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Air Quality Patterns Associated with Changes in Energy Use during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Kenya

C. Ang'u1, N.J. Muthama1, M.A. Mutuku2 and M.H. Mutembei3

1University of Nairobi, Wangari Maathai Institute, Kapenguria, Kenya; +254 704 739 039, E-mail: cangu@uonbi.ac.ke
2University of Nairobi, School of Public Health, Nairobi, Kenya
3University of Nairobi, Department of Clinical Studies, Nairobi, Kenya

The COVID-19 response measures adopted by most countries include lockdown, restricted movement, and other containment measures. These measures imply that most people spent more time indoors than previously. On the other hand, energy use in the transport sector has reduced significantly. Due to low electricity access levels in developing countries, traditional energy sources form the bulk of energy used for most domestic energy services. Traditional energy sources emit Carbon Monoxide (CO) during combustion, and their increased use over relatively shorter periods is likely to affect CO concentration levels in the atmosphere. This study investigated the short-term effects of COVID-19 on CO and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration levels in Nairobi, Vihiga, and Kenya's Tana River counties.  The study utilised data on CO concentration, NO2 column concentration, and COVID-19 reported cases. Time series, correlation analysis and spatial and temporal map analysis were carried out to investigate changes and relationships among the study parameters. The three counties were selected based on urbanisation and population. Nairobi county represented urban settings while Vihiga and Tana River counties represented high and low rural population density areas, respectively. CO concentration levels in Nairobi and Vihiga county significantly correlated with COVID-19 cases, with Vihiga county portraying a positive correlation (0.84, p-value 1.6x10-4). Nairobi portrayed a negative relationship of -0.50 (p-value, 0.05) while that of Tana River county turned insignificant. NO2 anomalies were mainly below the long-term average during the COVID-19 period. NO2 column concentration in Vihiga county portrayed a significant positive relationship with COVID-19 reported cases. These findings highlight the need for demographic and economic considerations in CO and NO2 assessment and allude to decreased health risk in urban areas and increased health risk in densely populated rural areas due to emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Correlation and scatter plot between COVID-19 and CO concentration level.