A recent report by the World Health Organisation revealed that air pollution causes no fewer than seven million deaths every year globally.
Even more troubling is that Nigeria bears the greatest burden in Africa and the fourth highest in the world, with 150 persons out of every 100,000 Nigerians succumbing to polluted air every year.
Only Afghanistan, 406; Pakistan, 207, and India, 195 deaths per 100,000 people edge Nigeria on this score. Some highly industrialised countries fare better: China, 117 deaths per 100,000 people; Russia, 62; Germany, 22; United Kingdom, 21; the United States, 21; Japan 13; and Canada, 12.
According to the recently released annual State of the Global Air Report published by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), air quality in Nigeria and at least 10 other countries is among the deadliest anywhere on earth, with higher than ambient air pollution death rates as a result of the environmental hazards combined with extreme pollution sources like generator fumes, vehicle emissions, bush and refuse burning among others. Other sources of air pollution include gas flaring from oil exploration. Of particular concern is the case of black sooth that has settled over significant portions of Rivers State and neighbouring areas, and the concomitant ill health affecting the residents.
In the WHO report of 2016, Onitsha, Kaduna, Aba and Umuahia were among four of the 20 African cities with the worst air quality in the world.
WHO measures air quality by examining the annual mean concentration of Particulate Matter (PM) in nearly 3,000 cities across the world with populations of at least 100,000. Onitsha’s average annual PM was 594 – nearly 30 times more than the WHO-recommended annual level of 20. Kaduna, Aba and Umuahia cities were ranked among the top 20 worst cities, coming in 8th, 9th and 19th positions respectively.
There are two types of air pollutants – gas pollutants (e.g. carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, etc.) and particles in the air which find their way into the lungs.
Air pollution is said to have a uniquely damaging effect on children globally, with 93 percent of under-15 children breathing toxic air daily. Also, one in four under-five deaths were linked to air pollution in 2016. They are particularly affected due to their smaller size, their breathing faster and operating closer to the ground and nearer to the pollutants. Apart from death, air pollution affects their cognitive, motor and lung development, in addition to leading to premature births and under-weight children.
In adults, air pollution causes one-quarter of all deaths from heart disease, 25 per cent from strokes, 43 per cent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29 per cent from lung cancer.
After smoking, high blood pressure and poor diet, air pollution is the fourth-highest cause of deaths worldwide with most deaths occurring in developing countries. More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths reportedly occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
Developed countries have recorded more success in reducing emissions and air pollution levels than poorer nations, some of which are completely unconcerned about their pollution levels.
Across the world, the population that relies on solid fuels has dwindled, but not so in Nigeria, with a large segment of the population still relying on firewood and charcoal. Even worse, over 70 percent of the fuel in the country is generated from fossil fuel.
Hence, air pollution from indoor sources is recognised as the single largest contributor to the negative health effects of air pollution in Nigeria. As a result almost every Nigerian is exposed to air pollution levels exceeding WHO guidelines by 20 times and inflicting health burdens leading to mortalities.
As a newspaper, we wish to point out that air pollution is a silent mass killer, insidiously snuffing out the lives of many without their knowing it. Apart from unfortunate people who die directly from inhaling noxious generator fumes, the death caused by air pollution is imperceptible.
At the heart of the matter is the lack of awareness among the citizenry of the dangers posed to their lives by air pollution. There is the need to increase public awareness of air pollution and the burden of diseases that it inflicts on individuals, families, and the society as a whole.
Quite another is the poor, or totally absent, pollution control measures. Often, environmental protection officials chase after street hawkers and abandon their very important responsibility of protecting the environment from harmful practices that pollute the air. They need to change their operational focus. Other regulatory bodies need to step up their game.
Also the government must summon the political will to end gas flaring in Nigeria, in addition to promoting clean energy for use in households.
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