases, which he referred to as pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, hydrocarbons, particularly benzene, as well as particulate matter. The fumes also contain traces of metallic particles.

He said PM from diesel has been proven to cause cancer, and the World Health Organisation estimates that PM causes about a quarter of all lung cancer deaths worldwide. The exhaust emissions have also been blamed for triggering asthma attacks. Kirenga's team found Kampala's most polluted areas have more PM than other pollutants.

This, according to Kirenga, is what is causing trouble in Kampala's polluted areas. The Environmental Protection Agency of the US defines PM as a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. They could also affect the brain.

The US' Environment Protection Agency describes particulate matter as tiny substances that are 30 times smaller than the width of human hair. The exposure to benzene causes long-term effects. The biggest impact of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood. (The longterm exposure means exposure for a year or more.) Benzene causes detrimental effects on the bone marrow and a decline in red blood cells, leading to anaemia, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exporting pollution Many African countries import more used cars than new cars, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "Many come from Japan and Europe," stated the UNEP report. "Cars that risk failing Japan's stringent environment test are exported to Africa. There is an urgent need to regulate this trade."

A four-year-old imported vehicle, which is well-maintained with reasonable mileage is quite clean, has modern technology installed and would help leapfrog to cleaner technology in Africa, according to the report. "But a 16-year-old smoke-belching car is exporting pollution," states the UNEP report. In Uganda, the average age of vehicles being imported into the country is 16.5 years, according to UNEP. "These vehicles may then be driven for another 20 years," states the report.

Clean air regulation As back as 1995, NEMA drafted regulations on air quality and this was supposed to manage internal combustion engines and vehicles, among other things. However, the chief sources of emissions, the old cars in urban areas, remain unregulated.

In addition, NEMA and KCCA, which are supposed to monitor air quality in Kampala, have not been doing it, according to sources within the top government watchdog on environment. Two years ago, Okurut said the World Bank had provided funding for installing air monitoring equipment in different parts of Kampala, but this has remained on paper. Kampala's residents are in the dark regarding the quality of air they breathe. Environmental levy not helping A decade ago, Government took a step to reduce pollution.


A man walks past a junkyard of old car in Kalerwe, a city suburb. This is where the wrecks from accidents are deposited

It increased tax on vehicles that are older than 10 years, hoping that this would reduce on the importation of such cars, but in vain. "The price of old vehicles has since doubled, but this has not stopped people from buying them," said Okurut. "People still need to come with their cars to Kampala." He said the way out lies in creating alternatives and improvement in the public transport.

As the heavy taxes push people out of their cars, there should be efficient public transport in the form of buses, as well as the train. "People do not have an alternative," said Okurut. However, the proceeds from the environmental levy have not been channeled to environment management, according to Okurut.

This has become a cash cow for Uganda as the money from taxes on old cars is put in the consolidated fund and that the money never comes back to check pollution. Christine Akello, the deputy executive director of NEMA, warns that pollution of air is increasing and that the risk of raising a sick population that is unproductive keeps rising daily.

KCCA hikes parking fees

Three months ago, KCCA parking fees were increased from sh42,000 to sh105,000 per month. Will this provide a solution to congestion? "My understanding is that the fees are meant to discourage people from driving to the central business district," Alex Muhwezi, a private consultant, said, adding that this may not have a direct benefit for the environment.

"You can have few cars coming into the city when the emission is worse than that of many cars left out of the city," he said. He pointed out that the parking fees are not based on any model; strategy; standard or plans that will help keep environmentally unfriendly cars away from the city.

There is need to address the underlying factors and key among them is the economy, according to Muhwezi. "How many people can afford a new car?" he wondered. In addition, the state of the economy is poor and has not provided better roads that could relieve congestion, according to Muhwezi. "The socio-economic situation cannot allow us to have good infrastructure," he added.

Public transport is the way to go The motorcycles, also known as bodabodas have become a popular means of transport in different urban settings, including Kampala. This, according to experts, shows how Kampala has been trapped in chaos and so there is need to come up with measures to clear the mess. One of the steps is improving public transport by introducing trains and buses.

"I still remember travelling with top government officials, including ministers on trains and buses in Europe," said Dr Aryamanya Mugisha, a private consultant. The public buses that are operating in Kampala were not properly introduced, that is why the system has been limping over the years, according to Aryamanya. The Government is hungry for taxes and has not exempted the buses from paying taxes.

