New initiative to enhance air quality at Kenya’s athletics powerhouse

(Last Updated On: 6 February 2024)

Launched at St. Patrick’s High School in Iten, a town renowned for nurturing world-class athletes, the initiative aims to provide precise data on air quality and pollution exposure levels for athletes, optimising their training and competitive environments.

Athletics Kenya (AK), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) spearhead this initiative, focusing on integrating air quality and climate action in sports.

St. Patrick’s High School, Iten, joins more than 10 other schools in Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda participating in similar air quality monitoring programmes.

The initiative plans to extend the installation of air quality monitoring sensors to more schools across Africa.

The information from the monitors will facilitate remedial actions to improve air quality, such as developing green belts around sports facilities and encouraging community and local authority actions to minimise open waste burning and increase forestation.

Studies show that exposure to air pollution during training can affect athletes’ performance adversely. Iten, like many Kenyan towns experiencing growth, faces challenges of diminishing green spaces and increased pollution levels.

The town is not only a hub for the local community and the school but also serves as a training ground for international athletes who depend on optimal conditions for their race preparations.

Launching the initiative, the Elgeyo Marakwet County Executive Committee Member for Sports, Youth Affairs, Culture, Children, and Social Services Purity Koima, representing the governor, said:

“The accomplishment signifies our dedication to prioritising athletes’ health. We extend our gratitude to all stakeholders for selecting St. Patrick’s High School, Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet County, rightfully known as the county of champions, as the first school to adopt the gadget and one of ten in the entire African continent.”

Rose Mwebaza, Regional Director and Representative at UNEP’s Regional Office for Africa, said: “UNEP recognizes the important role played by good air quality as a conducive environment for athletes.

 The deployment of air quality sensors in stadiums across Africa is an expression of our wish that African athletes run in clean environments. This enhances their health and well-being, resulting in their continued dominance of track events.”

World Athletics Vice-President and Athletics Kenya President Lt Gen. (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei noted that the monitors would enable schools and training camps to assess air quality and measure the exposure levels of young athletes and spectators to air pollution during events and training sessions.

St. Patrick’s High School Principal, Peter Rotich, expressed his pride in the school’s contribution to Kenya’s sporting heritage and its commitment to environmental stewardship. He thanked the stakeholders for selecting the school for this initiative.

SEI Africa Centre Director Dr. Philip Osano, speaking at the event, said the collected air quality data would enhance science education, raising awareness about the environment and climate change among teachers and students, while motivating excellence in both education and athletics.

Located in Iten, St. Patrick’s High School has produced a distinguished roster of long-distance athletes over the past 30 years. Its notable alumni include more than 50 world record breakers and more than 100 Olympians, including Ibrahim Hussein.

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