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Kenya’s roads are becoming ever more clogged by older cars creating greater pollution – a problem that the FIA Foundation is striving to solve with the help of the UN and other key partners.

Early morning on the streets of Nairobi, and the traffic is already at a standstill. Kenyan drivers and their passengers are used to spending hours this way. Commuters sit frustrated on crowded buses, pedestrians bustle in and out of the traffic and a brown haze of dust and pollution fills the air.

Africa has some of the fastest growing cities in the world. A huge increase in vehicle numbers, often imported and second-hand, together with poor fuel quality is causing major health and environmental challenges. The FIA Foundation, in partnership with the UN Environment Programme and other local experts, is working to address this and bring about a step change in vehicle emissions through the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) and the Share the Road Initiative (StR).

These are global issues. The number of vehicles worldwide is expected to triple by 2050, with as many cars in China alone as there are currently on the whole planet. The implications of this are unsustainable environmentally, but also in terms of fuel and energy use, congestion, pollution and safety. The GFEI is working hard to address one element of this through improving the fuel economy of the fleet. It does this by raising awareness of the issues, in-depth analysis and expert support to countries wanting to implement fuel economy policies. The PCFV is working to clean up fuels, with a particular focus on eliminating lead from petrol and reducing sulphur levels to help lower particulate emissions. StR is seeking to improve safe and continuous routes for non-motorised users – all part of a programme of the FIA Foundation’s work to promote safe, green, clean and fair mobility globally.

More cars, more congestion

In Kenya, the vehicle population is set to double every five to six years. The resultant traffic congestion is estimated to cost the country close to USD 900 million per year. In addition, the air quality in most urban centres is deteriorating, especially in Nairobi where traffic emissions are responsible for about 40 per cent of small particulates. Joseph Nganga, Director General of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), puts the cost of this at Kshs 115 billion (USD 1.12bn). He says: “Improved fuel economy is essential if we are to address the negative implications of the growth in motor vehicles such as pollution, congestion, energy and resource depletion, and environmental damage.”

An important place to start is in tackling the quantity and quality of vehicles imported onto the African continent. A GFEI study in Kenya showed that 99 per cent of cars imported in 2010-12 were used vehicles. In Uganda, another study found that the average imported used car was over 16 years old. With the average age of the vehicle fleets in the region of well over 10 years old – and many therefore pre-dating some key standards in the markets of origin, even before the deterioration which comes with age – this is a major policy challenge.

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the country’s average fuel economy for passenger vehicles barely improved between 2010-12 (an average of 7.4 l/100km in 2010 to 7.7 l/100km in 2012). This imposes real costs on the country by requiring more oil imports and money spent on fuel.

Quest for change

PCFV has been working with Kenyan officials to adopt cleaner fuels that can support less polluting, more efficient vehicle technologies. In 2005, Kenya eliminated leaded petrol and 10 years later introduced lower sulphur fuels.

In 2012, the GFEI partners entered into an agreement with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to promote fuel-efficient vehicle policies. A baseline study was undertaken involving government agencies, civil society and the private sector represented by General Motors.

The GFEI study findings were released in April 2015 by Joseph Njoroge, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, and Joseph Nganga, Director General of the Energy Regulatory Commission.

As a result of this work Kenya has committed to supporting the importation of more fuel economy vehicles through changes to vehicle import taxation. Further work is now underway with GFEI to consider a feebate and vehicle labelling system, which would complement the taxation by further promoting the importation of fuel-efficient vehicles.

A global effort

The GFEI also provides a global platform where countries can learn from each other’s successes. The feebate scheme proposal in Kenya is based on the experience of a successful scheme in Mauritius, with those involved assisting the Kenyans in developing it.

The work of the GFEI, PCFV and StR is growing in significance globally. GFEI was showcased as a model initiative of real action and impact at the recent global climate talks in Paris (COP21), where it was described by Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, as “a model alliance that should inspire other sectors”. From an initial four pilot countries GFEI is now providing support to 65 nations to help them move towards a cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicle fleet, and to make the savings in resources, fuel imports, CO2 and air quality which that can generate.

Health expert's view

Dr Lucy Muhia is a public health specialist with more than 20 years’ experience in clinical services, research and management. She is currently Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the University of Nairobi health services. She has lived in Nairobi for 30 years and has four children.

“The roads around Nairobi are very congested – especially in the mornings from 6am. A distance that can be covered in 20 minutes may take two to three hours when the traffic is heavy. To avoid the jams I wake up at 4-5am.

“In heavy traffic, there are more emissions from vehicle fumes and more health effects on those people held up in it due to prolonged exposure. My research for the GFEI showed that over 90 per cent of respiratory diseases in Nairobi are likely to be due to air pollutants.

“There is an urgent need to develop policies and plans that enforce laws and regulations to protect health and ensure the safety of vulnerable groups, mitigating the adverse effects of vehicle emissions.”

This article was originally published in the 15th edition of Auto magazine.