Air pollution has become a major health hazard across Nigeria. Regulators must wake up to their responsibility
Contrary to what most Nigerians may think, the chill in the air across the country is not a return of the Harmattan. The Air Quality Index is 401 and rated ‘hazardous’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO). While we await response from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMeT) on this new chill and possible high rate of air pollution, there is an urgent need for Nigerians to take necessary precaution and keep themselves safe. The quality of air is so bad that WHO experts have recommended people to wear pollution masks, and use air purifiers if possible. They are also advised to close windows, do with indoor ventilation, and avoid needless outdoor activities.

Air pollution, which is the presence of one or more contaminants in the atmosphere, such as dust, fumes, gas, mist, odour, smoke, or vapour, in quantities and duration, can be injurious to human health. Breathing in these pollutants, according to WHO, leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, immunosuppression, and mutagenicity in cells throughout our body, impacting the lungs, heart, brain, among other organs and ultimately leading to disease. From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate across the globe. Our main concern is about Nigeria.

Only recently, a report by Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), an international resource watchdog group, says Nigeria has some of the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of choking soot hanging over gridlocked cities, leading to a rise in serious health conditions. The unsophisticated refining process adopted in the creeks is a case in point. This sends up impurities into the atmosphere, leading to the kind of problem that has been witnessed in recent years. Cities that the SDN report listed as most affected by this challenge 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, and respiratory diseases in the country.

It is noteworthy that the bad quality of fuel imported and used in the country has been a source of concern. Besides, in most Nigerian cities, 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 the shores of the nation 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 which triggers catastrophic weather events that destroy lives and property.

In 17 countries across Africa, air pollution contributes to more than 50 per cent of pneumonia deaths. Most of these deaths are among children. In November 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that many children below five years old in Nigeria die of (outdoor) air pollution-related pneumonia and of household air pollution-related pneumonia. UNICEF’s staggering figures put Nigeria as having the highest number of air pollution-related child pneumonia deaths in the world. According to UN agency, “almost 185 children under the age of five die every day from pneumonia due to air pollution in Nigeria – the majority of them from air pollution in the household, including that from cooking over open fires or cookstoves in the home.”

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 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. But there is a seeming lack of the political will to implement the regulations.

Related Articles