Among many of Africa’s urgent matters, another problem seems to be worsening rapidly. The level of air pollution on the continent is a cause for concern because it is deadlier than people think. African cities are urged to implement green solutions to help curb this ‘silent killer.’
The Health Effects Institute (HEI) released a new study on Thursday, 27 October, titled The State of Air Quality and Health Impacts in Africa. The study outlines the current state of Africa’s air quality and its impact on health in Africa. It includes information from the Global Burden of Disease Project and a recent global assessment of air pollution sources.
“Pollution from fine particulate matter, household burning of solid fuels, and ozone is responsible for millions of early deaths each year and an estimated 1 in 9 deaths worldwide,” the report states. The study further adds that air pollution is the second leading risk factor for deaths in Africa. In addition, persons exposed to such pollution for extended periods risk suffering from illnesses like ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Air pollution also poses significant threats to unborn babies who could, as a result, be born prematurely. In addition, young children face the possibility of lower respiratory infections, impaired cognitive development, and brain disorders such as dementia.
Ambient fine particle air pollution, also known as PM.2.5 (airborne particles measuring 2.5 µm or less in aerodynamic diameter) is the most consistent and robust predictor of deaths from cardiovascular (heart), respiratory (lung), and other diseases in studies of long-term
exposure to air pollution,” the report elaborates. This type of pollutant comes from the domestic combustion of solid fuels; use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas, etc.) in power generation, industry, and vehicles; semi-industrial sources (e.g., artisanal mining); agriculture, savannah, and forest fires. And open waste incineration.
Nations in Africa’s northern and western regions have added pollution from dust from the Sahara Desert. Research shows that natural occurrences of dust storms affect the levels of PM.2.5 significantly. Therefore, “Current evidence indicates that exposure to it can be a significant risk factor for allergic lung diseases such as asthma in children and adults.”
Traces of dangerous pollutants such as carbon monoxide and black carbon are found in homesteads that rely mainly on an open fire for cooking, hot water, etc. Therefore, people are often forced to use materials like coal, wood, dung, and kerosene in spaces with very little ventilation. The study names the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Niger, Mali, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, and Guinea Bissau as the ten countries that use solid fuels the most. In addition, more than 97% of the population in these countries cook with such energy.
Africa’s future in terms of urban pollution is bleak. “Most countries in Africa lack national
air quality standards,” the study states. Moreover, there is little to no progress in many regions, especially low-income regions, as they cannot afford to establish and maintain air quality monitoring stations. Statistics indicate one monitor per 0.37 million people in high-income countries compared to one monitor per 65 million people in low-income countries.
Some of the country’s actively implementing green solutions include:
- Egypt: The Greater Cairo Air Pollution Management and Climate Change Project launched in 2020 aims to modernise existing systems and reduce pollution from waste incineration.
- Ethiopia: the United Nations Environment Programme installed five ground-based quality sensors around the capital in 2019.
- South Africa: Air pollution is now a violation of constitutional rights. In 2021, South Africa implemented and formalised its dedication to the Just Transition Framework, which aims to ensure a low-carbon