In countries where public transport systems are working, their foundation is in the public private-partnership that thrives on tax waivers. The buses or trains cannot survive if the Government strips them of the little profit they make. The revenue from old cars is what experts like Aryamanya have referred to as toxic profits. The Government is getting the revenue with risky implications on the environment and human health. This means that the Government will have to invest more in addressing a bigger disease burden in the coming years.

Pollution control: Collective effort needed to stem it

What should be done when pollution is high

• Leave the area of pollution

• Limit exposure to smoke in and outdoor

• Stay inside, close all windows, use air conditioning

• Avoid physical activities

• Mask or wet clothes do not help for long — mostly not at all

Individual basics to keep the air clean

• Regular car engine tuning / servicing

• Regular replacement of oil/fuel filters

• Switch off the engine in case of traffic jam

• Get exhaust filters

• Plan / restrict your errands

• Organise transportation to work (car pool)

• Use inverter instead of a generator

What KCCA can do

• Tarmac all roads

• Fill all potholes

• Create an efficient and acceptable public transport

Policy change: A must

• Measurement of air quality (NEMA)

• Information about air quality (NEMA)

• Observation of weather conditions

• Restriction of traffic in case of air pollution

• Car exhaust emission controls (road worthiness)

• For cars, no licence without an exhaust filter

• Industry exhaust controls (withdrawal of licence)

• Strict ban on all burning (fines for contravention) by Police, fire-brigade

• Improve air quality through public transport (buses and city railway

(Mukono-Mpigi, Port Bell-Mpigi via Kampala central)



By Gerald Tenywa

Is staying in Kampala becoming a curse? The air that has been free and pure for decades has come under attack. The suspended solid particles of smoke are poisoning the air. The particles of smoke in the air sometimes are deposited on the ground, on cars in the parking areas of Kampala and signposts on the road. The writer encountered signposts that have become soiled by soot at Lugogo on the Kampala-Jinja road.

 A signpost coated with soot. On the right is a streetlight blackened by pollution

The sight is attributed to the increasing pollution caused by cars plying on this road. In addition, keen observers have realised that the streetslights near Nakawa Vocational Institute have become darker (heavily soiled with smoke) compared to those that are about 100 meters off the road.

The soot is sometimes deposited on walls of buildings and green vegetables in the gardens near the roads or highway. The dirt deposited on the streetlights, as well as signposts and buildings on Kampala's streets typifies pollution. Any doubting Thomas should touch the face of a signpost or the exhaust pipes of cars. How safe is Kampala, especially the areas that are heavily congested with cars in the morning and evening?

Asked to comment about what the top government watchdog on environment was doing to secure a clean and safe environment for the citizens, Isaac Ntujju of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) confirmed the malaise. "There is greater pollution in such areas because of concentration of fumes from the running engines," said Ntujju.

However, he said the observation of black coating on the street lights needs to be followed up by scientific studies before concluding that it is evidence of pollution. "I have not observed what you have seen, but I will be keen when I get to such areas where there is always jam," he added.


Kampala residents speak out

Two weeks ago, a top Government bureaucrat told Saturday Vision that he moved from Entebbe at 4:30pm and got to Namasuba at 5:30pm. But it took him two hours to move from Clock Tower to Hotel Africana in the city centre on a stretch which covers less than two kilometres via Jinja Road and Entebbe Road. What does this mean? The engines were on running for two hours during the congestion.

This affects environmental health because the cars produce a lot of emissions. It also affects the economy of the country. If somebody spends a lot of time in such congestion, do you expect them to be productive? They come late for work and by midday, they are out for lunch and leave office between 3:00pm and 4:00pm in order to beat the jam on their way home.

A decade ago, an expert in transport (who was trained in Russia) warned that unless something was done soon, Kampala was destined for trouble. "We have a population that is increasing and people continue buying cars without the roads being expanded.

The cars are dangerous and we have become trapped," the expert, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. About five years ago, Mariam Nakku, a resident of Kisubi on Entebbe Road used to hit the road at 6:00am in order to beat the congestion, but today, she has to leave home at 5:00am to avoid congestion at Kibuye and Clock Tower in Kampala. "I have to wake up early to survive the jam and pollution in the morning," she says.


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