Rwanda could save $200 million from 2023 to 2030 by reducing air pollution in the transport sector in Kigali city alone, a new study has estimated.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers and Air Quality Specialists namely Egide Kalisa, Andrew Sudmant, Remy Ruberambuga, Yves Ujeneza, Jonathan Bower, and Shuyu Li.
Egide Kalisa, one of the researchers told The New Times that, “If the country records an annual reduction of 10 per cent of air pollution in the transport sector in Kigali city, it could save $200 million in a period of eight years from 2023 to 2030.”
“The savings could be made considering the money which the government invests in treating diseases caused by air pollution and the number of hospitalised people.
A significant portion would also come from the direct financial benefits from workdays lost as people with diseases caused by air pollution spend a long time seeking medical treatment instead of working to earn money,” he explained.
Air pollution can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and strokes.
It is one of the highest risk factors for premature mortality worldwide and the highest among environmental risk factors, leading to more than six million premature deaths and more than 100 million disabilities annually worldwide.
In addition, the World Bank has indicated that air pollution causes more than $5 trillion in welfare losses annually.
Kalisa said that the reduction of air pollution in the transport sector in Kigali could save $40 million by 2023, $100 million by 2026, and more than $200 million by 2030.
“Government should invest more in clean public transport,” he said, adding that this could reduce both emissions and related diseases as well as traffic jams in the city.
Only 1% of urban dwellers breathe quality air
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only one per cent of the population living in urban areas in low and middle-income countries breathe air that meets WHO air quality guidelines.
As a consequence, of between 6.7 and 8.7 million people globally who die each year from air pollution, the vast majority are in the world’s developing cities.
It says that the rising demand for mobility is a central cause of declining air quality.
“Using state-of-the-art air quality monitoring equipment, we investigated the air quality faced by commuters using different modes of transport,” Kalisa said.
The data was captured on commuters walking, cycling, taking the bus, and taking moto-taxis.
Results show that the highest burden of air pollution is faced by those walking by foot and cycling commuters while the lowest air pollution was faced by those on the bus.
However, across all commuting modes, the levels of air pollution significantly exceeded WHO limits.
Kalisa said these results emphasize the need for policymakers in Kigali to support the development of a multi-modal transport system in the city, particularly a system that emphasizes public transport.
To reduce the effects, Rwanda has introduced different initiatives.
Car-free Days, for example, are found to reduce air pollution by approximately 15 per cent after controlling for weather and seasonal factors.
This leads to 150 fewer hospital visits each year, 600 fewer sick days for workers, and 200 disability-adjusted life years saved according to research by Kalisa conducted in 2021.
Research has also found that transport is a major source of air pollution in Kigali and that different modes of transport make significantly different contributions to urban air quality.
Motorcycle taxis account for more than 50 per cent of all nitrogen oxides emissions in Kigali City.
As this pattern continues, it will lead to declines in urban air quality and growth in fuel imports, congestion, number of vehicle accidents, and gas emissions according to the researcher, Andrew Sudmant who is part of the team that carried out study on air pollution in Kigali.
Faustin Munyazikwiye, REMA’s Deputy Director General last month said that Rwanda is implementing a range of initiatives to promote sustainable mobility in both cities and rural areas, including the introduction of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to catalyze the adoption of electric vehicles and motorbikes.
In May 2020, the Ministry of Environment announced that the transition to electric vehicles requires an investment of $900 million.
Transition using electric motorcycles, for instance, could economically result in an “annual reduction of approximately Rwf23 billion in fuel imports.”
Rwanda seeks to convert 20 per cent of its public transportation to electric vehicles by 2030.
The target, according to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), will reduce 72,000 tons of carbon emissions.
Rwanda has 1,500 buses, with more to be added for the Kigali Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
Rwanda has 170,000 personal motor vehicles, increasing by per cent per year and more than $1 billion is required to convert 20 per cent to electric vehicles by 2030, including supporting infrastructure, studies show.