According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people in Uganda are more likely to die from air pollution than those in Tanzania, Rwanda, and twice as likely as those in Kenya. The burden of disease (mortality and morbidity) attributable to air pollution in the country has been on the rise in recent years, with Kampala, Uganda's capital, having the second worst air in Africa, according to the AirVisual's 2018 World Air Quality Report. More precisely, the mortality rate for air pollution in Uganda was 155.7 for every 100,000 in 2016 [1]. In accordance with the WHO’s guidelines, the air quality in Uganda is considered unsafe with the most recent data indicating the country's annual mean concentration of PM2.5 is 50 µg/m3 which exceeds the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3 [2].

The most polluted areas are within cities or industrialized parts of the country. Pollution in the country, specifically air pollution, threatens lives and livelihoods through the health impacts. For instance, indoor air pollution – a common phenomenon in Uganda, causes a high number of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases [3] and is attributed to a large dependence on conventional technologies and fuels for cooking and lighting [4].


There are various sources of pollution in Uganda including those due to agricultural, industrial, and municipal waste discharges, dumping, and e-waste. The waste pollutes and alters fragile ecological systems and causes bio-accumulation and bio-concentration of harmful chemicals in organisms, which poses a grave threat to human livelihood [5]. For example, pollution from the use of pesticides associated with cotton production and malaria prevention (residual indoor spraying), herbicides used on tea and tobacco production and pollution associated with urban areas all pose potential threats to biodiversity, if not regulated by guidelines.

Major contributors to poor air quality in Uganda include manufacturing, vehicle emissions, and waste burning. Available data indicates that Kampala and Jinja have consistently high levels of air pollution [2].  The increased number of vehicles (poorly maintained) has undermined the air quality especially in the cities. In addition, over 95% of households use charcoal for cooking, which causes harmful emissions[6].

The high population growth in Uganda has led to an increase in sewage and waste in urban settlements as well as to increased effluents from factories and high energy demands, that are highly dependent on wood fuel, intensifying the water and air pollution. Moreover, the discharge of industrial effluents into water systems including rivers and lakes as well as the runoff from agricultural lands and urban settlements, bringing with it the chemicals leached from these areas, pollute water systems and negatively affect aquatic biodiversity. In addition, high nutrient contents caused by fertilizers or other nutrients result in eutrophication. Point and nonpoint source pollution has put much pressure on Lake Victoria, hindering transformation of the lake vegetation, navigation and increasing loss of economic benefits for fishermen and tourism as well [4]. However, the introduction of polythene bags has significantly increased terrestrial and water pollution, particularly in urban areas.


Key policies and governance approach

The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995) has as objective XIII the requirement to the State to “protect important natural resources, including land, water, wetlands, minerals, oils, fauna, and flora on behalf of the people of Uganda”. Moreover, Article 245 provides for Parliament to enact laws intended to protect the environment from abuse, pollution and degradation as well as for managing the environment for sustainable development [5]. Various policies and Acts have been developed in Uganda aimed at regulating or reducing pollution. For instance, the air quality standards and regulations are under the National Environmental Act (2018) [7].

Furthermore, in 2015, the Kampala Pollution Control Task (PTF) force was established. The PTF is coordinated by KCCA and comprises of governmental and private sector actors. The PTF aims at strengthening cooperation between both the member regulatory agencies as well as between the public and the private sector. The priorities of the task force include the following: (i) Establish an information exchange and collaboration platform among key government agencies to jointly engage the public and private sector regarding legal provisions and regulations on wastewater discharge and pollution control; (ii) Initiate campaigns to enhance industrial compliance to DWRM/ NEMA permit regulations regarding wastewater discharge; (iii) Conduct joint industrial assessments and disseminate pollution monitoring information to the public and private sector; (iv) Engage potential priority polluters and the public sector in a Public-Private Dialogue, on wastewater management and pollution control to increase  awareness and trust and (v) Promote transparency of policy making, regulation, and enforcement in order to empower stakeholders to act as partners of government authorities/agencies[5].

Under Uganda’s Vision 2040, the environment and waste management are pledged to be emphasized in line with the integrated physical planning models. This will entail strict control of pollution, wetland management, waste management and promotion and protection of green areas, open spaces and corridors. At the same time, over the Vision 2040 periodical efforts will be undertaken to attain a green and clean environment with no water and air pollution while conserving the flora and fauna and restoring and adding value to the ecosystems [8].


Successes and Remaining challenges

Uganda continues to face challenges related to air, chemical and water pollution causing impacts on human health and livelihoods. Thus, several measures have been put in place to increase the regulation of major polluters. However, Uganda still grapples especially with the problem of managing urban solid waste, with the percentage of non-managed waste going up from 24% to 52% in 2017/18, and up from 65% to 70% in 2015/16 [9].

Moreover, the country lacks real-time, sufficient and publicly accessible air quality monitoring network. Scarcity of reliable data and air pollution exposure information is a major issue in Uganda [1].


Initiatives and Development Plans

In June 2021 Uganda joined the Clean Seas Campaign, demonstrating the country’s commitment to curbing the flow of marine litter and plastic waste entering lakes, rivers, and the ocean. The Clean Seas Campaign, launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2017, has been a catalyst for change, transforming habits, practices, standards, and policies around the globe [10]. In the Clean Seas Campaign context, Uganda is one of 30 countries represented in the Tide Turners Plastic Challenge, a Clean Seas Campaign initiative that educates young people around the world about marine litter and plastic pollution, giving them the tools to change their behavior, inspire their communities, and create a better future for the planet. In 2021, Uganda also joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, aiming to improve air pollution monitoring while heightening the ambition of the NDCs.  

As a major initiative, Uganda’s government has put in place measures to sensitize the public on the dangers of indoor pollution and it is also trying to scale down on the importation of reconditioned vehicles and motorcycles (boda boda) to urban centers, which are the major drivers of increased Particulate Matter (PM 2.5). The country is also trying to implement the use of energy efficient means of transportation [11].


Goals and Ambitions

Current government efforts focus on[9]:

  • decreasing the level of pollution in the large water bodies, atmosphere, soil and land;
  • developing and implementing ecosystem management and restoration plans;

and restoration of the degraded fragile ecosystems (riverbanks, bare hills, rangelands, and lakeshores).


[9], [12]

Key areas of curbing pollution include:

  • strategic interventions for sustainable urban mobility to tackle widespread air pollution in cities like Kampala.
  • high impact opportunities for the country lies in the need to build sustainable local value chains for clean and efficient cooking solutions as one way of addressing indoor air pollution
  • growing market demand by raising awareness of their health, economic environmental, and gender benefits of good air quality and waste management.
  • ramp up investments in the infrastructure for energy and waste management
  • strengthening of local distribution supply chains for cleaner fuels developing tiered standards for efficiency.