CHIKA OKEKE, in this report, highlights the severe health threats posed by air pollution.
It is estimated that about 4.3million people die prematurely due to indoor air pollution yearly, while 4.2 million deaths are recorded annually as a result of exposure to outdoor air pollution.
This is the major reason for increased cases of respiratory illnesses, cancer and eye problems both in children and adults globally according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO report also pointed out that 91 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeded WHO guideline limit.
The 2005 WHO air quality guidelines hinted that by reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m) that the pollution could cut air pollution-related deaths by 15 per cent.
It was also revealed that 3.8 million die yearly as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels mostly in developing countries.
Burning fuels such as wood and coal in inefficient stoves or open hearths leads to health-damaging pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), methane, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
Regrettably, air pollution is a major public health concern and the fourth-largest threat to human after high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.
Findings by LEADERSHIP showed that about 95, 000 Nigerians die annually from firewood smoke.
Investigation revealed that sources of emission leading to air pollution in Nigeria are traceable to manufacturing industries, generators, cars, municipal and agricultural waste and among others.
It was also discovered that households that relied on polluting fuels and devices also suffer a higher risk of burns, poisonings, musculoskeletal injuries and accidents.
Given the dicey situation, stakeholders have advocated the use of clean cookstoves and the need to phase out rickety vehicles.
The director of climate change, federal ministry of health, Dr U.M Ene-Obong, pointed out that more 50 percent premature deaths on children under five years linked to pneumonia are caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.
This is even as he attributed the 3.8 million premature deaths annually from non-communicable diseases like stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer to exposure on household air pollution.
He stated that over 4 million people die prematurely from illnesses attributable to household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.
The expert hinted that new WHO air quality model showed danger spots adding that 92 percent of world population live in places where limits of air pollution exceeded WHO limits.
He said that both indoor and outdoor air pollution caused 6.5 million deaths annually, more than the number killed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and road injuries combined.
Ene-Obong was optimistic that the ministry would contribute to attaining the goals of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Lending her voice, the chief executive officer of Mary-Elika Foundation, Dr. Mary Manzo called on federal government to promote and subsidise biogas as an alternative energy source to reduce the use of fuel wood triggering air pollution.
Manzo pointed out that alternative means of cooking and heating both at homes and small scale industries would not only reduce fuel wood consumption but would create a conducive environment.
She stated that constant vehicle inspection by the Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS) and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) was an important preventive measure towards reducing air pollution saying that it would compel drivers to service their cars regularly.
Manzo suggested that rickety vehicles emitting smoke should be banned from plying the road stressing that improvement in power supply would drastically reduce the use of gasoline generators that are common sight at home, business premises, offices, and industries.
She harped on the need for Nigeria to adopt the use of renewable energy generating sources that could harness regular electricity supply to the teeming population.
“Regular waste collection and disposal will also ensure that the waste will not decompose and generate bad odour in the environment,” she added.
Manzo stated that manufacturing industries operating in urban centers should adhere strictly to various air control legislations enacted in the country, just as she enjoined National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to ensure that industries complied with pollution control regulations.
She listed the major sources of air pollution in urban centres as vehicle exhaust, gasoline generators, fuel wood, industrial emissions, domestic and industrial wastes,
She added, “The improper disposal and ineffective management of municipal solid wastes and industrial wastes creates major environmental and aesthetic problems in most of Nigeria’s urban areas.”
The chief executive added that due to over-population and increased slum settlements that most municipal areas generated more wastes that could be disposed easily.
She advocated for continuous public enlightenment on hazards associated with dwelling in a polluted environment, lamenting that control measures for air pollution in urban centers have not substantially reduced air pollution.
Manzo maintained that environmental non-governmental organisations should form pressure groups for the purpose of creating awareness on environmental issues stressing that they should pressurise the government to take decisive action against pollutants.
She emphasised that since large percentage of people in the urban centers used fuel wood for cooking and heating in addition to small-scale industries, that burning of wood has become a major source of indoor air pollution in the country.
“Major industrial centers in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano and Kaduna which specialised in oil and gas, chemicals, cement, textiles, iron and steel, plastics release large quantities of gaseous wastes into the air,” she said.
She said that the use of gasoline generators released poisonous carbon monoxide into the air, noting that greater concentration of people in one area would increase air pollution.
A study carried out by group of cardiologists linked air pollution to be the leading cause of heart attacks, just as the current permissible levels of air pollution are unsafe and should be lowered.
The study revealed that the hearts of people living in polluted areas were discovered to be weaker than those that regularly breathe cleaner air.
The study further found evidence of harmful effects even when levels of pollution associated with diesel vehicles were less than half the safety limit set by the European Union.
Recall that a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that the mortality rate attributed to air pollution in the UK was 25.7 per 100,000 people, compared to just 0.4 per 100,000 in Sweden and 14.7 per 100,000 in Spain.
Surprisingly, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) has been handling issues related to monitoring of air quality with levity.
In an interview with newsmen, the Gombe State coordinator of NESREA, Mr Wuave Daniel, noted that NESREA was partnering with other relevant agencies to check air pollution through a gas emission control programme aimed at improving air quality in the country.
Nigerians are yet to feel the impact of the partnership given the high number of emission troubling the country.
However, the federal government has revealed plans towards the reduction of anthropogenic activities that had contributed to deteriorating air quality especially in urban areas.
The minister of state environment, Ibrahim Jibril, disclosed this in Abuja at a stakeholders’ workshop organised by the ministry in collaboration with Centre for Science and Environment India on clean air action planning strategy and implementation in Nigeria.
The minister, who was represented by the permanent secretary, Alhaji Shehu Ahmed, said that the purpose of the meeting was to critically examine issues of clean air action plan and its implementation in some cities that were heavily polluted as well as its health implications that has reduced human productivity, increased health budget and led to loss of lives.
The minister recalled that some stakeholders in Nigeria and West African sub-region have adopted the use of low sulphur fuels to guarantee clean energy.
He noted that the ministry through NESREA has reached an advanced stage towards the implementation of National Vehicular Emission Programme.
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