Government should enforce environmental regulations
Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria is regarded as one of the world’s most polluted cities in terms of the air quality. But the situation is not better in many other cities across the country. Available reports indicate that the average annual level of particulate matter in Nigeria is several times higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended one. According to WHO, the contributing factors to pollution “are a reliance on using solid fuels for cooking, burning waste and traffic pollution from very old cars”.
In most Nigerian cities, many vehicles with unacceptable emission standards clog the streets, oozing impurities unchecked. Majority of these used vehicles 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. Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed two years ago that children below the age of five in Nigeria die needlessly 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.
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. Cities that the report listed as mostly affected 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. Unfortunately, most Nigerians are unaware of the harmful effect of a polluted environment and how long-term exposure to it can lead to poor health and, eventually, death. The signs and symptoms of pneumonia, according to scientists, may include cough, fever, shortness of breath, sharp or stabbing chest pain, loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue.
Air pollution occurs due to many reasons, including excessive burning of fuel, a necessity of daily lives for cooking, driving and other industrial activities. Researchers also focus on the bad quality of fuel imported and used in the country, as well as the 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.
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. The regulation is expected to guarantee everyone’s right to clean air. But the government seems hesitant to enforce the regulations or lacks the political will to do so.
It is important for the government to understand the real need for a healthy environment and its impact on the nation’s health bills. A healthy environment would enable a healthy citizenry. Yet, the government has only paid lip service to the enforcement of environmental regulations and this neglect has led to the prevalence of avoidable diseases and illnesses. That must change.