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Cleaner transport systems will reduce deaths

By Francis Meja | May 29th 2016

On the lips of many Kenyans today is talk about respiratory track illnesses. The irony of it all is that there is a fair body of knowledge of the causes of such illnesses but little is being done to nip the cancerous ailments in the bud.

Cancer of the lung is one of the most talked about type of cancer. One of the causes of lung cancer, asthma, allergies, chronic bronchitis and even pneumonia, is toxic air pollution; some of the pollution associated with exposure to vehicle emissions. The end result of these is premature deaths among people and animals.

The transport sector remains the main source of urban air pollution in many developing countries and in countries with economies under transition.

In Nairobi, for instance, vehicular emissions are estimated to contribute close to 40 per cent of urban air pollution. The economic loss arising from vehicle emission-related illnesses and deaths is estimated at Sh115 billion per year (University of Nairobi, 2012). The figure could be higher. With the knowledge that deaths resulting from such pollutions can be prevented, the big question remains how?

One of the ways out of this fatal problem is reducing transport emissions by introducing low sulphur fuels, adopting cleaner and efficient vehicle technologies and implementing vehicle emissions standards that would ultimately improve air quality and health.

Introducing soot-free buses in cities would help reduce cases of diseases caused by the black smoke from these vehicles.

Kenya National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), in exercising its mandate to register and license public service vehicles, as well as emissions testing, could work with like-minded organisations to reduce the number of deaths resulting from such toxic vehicle emissions, especially in the highly informal public transport sector.

NTSA is responsible for implementing policies on road transport and safety, including regulating the public transportation sector. A lot of these emissions come from public transport vehicles because of the informal nature in which the sector is run. There are many national and international organisations dedicated to tackling air pollution.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) is one such organisation, with a stated resolve to “...strengthen the ability of countries to move towards climate-resilient and low emission pathways for sustainable development and human well-being”. UNEP has made this commitment as an expected accomplishment in its 2016-2017 climate change sub programme.

The other one is Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), a global partnership that brings together governments, civil society and private sector bodies committed to improving air quality and protecting the climate in the next few decades by reducing short-lived climate pollutants across sectors.

CCAC has rolled out an initiative to “reduce black carbon emissions from heavy duty diesel vehicles and engines”.

Already, Nairobi and Accra, Ghana, have been identified by CCAC as project sites to achieve this goal. Nairobi has even adopted low sulphur fuel standards that could support cleaner bus technologies. This is a move in the right direction.

Nairobi can, therefore, be supported to commit to procuring cleaner buses as part of a wider strategy to promote a safe, reliable and efficient public transport system for the city.

This can be done by supporting a multi-agency task team, which would then review and update the country’s bus standards and propose an implementation roadmap to cleaner buses.

The team should work to know the role and importance of the informal sector in public transport, and the advantages of its transformation.

It should then develop and implement minibus sector organisational and transformation techniques, share knowledge and experiences in the transformation of the informal sector, discuss and make recommendations on the introduction of cleaner buses and issues related to their supply and demand in the African market. The team should be able to identify technical experts to develop cleaner bus specifications, conduct a thorough review of the relevant fuel and bus standards and draft cleaner bus specifications.

Finally, stakeholders can then be presented with the draft cleaner bus standards, policy options and implementation roadmap.

NTSA has a chance to reduce the unnecessary deaths and save the country money for other developmental projects.

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