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COVID 19 Nation Lockdown reduces Air pollution in Rwanda, What lesson to be learned?

By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU

In order to understand air quality in Rwanda there is a need to identify sources of pollution, establishing the current baseline and to develop related strategy and policy recommendations to address air pollution issues.

During this time when the world is facing the Corona Virus pandemic, it’s obvious that the rate of pollutant emissions has declined not only in Rwanda but also on global scale due to reality of a state being on lockdown.

Speaking to TOPAFRICANEWS website, Eng. Coletha Ruhamya, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority confirmed that “The decline of Air pollution in Rwanda is taking place since the main cause of Air pollution in Rwanda is from vehicle emissions.”

“As we are confronting with COVID 19, vehicles (cars and motorcycles) are not operating and that has led to the significant reduction of pollutions.” She explains.

Eng. Ruhamya said that REMA is doing an assessment after which it will release findings that will highlight effects of the pandemic on the reduction of pollutant emissions in Rwanda.

Vehicles are biggest pollutants of Air quality in Rwanda especially in Kigali City

In 2018, Rwanda Environment Management Authority has assigned Mott MacDonald to conduct a study on Inventory of Sources of Air Pollution in Rwanda and Determination of Future Trends and Development of a National Air Quality Control Strategy.

After the assessment the study findings have shown that in Rwanda, the main sources of anthropogenic air pollution are road traffic, domestic fuel burning and industry.

For example, in locations adjacent to busy road, vehicle emissions are the biggest contributor to poor air quality whereas in residential areas away from busy roads the biggest contributor is domestic stoves.

Motor traffic and domestic cooking and heating (wood fuel) are the main sources of CO emissions in Kigali city with peak concentrations occurring at street level in busy and congested roads as well as high population density areas compared to rural areas of Kigali. As of 2018, the levels of CO in the air of Kigali city are still below the WHO limits.

On global level, the spreading virus has caused a dip in global greenhouse gas emissions. Reasons include a temporary blow to industrial activities in China, falling demand for oil and a decline in air travel.

WUHAN, CHINA – FEBRUARY 03: (CHINA OUT) A man cross an empty highway road on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. The number of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, in China climbed to 361 and cases have been reported in other countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and several others. (Photo by Getty Images)

In China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, experts estimate that emissions over the past month have been about 25% lower than normal.

These effects aren’t wholly unexpected. History suggests that global disasters, particularly those with major effects on the economy, tend to drive a temporary decline in carbon emissions. The 2008 recession, for instance, was accompanied by a temporary dip in global carbon emissions.

Experts say Air pollution break should be a baseline for regulators to urge pollution emitters to consider that decline as guiding tool towards the desired reduction of Air pollutants.

Rwanda is working around the clock to reduce the periodic poor air quality in Kigali – mostly due to vehicle emissions.

Eng. Ruhamya explained that through various initiatives like Car free Day, use of Electric vehicles among others,… are significant steps in curbing air pollution.

Pandemics like COVID-19 could also spur less obvious behavior changes, which may nonetheless affect a household’s carbon footprint.

For instance, reports have suggested a recent spike in online shopping and home deliveries, especially for groceries. This is likely another byproduct of the virus as people increasingly avoid public spaces.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

There’s nothing to celebrate about the spread of the coronavirus, even if it does contribute to a temporary decline in greenhouse gas emissions. Global carbon emissions tend to bounce back fairly shortly after a global disturbance ends, history suggests—and meanwhile, COVID-19 has already killed thousands of people around the world

But the pandemic may hold some insight into the ways that cascading changes in human behavior can affect carbon emissions.

Disturbances such as hurricanes and other natural disasters have provided these kinds of lessons, as well. But one key difference with the new coronavirus—at least for now—is that a lot of the behavioral changes it’s driving are voluntary.

Whether people may continue to apply the more carbon-friendly changes in their behavior after the pandemic is another question.

The present situation could offer an unusual opportunity to broach the subject, a U.S Newspaper quoted Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University.

“I hope that these kinds of events—where people are actually pausing and they’re in their homes and they have a chance to think—we use those moments to communicate some of these bigger issues that are facing us,” Klopp said.

 

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