Since the 1950s when we first realized the harmful effects of air pollution on our health and the eco system, governments and policy makers have been actively looking for ways and means to reduce air pollutants. in some countries, the war has been won, especially for air pollution occurring indoors to the use of low quality cooking fuels and cooking stoves.
However in most developing countries, this war is far from the end, with the World Health Organization estimating that 4 million people die prematurely due to this effect. In kenya the situation is not different, with an estimated 18,000 premature deaths occurring every year from indoor air pollution.
To put this into perspective, the number of deaths from road carnage is between 3,000 and 3,500 every year. even though indoor air pollution causes almost five times the number of premature deaths, the government has not established a body to spearhead efforts for clean indoor air, though similar institution has been created to address road carnage issues. should we ask; does the government even care?
Air pollution may be classified as a silent killer perhaps not as unpleasant as the road carnage, but nonetheless a cause of needless deaths. mainstream media is also guilty and apathetic about his issue, not having garnered much public attention.
in addition , to the premature death, a study conducted by GROOTS kenya and SNV in Kitui County indicated that respiratory related health problems are the leading cause for people seeking medical attention in the county. use of biomass energy demands is also a leading cause of ecological degradation, as trees and shrubs are cut down to provide the fuels.
The Kenyan government, together with various development partners, has been working on these issues since 1980s with very little to show for it as 80 percent of households still use biomass based fuels to meet their household energy demands and 90 percent of these citizens burn these fuels in inefficient cook stoves, particularly the traditional three stone stove.
zero rating the liquefied petroleum Gas (LPG) and standardization of the LPG cylinder valves was one of the initiatives that boosted the sector during President Mwai Kibaki’s era. However, these benefits were only utilizable by a few Kenyans, as the price of LPG remained out of reach for majority of Kenyans.
In a way, the responsibility of easing the burden of air pollution on citizens lies squarely on county governments. But what are the county governments doing, especially in addressing air pollution issues at household level? The best way to answer this question is to look at the County Integrated development Plans (CIDPs) and their Annual Development Plans (ADPs).
An analysis of the first generation CIDPs indicated that almost all the counties had not prioritized these efforts as an issue of concern. However, various actors working in the sectors, including the National Environment trust Fund (NETFUND) and Council of Governors (COG) sensitized the counties on the impacts of indoor air pollution and the need to address it.
As the sensitization efforts were put, the counties showed tremendous interest in addressing the issue and at least a few of the completed CIDPs have prioritized indoor air pollution as an issue to be addressed in the coming years.
There is an old American saying, “Don’t tell me what you care about, and show me the budget”. I have to say that looking at the various county budgets for the next year, there is need to build capacity in the counties to ensure that investments made in the sector have the maximum impact.
In addition, sensitization efforts to ensure that this issue gains prominence in the public domain should be increased. citizens can also make this demand during budget formulation sessions. Even though very few nations in Sub Saharan Africa have succeeded fully in this transition, there is hope that the devolved units will address as it is within their interest to do so. This would result in massive savings in the health sector and also in ecological well- being.
By Dr. George Mwaniki, Director Research and Planning, NETFUND