In Kigali, young students attending kindergartens and primary schools face a heightened threat from air pollution, primarily stemming from their parents’ cars and the older buses that transport them.
Dr. Egide Kalisa, a researcher affiliated with the University of Rwanda and the University of Toronto in Canada, conducted a comprehensive study into this issue.
Dr. Kalisa’s year-long research in Kigali schools exposes the peril children face during their daily commutes to and from school. Startlingly, he notes that stationary cars emit more harmful fumes than those in motion.
Mornings and evenings witness numerous cars idling in front of schools, discharging noxious fumes that seep into the educational institutions, jeopardizing the air children breathe.
Furthermore, many schools in Kigali are located in proximity to highways, intensifying the levels of air pollution children are subjected to.
Dr. Kalisa, along with colleagues from the University of Toronto, indicated that children in kindergarten and primary schools inhale exhaust fumes from their parents’ vehicles, with the concentration tripling during drop-off and pick-up times.
An alarming comparison emerged from their research, equating the amount of air children inhale at school to smoking over 600 cigarettes in a year.
The escalation of air pollution affecting children can be attributed to the inadequate ventilation systems in many schools, permitting polluted air to infiltrate learning environments. This grim scenario adversely impacts children’s health, rendering them more susceptible to respiratory diseases, lung cancer, asthma, and diminishing their academic performance.
Dr. Kalisa underscores the necessity of implementing sustainable measures to curb air pollution, especially in school settings.
These measures include relocating parked cars away from school premises, encouraging parents to switch off their engines during drop-off and pick-up times, planting more trees near schools and roads, sensitizing children and parents about the perils of air pollution, advocating for cleaner school buses, and promoting walking or high-quality bus transport for school commutes.
Furthermore, Dr. Kalisa recommends constructing schools in areas isolated from public roads and industrial zones to minimize exposure to contaminated air. Installing air filtration systems within schools to purify the indoor environment is another vital step.
He also emphasizes the importance of comprehensive awareness campaigns targeting parents, children, and school administrators to mitigate the effects of air pollution in and around schools.
Dr. Kalisa suggests the government establish dedicated bus routes for transporting children to school, thus reducing their exposure to emissions during their commute.
In pursuit of a solution, Dr. Kalisa has initiated a collaborative campaign with students from Kigali schools to encourage parents to switch off their cars while parked at school and to educate them about the dangers and effects of air pollution.
The endeavor seeks to safeguard the well-being of our most precious assets – our children.