Study identifies areas in Uganda where residents are most vulnerable to air pollution

map of Uganda
Map of Uganda showing the total social vulnerability index scores by subcounty
Kampala, Uganda
Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Photo by Rod Waddington

A new University of Florida study published in the journal Atmosphere pinpoints geographic locations in Uganda where residents are most at risk of exposure to fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which can have serious health impacts.

Drawing from census data and global PM2.5 estimates, the team created a social vulnerability index, or SVI, to identify areas within Uganda with high vulnerability and exposure to air pollution. It is believed to be the first SVI developed in the context of air pollution in East Africa.

“The social vulnerability index showed there was high vulnerability among populations that live in rural areas, are in low-income households, use polluting fuel as a light source, have poor housing structure, limited access to health facilities, and limited education. These areas were distributed widely across the country, but more prominent in the northern region, which is mostly rural,” said the study’s lead author Kayan Clarke, a doctoral candidate in environmental health in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health.

In Uganda, ambient PM2.5 sources can be attributed to the country’s rapid urbanization, industrialization, increasing vehicle ownership and the burning of biomass for domestic energy use, the authors write.

In vulnerable areas, targets for interventions may include addressing social issues related to housing and access to health facilities, improving public communication, implementing proper garbage disposal, and shifting the main light source to one that is less polluting, Clarke said.

“Further research needs to be conducted in other African countries as they are typically areas where high SVI and environmental contaminants converge,” Clarke said. “Additionally, future research needs to explore the toxic effects of pollutants in these vulnerable communities.”

Clarke’s co-authors include her mentor Tara Sabo-Attwood, Ph.D., an associate dean and chair of the department of environmental and global health; Kevin Ash, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of geography; Eric Coker, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Provincial Health Services Authority in Vancouver, British Columbia; and Engineer Bainomugisha, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the department of computer science at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.