Air pollution as serious a threat as communicable diseases in Africa: Report

Average life expectancy in central, west Africa would be 1.2 years lower, and a total of 677 million person-years would be lost, if high pollution levels persist

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 28 July 2020

Air pollution was rivalling communicable diseases in the central and west Africa region, posing just as serious a health threat. The average person in the region is exposed to particulate pollution levels double the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to report by The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). 

The report came out on July 28, 2020.

If the high particulate pollution levels persist, average life expectancy in the regions would be 1.2 years lower, and a total of 677 million person-years would be lost, relative to if air quality met the WHO standard, according to the report. 

The Air Quality Life Index data in the report was averaged across all women, men, and children globally, and covered period between 1998 and 2018.

The report said:

While Asian countries rightly receive the most attention for air pollution, African countries also rank among the most polluted countries in the world. In the last decade, Benin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo have all been among the top 10 most polluted countries in one or more years.

In Lagos, home to 20 million people, permanently reducing particulate pollution to meet the WHO guideline would increase life expectancy by 2.9 years. In the Niger Delta, which has faced the impact of oil refineries, many of which were illegal, life expectancy is three years lower than what it would be under the WHO guideline.

“Old vehicles running on high sulfur content fuel, open waste burning, and diesel electricity generation in the absence of a reliable grid are also sources of air pollution in cities throughout the country,” it said.

A comparison with other environmental health risks and prominent communicable diseases shows that air pollution is as serious a concern. For example, in Nigeria, air pollution is second only to HIV / AIDS in terms of its impact on life expectancy — cutting off more years than malaria and water and sanitation concerns.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was second only to malaria. In Ghana, it ranked as the deadliest of these threats, and in Cote d’Ivoire it shortened life by about the same amount as those communicable diseases.

However, the report pointed out that the problem is rarely acknowledged.

“For example, when the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt was covered in soot beginning in November 2016, it took four months and public outcry before a state of emergency was declared. This, in a country where the government’s response to the Ebola crisis has been praised for its promptness and effectiveness,” the report said.

Further, the region has only three real-time air quality monitoring stations to provide transparent pollution data to the public. “As a point of comparison, about 200 of these monitors exist in India, a land mass smaller than Central and West Africa,” it said.

With Africa projected to see more rapid growth in energy consumption and an increase in coal consumption, unless action is taken to address the emissions generated by economic and household activities, one would expect particulate pollution to rise along with the emissions, it said.

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