Only Kenya and Tanzania are using low-sulphur fuel, as their three East Africa Community counterparts dither in what could be denying the region billions of dollars in health savings, a UN agency said last week.
The United Nations Environment Programme said if the low-sulphur fuel was used more widely, sub-Saharan Africa could realise less health hazards, while annual health related expenses could be reduced by $6 billion and $43 billion in the next 10 years.
The Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) — a leading global initiative promoting cleaner and more efficient fuels and vehicles in developing countries — set a 500 parts per million target for the sulphur content in fuel last October.
Kenya is leading the region in adopting the fuel, which is estimated to contain 95 per cent less sulphur compared with diesel.
The initiative is co-ordinated by the Unep and supported by the governments of the US, the Netherlands and Canada.
The sulphur level in Kenya though, is still high compared with 10 ppm set by developed countries.
But it is the lowest in East Africa — a region still struggling with heavy combustible fuel with high levels of sulphur.
Last month, Tanzania set up a similar level of 500ppm of sulphur for its diesel. Uganda, with its fledgling oil industry is expected to adopt the same, so are Burundi and Rwanda.
Vehicles using low-sulphur fuels emit fewer pollutants such as sulphur oxides, soot and smoke particles which are thought to trigger respiratory as well as cardiovascular diseases and pose an increased risk of lung cancer.
The World Health Organisation estimates that almost 800,000 people die prematurely each year due to urban air pollution — with the majority of deaths occurring in developing countries.
Unep executive director Achim Steiner, hailed Kenya’s move saying it was a pointer that the country was joining other nations keen on ensuring a friendly environment.
“Removing lead and cutting the sulphur levels of transportation fuels in Africa and beyond is among the key successes of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, with enormous benefits in terms of reduced air pollution,” said Mr Steiner during the official launch of the low-sulphur diesel in Nairobi.
Another partner working with Unep towards pumping cleaner fuel, United States Environmental Protection Agency, praised East African countries and particularly Kenya for leading the way in adopting the universally accepted fuel.
“By switching to lower sulphur diesel fuel, Kenyan leaders are working to ensure that their air is cleaner, their people healthier and their future more prosperous,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, in a statement.
In Kenya, PCFV is working with the government and the oil industry towards the supply of low- sulphur diesel.
Assistant Minister for energy Magerer Lang’at said the government was fully committed to enabling the use of cleaner fuel.
“We are considering upgrading the country’s oil refinery, which will allow us to hit the 50 ppm target, a milestone not only for Kenya but for East Africa. This project is crucial to improving the health of our people and that of the planet” said Mr Lang’at.