BY MOSES SSERWANGA
As if it is not bad enough for the millions of Ugandans who continue to wake up in the wee hours of the day to beat the endemic traffic jams-to drop kids at school and get to work in time, Uganda’s Capital City Kampala, has also been listed among the 30 most polluted cities in the world .
According to the World Health Organization, the air in these 30 cities was found to be the most polluted in 2016 and contains high levels of dangerous particulate matter, small enough to enter the human bloodstream through the lungs—a problem that contributes to an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year.
And yes, Kampala the only African city on the list , is named along side other cities like Jodhpur ,Agra, MandiGobindgrah in India, Tangshan in China, Bushehr in Iran, Narayangong in Banladesh ,Rawalpindi in Pakistan among others. Although there are many factors contributing to the dangerous high levels of pollution in these cities , ranging from steel mills,burning of scrap tires to extract iron, nuclear power plants , brick manufacturing , for Kampala, pollution researchers have cited vehicle emissions as the leading cause of air pollution .
But this should not come as a surprise because in 2014 Uganda imported over 45,000 vehicles with an average age of 16 years or what automotive industry experts call “end of life vehicles”. So one can imagine the carbon emission levels caused by these second hand vehicles which in Kampala speak we call ”new”.
According to World Health organization, (WHO), premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could double by 2050, with the largest increases expected to occur in the emerging economies of Africa, Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. It should be noted that air pollution affects the human lungs andcontributes to causes of mortality such as strokes, heart disease and lung cancer.
That’s why this latest ranking of Kampala among the most polluted cities in the world should be taken with great concern . The Policy makers must get back to the drawing board and fix this problem before it gets out of hand.
A review of the existing legislation (Traffic and Road Safety Act 1998, Investment Code Act, the Income Tax Act, the Value Added Tax Act, the Free Zones Act 2014, and National Industrial Policy 2010) shows that the highlighted laws only focus on registration of motor vehicles in Uganda and attempt to deal with issues of policy related to revenues from taxes ,ownership and road safety..Unfortunately ,this existing legal frame doesn’t expressly address transport-based carbon emission standards within the country.
The takeoff of the green mobility market in Uganda requires a clear government policy on the limitation or total ban of importation of second hand cars that are more than five years old. These progressive government policies will not only help to reduce on the high carbon emissions in Kampala and elsewhere in the country they will also facilitate the fast development of a competitive automotive industry in Uganda.
And much as Kampala City Council Authority, (KCCA) should be lauded for keeping the city relatively clean and green, they too as major stakeholders ,should tackle the problem of pollution head on and rather urgently.
The city planners should look elsewhere in the East African region and borrow a leaf on how to handle theKampala traffic nightmare. Both Kigali(Rwanda) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) have gone big with their respective new public transport projects . Dar es Salaam now has a fleet of 210 buses with special road lanes and are faster than the matatus . This has encouraged many private car owners to leave their cars at home and use public transport during the peak working hours reducing traffic jams considerably. Kigali also has a good public transport system which has kept the city free of jams and heavy air pollution .
KCCA should adopt a similar model to deal with the endless traffic jams and high level of pollution . It is not far fetcher for the city authorities to look at other transport alternatives like electric or solar powered buses to conduct traffic runs around Kampala.
Vehicle electrification is a major step toward curbing the hazardous transport-based emissions while improving fuel efficiency .When Engineers at Kiira Motors Corporation, (KMC) unveiled electric concept vehicles the Kiira EV and the Kayoola Solar Bus the first of the kind on the African continent not many predicated that electric cars are taking center stage in the automotive industry across the globe.
Electric buses for urban public transport, therefore , could help to reduce not only the sickening traffic jams but also curb air pollution in Kampala. KCCA can partner with Kiira Motors Corporation to set up electric buses test drives say along the new Entebbe express highway as they figure out how to solve the Kampala traffic jam quagmire.
The Writer is Media and Communications Consultant/ trainer and Advocate of the High Court of Uganda.