Exposure to air pollution for small firms in African cities

Policy brief Energy, Sustainable Growth, Air pollution and Climate change

  • We collected street by street measurements of air pollution within Ugandan cities, and matched this with a novel firm survey and data on the location and size of roads.
  • We find that air pollution levels in Ugandan cities are as high as in Chinese cities, and pollution is particularly high along major roads due to road traffic.
  • We show that small firms locate on busy roads to attract customers, increasing profits but exposing their workers to substantial air pollution, with substantial negative effects on workers’ life expectancy.
  • Firms and workers engage in limited protective strategies such as wearing masks, although better managers protect their workers more. An information experiment reveals that firm owners underestimate pollution levels, and providing more accurate information can increase adaptation strategies and protection.
  • Reducing traffic emissions should be a policy priority to increase worker health. Industrial parks might also be a promising policy tool to address this problem by allowing a critical mass of firms to relocate away from congested areas.