Breathing dirty air is bad for human health; it affects the, heart, lungs and brain. Globally, air pollution causes over a quarter of deaths by non-communicable diseases ranging from pneumonia to dementia. In recognition of this fact, many developed countries have taken on legislative action and adopt policies to clean up their air but many developing countries are yet to take follow the path of these developed country. Many developing countries face very high level of pollution from a combination of manmade and natural sources.
Africa, it seems have just recently come to the realisation of the effect of bad air in the environment and to health. Thought the scale of the problem is not easily quantifiable because of the absence of air quality monitoring systems on ground in many African countries. Almost nothing is known about the pollutants emerging from many African cities and it impact on weather systems, crops, and public health at large. However ongoing research has shown the direct link between air pollution and infant mortality.
Air pollution consists of chemicals or particles in the atmosphere that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere thereby posing serious threat to the environment or heath. While natural sources of air pollution such as volcanic eruption, wild fire, or wind-blown dust is not rare in Africa, most air pollution results from human activities.
The causes of air pollution in Africa is hidden in plain sight; car exhaust, wood burning, garbage burning, the use of kerosene stoves, over dependence of African nation on generators (both diesel and PMS), petrochemical plants.
Particulate matter, one of many air pollutants, is believed by many experts to be the most harmful to human health. Particulate matter refers to small particles suspended in the air, including dust and black carbon originating from such sources as fossil fuel and biomass burning.
Research shows that dirty air leads to death of roughly 712,000 Africans each year. This is more than the toll of unsafe water, malnutrition, and unsafe sanitation. According to a Stanford study, exposure to particulate matter led to 400,000 preventable infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Also 500,000 children under the age of five years died from pneumonia in the same region that same year; air pollution is known to be the leading cause of pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, for children that make it pass the age of five, air pollution can stunt brain development, trigger asthma and cause strokes and cancers later as adults.
Also, evidence has linked air pollution to pregnancy and birth related problems; including pre term birth. More than 3 million premature births across 183 countries mainly in Africa and Asia could be linked to air pollution.
According a recent report by WHO; “every single child on the African continent under five years old is breathing air tainted by levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution higher than the World Health Organization air quality threshold.” The death rate attributed to pollution per 100,000 children living in Africa’s low-income countries is 184.1, compared with just 0.3 such deaths in high-income countries in America and across Europe.
If countries in Africa could achieve reductions in particulate matter exposure similar to wealthy countries, the benefits to infant health could be larger than nearly all currently used health interventions, such as vaccinations or food and water supplements.”
Some countries, however, are starting to act. In Uganda, where cars emitting black exhaust fumes are a common sight on the roads, a draft law proposes to ban imports of vehicles older than eight years. The bill, already approved by Uganda’s cabinet, aims to curb imports of used Japanese cars that are seen as a major source of pollution in the urban areas.
While many African nations are tightening pollution control to reduce the public exposure to toxic air, the air pollution level in Nigeria remains dangerously high with no relief in sight. Last year, the World Bank reported that 94% of the population in Nigeria is exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines, as compared to the 72% average in Sub-Saharan Africa in general.
According to HEI & IHME database; “more than 108,000 people died from air pollution in Nigeria in 2016. This is the highest in Africa”. Nigeria has mortality for air pollution of 307.4 for every 100,000 people. More people die from air pollution in Nigeria than in South Africa, Kenya and Angola combined. It was reported than more than 64,000 people died in the house from burning solid fuel indoor in 2016.
Lagos; a city that house over 21 million persons, smog has become another aspect of city life. Majority of residents live near industrial plants, breathing in exhaust from thousands of cars and millions of generators proving power to the city.
Onitsha; a city few outside Nigeria will have heard of , has the undignified honour of being labelled the world’s most polluted city for air quality, when measuring small particulate matter concentration (PM10). The city has an annual mean concentration of 594 micrograms per cubic meter. This is nearly 30 times above WHO guidelines.
Major sources of air pollution in Nigeria include; fumes from vehicle exhausts, smoke from open burning of rubbish, road dust , industry, and soot from the use of inefficient cooking stoves paired with solid fuels.
Air pollution knows no class because we all breath the same air; both the rich and the poor, therefore it is a threat to us all. If urgent action is not taken on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.