SEATTLE, Washington — Even with a lack of air-quality sensors compared to Europe and North America, cities across the African continent routinely see some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world. Were more sensors to be placed in cities around the continent, it is likely that the situation would appear even worse. Air pollution is currently the greatest cause of premature deaths in Africa, higher than unclean water, bad sanitation and childhood malnutrition. Air pollution can lead to chronic lung conditions like bronchial asthma and leads to a greater probability of developing lung cancer. As the continent’s population balloons and more people move into cities, the effects of air pollution on population health will grow more dire. Electric buses in Africa may be the answer.
Pollution in Africa
One of the main causes of the pollution crisis in African cities is the nature of motor vehicles in Africa. They are often second-hand vehicles from abroad that are older, more inefficient and pollute significantly more than vehicles in developed countries. In order to reign in pollution, African governments need to more tightly regulate vehicle pollution and invest in efficient public transport options. Governments should need little incentive to do so as the long-term economic and health costs of air pollution outweigh any current gains. In 2013, the U.N. estimated the cost of ambient air pollution across the continent at over $200 billion. Africa needed cheap vehicles from abroad to begin its process of modernizing but to continue to do so into the future is unsustainable.
Electric Buses: Addressing Pollution in Uganda
Kampala, Uganda is a prime example of a city that needs to fix its pollution crisis. On certain days it ranks as the most polluted city in the world. The Ugandan Government and its motor company, Kiira Motors, see the situation as both a crisis and an opportunity. Kiira is currently finishing construction on a factory 50 miles from Kampala which will produce the first electric buses built in Africa. The factory will create thousands of jobs and has already helped some members of the rural poor in Uganda because it gave them access to the new road, electric and water infrastructure which connects the factory to Kampala.
Currently, 99% of electric buses are produced in China and exported around the globe. By building electric buses in Africa, Kiira Motors can reduce the cost of the vehicles and make them more attainable for cities in developing countries. The company believes that up to 90% of the materials and parts will be able to be extracted and produced domestically. Kiira has set a goal of producing 5,000 buses per year beginning in mid-2021. If successful, the company should see plenty of buyers as countries across Africa are instituting policies that are more favorable to electric vehicle producers. For example, the city of Cape Town in South Africa recently committed to using only zero-emissions buses by 2025 and Rwanda is aiming to eliminate taxis that use fossil fuels.
The Kiira Kayoola Electric Bus
The typical mode of public transportation in Kampala today is 14-seat minibusses which run on fossil fuels. The Kiira Kayoola EVS bus will carry 90 passengers, over six times more passengers than minibusses and have a range of 300km on a single charge. In terms of materials, the exterior of the bus will be made using metals sourced in Uganda and the interior will include bamboo flooring and banana fiber seats. The use of natural materials in the production process should also help in reducing pollution. If the bus system is well-thought-out and the price of a ride is cheap enough, people ideally will begin to use electric buses instead of using their personal vehicles or riding in ordinary minibusses.
The production of electric buses in Africa will make them less expensive and thus more accessible to the developing economies on the continent. The use of electric vehicles and especially electric public transport systems, will reduce pollution and increase health outcomes for the urban poor. A fully electric future in Africa could save hundreds of billions of dollars per year and prevent hundreds of thousands of early deaths.
– Jeff Keare