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>Africa >The Air Pollution Crisis in Africa
Industries as a major source of air pollution

The Air Pollution Crisis in Africa

Air pollution has been termed ‘a silent health Killer’, with the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, calling it ‘the new tobacco’. It is a scourge that kills 7,000,000 individuals consistently, making it a more pressing threat than any other kind of pollution. Just as it affects the Global populace, it likewise impacts virtually all parts of the body.

Air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk. According to a number of recent reports and as is communicated regularly in news bulletins from Beijing and New Delhi,  the problem of air pollution in today’s world is most acute in Asia, and in particular in its two major emerging economies, China and India due to the rapid process of rapid urbanization, industrialization and motorization, Asia is the site of the greater share of the world’s emissions of several key pollutants – and an overwhelming share of the increase in pollutant emissions since 1990. Relatedly, China and India taken together account for a disproportionate share of the total of annual deaths from APMP – an absolute majority of deaths worldwide – and an overwhelming share of the increase in that total in the recent past.

The deaths and disabilities resulting from air pollution carry a quantifiable economic cost to society. As documented in recent reports from several sources worldwide, air pollution claims an annual toll of several million premature deaths and imposes thereby an annual cost of several trillion US dollars.

While air pollution in China, India, and other rising economies has become a significant space of worry for researchers and policymakers, it has acquired a great foothold in Africa where it is negatively affecting the economy and human wellbeing. Air Pollution has been causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition in Africa while significantly contributing to the climate crisis.

Causes of Air Pollution in Africa

London and Lagos have entirely different air quality problems. Compared to Lagos, in cities such as London, air pollution is mainly due to the burning of hydrocarbons for transport. Whereas in Africa, pollution is seen in another dimension. There is the burning of refuse, cooking indoors with wasteful fuel cookers, a huge number of steel diesel electricity generators, which have had the catalytic converters removed, and petrochemical plants, all pushing pollutants into the air over the communities. Compounds such as sulfur dioxide, benzene, and carbon monoxide that haven’t been issued in Western cities for quite a long time might be a critical issue in African cities.

The two major sources of air pollution in Africa are Ambient Particulate Matter Pollution and Household Air Pollution.

Top Worst Air Polluted Cities in West Africa. - West African Countries
Motor vehicles as a source of air pollution

Ambient Particulate Matter Pollutant (APMP) encompasses a broad class of chemically and physically diverse solid particles and/or liquid droplets suspended in air (aerosols). The major sources of the form of pollution are Fuel combustion from motor vehicles (e.g. cars and heavy-duty vehicles); Heat and power generation (e.g. oil and coal power plants and boilers); Industrial facilities (e.g. manufacturing factories, mines, and oil refineries); and; Municipal and agricultural waste sites and waste incineration/burning.

Household Air Pollutant (HAP) encompasses pollutants emitted by the incomplete combustion of solid fuels or kerosene for cooking, heating, and lighting are associated with serious health risks. Other Household Air Pollutants include mold, building materials, home products, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and naturally occurring gases like radon. These also pose serious health risks, and poor ventilation can exacerbate the health risks posed by all indoor pollutants.

Household air pollution causes noncommunicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. In addition, close to half of deaths due to pneumonia among children less than 5 years of age are caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.

Impact of Air Pollution in Africa

According to the United Nations, premature deaths from air pollution and growth in the urban population rose by over 51,972 from 330,742 to 394,940 just within 5 years, from 2005 and 2010; and in 2013, over 76, 662 deaths were recorded. This uninterrupted rise in the death toll from air pollution in Africa has unsurprisingly been caused majorly by which accounts for over 65% of the death tolls in 2013 as seen in the chart below.

Title: Premature deaths from air pollution, Africa, 2013
Source: OCDE|AEC

A report by UNICEF notes that deaths from outdoor air pollution in Africa have increased by 57% in less than three decades, from 164,000 in 1990 to 258,000 in 2017, resulting in a GDP loss of over $215bn annually. The pollution has also cut short the lives of children by 24 months.

The most populated country in Africa, Nigeria, experiences air pollution more awful than some other country on the landmass. The World Health Organization (WHO) records four urban communities of Nigeria among the world’s most noticeably terrible positioned urban areas for air quality. Onitsha — one of the country’s major economic hubs — tops the rundown of most polluted cities globally with a record of 30 times more particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration in the air than the WHO’s recommended levels.

A world air quality report from Greenpeace positions Nigeria as the tenth most polluted country on the planet and the most polluted in Africa; which is followed by Uganda (for Africa). In excess of 64,000 individuals kicked the bucket from family air contamination in Nigeria in 2017, mostly from the consumption of strong energies like charcoal and wood for cooking in open flames and cracked ovens.

Emissions such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury have caused more than 2,000 deaths from respiratory disease, strokes, and heart attacks in many places in South Africa, including Johannesburg.

Senegal is also struggling with highly toxic air which is seven times higher than WHO recommended threshold and Kenya’s predicament mirrors that of its neighbors, with particle concentrations twice the WHO health safety standards. Over 18,000 premature deaths in the country have been linked to air pollution, while respiratory diseases climbed to be Kenya’s number one killer, surpassing malaria.

Moving Forward

Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

With the world currently moving towards clean energy and climate change activism, leaders of African nations need to resist the temptation of fossil fuel corporations, as this way, a lot of APMP and HAP could be cut down. As urbanization and industrialization ramps up across Africa, policies must be put in place that prioritizes renewable energy and uses green technologies in urban construction.

Policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient homes, power generation, industry, and better municipal waste management would reduce key sources of outdoor air pollution; more attention needs to be given to Air pollution and its pollutant as it is now a global pandemic.

New Release: The African Economic Congress 2020 Report.