THE AIR POLLUTION CASUALTIES
Regulators should be alive to their responsibility
A new report by a United States-based research organisation, Health Effects Institute, has listed Nigeria among five countries in Africa that are most polluted. Others are Niger, Egypt, Mauritanian and Cameroun. According to the report, some 1.1 million people died prematurely on the continent in 2019, accounting for one-sixth of the total global estimate of sevenmillion deaths from air pollution-related diseases – the second largest risk after malnutrition. Meanwhile, another report by the London-based Clean Air Fund (CAF) states that the economic costs of air pollution in African cities will increase by 600% over the next 18 years except urgent action is taken. A similar grim air quality assessment report was posted last year by Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), an international resource watchdog group.
Against the background that many reports put Nigeria among countries with the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of choking soot hanging over gridlocked cities, relevant authorities must begin to act. Cities mostly affected, according to these reports, are Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha, and Kaduna where poor air quality has reached crisis levels of pollution in recent years. There is irrefutable evidence of cause to effect, considering the rising cases of asthma, lung, heart, and respiratory diseases. Researchers have zeroed in on the bad quality of fuel imported and used in the country, as well as the equally bad quality fuel refined illegally in the creeks of Port Harcourt and Bayelsa, which, from investigation, is of higher quality than the imports. Regardless, the unsophisticated refining process adopted in the creeks sends up impurities into the atmosphere and this is driven by strong sea wind to where it can do damage to unsuspecting residents.
Across the country, vehicles with unacceptable emission standards clog the streets, oozing impurities unchecked. Majority of these are used vehicles that are close to end-of-life, meaning they are forbidden in the streets of the European and American cities from where they were exported to Nigeria. More of these vehicles are expected on our shores in the years ahead, as the developed world increases its switch to electric vehicles that are more fitting for the global quest for a reduction of emissions of CO2 that is implicated in global warming. Also fingered in the reduction of the nation’s air quality is the unwholesome practice of burning tonnes of tyres by artisans to extract wires which are sold to recyclers. Regrettably, this activity takes place mostly at night when people are asleep and most vulnerable.
Because of the dire consequences of air pollution, the federal government ought to maintain a system of rating the safety of the air in every part of the country, called the Air Quality Index. Understanding the Air Quality Index is important because it gives people vital information about the conditions of the air in their location and how that can negatively impact their health. In the absence of real time Air Quality Index, there is urgent need for the government to launch awareness programmes to call people’s attention to the harmful effect of such pollution, particularly carbon emissions from vehicles and black soot from illegal activities, as well as the danger of being exposed to the particulates.
Ordinarily, Nigeria’s air quality is expected to be governed by the National Environmental (Air Quality Control) Regulations, 2014. The purpose of these regulations, according to the federal government is to provide for improved control of the nation’s air quality to such an extent that would enhance the protection of flora and fauna, human health and other resources affected by air quality deteriorations. Regrettably, the federal government seems hesitant to enforce this regulation.