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Air Pollution In Africa Leads To 1 Million Deaths: Report

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Air Pollution In Africa: Africa is reeling under a grave health impact of air pollution, according to a new study by the US based research organization, Health Effects Institute. Some of the African countries are suffering with the highest levels of air pollution in the world (HEI).

The report, The State of Air Quality and Health Impacts in Africa, offers an all-inclusive study of significant sources of air pollution and also their health impacts among the African population.

The new report that came a month ahead of United Nation’s COP 27 Climate Change Conference in Egypt, found that the second major cause of death in Africa is air pollution. Five of the ten most polluted countries in the world are African. They have a higher fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Outdoor PM2.5 is the most reliable predictor of fatalities from cardiovascular, respiratory, and other disorders in studies of long-term air pollution exposure. An estimated 1.1 million fatalities in Africa were attributed to air pollution in 2019, with exposure to household air pollution being to blame for 63% of those deaths (HAP).

Air Pollution: Children face severe health risks

A main reason behind spreading diseases in Africa is inaccessible clean energy that is, its uneven distribution. In areas of East, West, Central, and Southern Africa an estimated 75% of the people use solid fuels like coal, wood, and charcoal for cooking which exposes them to high concentrations of harmful pollutants daily.

While these lethal pollutants are produced at homes, newborns and very little children are especially vulnerable. In 2019, 14% of all fatalities among African children under the age of five were attributed to air pollution. Infants can have severe health impacts including lung development issues and growing vulnerability to communicable diseases such as lower respiratory infections. These can be mostly long-term health impacts.

Caradee Wright, the Chief Specialist Scientist with the South African Medical Research Council, said, “This report gives evidence of the substantial threat air pollution poses to the health, and even life, of babies and children under the age of 5 years. This vulnerable group needs special attention to mitigate their exposures, for example, through policy and intensive awareness campaigns with practical solutions for mothers and caregivers.”

Air Pollution Sources in Africa

Various sources behind PM 2.5 present in other parts of the world also exist in Africa, these are solid fuels, fossil fuels (used as coal, oil, and gas), for energy production, vehicles, industrial and semi-industrial activities such as artisanal mining, agriculture, forest fires, and open waste fire pits. Blowing dust is also a big contributor to PM 2.5 in some areas of Africa.

Air pollution sources and health consequences can vary greatly across the continent. Western Africa has the highest average concentration of PM2.5 pollution at 64.1 g/m3, while Southern Africa has the lowest at 26.5 g/m3. The use of fossil fuels contributes up to 41 per cent of total outdoor PM2.5 levels in Southern Africa, but only 11 per cent in Eastern Africa.

African countries come in action

As air pollution levels are increasing, countries in Africa are conducting diverse programs to eradicate the effects of air pollution. Till yet, 17 African countries have imposed national air quality policies, while many others are taking action on air pollution sources, specially household air pollution, as part of their country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

In 2019 in Africa, energy access was at its lowest, with just a little less than one in every 20 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda, and Tanzania owning access to clean cooking fuels.

Countries are unable to precisely track their progress towards reaching air quality objectives and requirements due to a lack of ground-level monitoring stations.

Dr Patrick de Marie Katoto of the Catholic University of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, said, “Air pollution greatly contributes to the rising frequency of chronic noncommunicable diseases in Africa, putting further strain on a health system already stretched by chronic infectious diseases and, more recently, COVID-19. These findings call for the African Union and member states to promote, plan, and fund air quality interventions to prevent unnecessary disabilities and deaths throughout the continent.”

Relation Between Air Pollution and Climate

As the world’s nations converge in Egypt for the COP27 climate negotiations next month, Africa will take into account how energy transitions can be planned to be effective, economically viable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. A complicated discussion on energy, climate, air quality, and health is required to address this problem. A continent-wide initiative called “Agenda 2063” has been endorsed by African Union nations as well. It outlines a strategic plan for achieving the organization’s objective of inclusive and sustainable development for all citizens by the year 2063. Africa will gain from better public health and decreased greenhouse gas emissions as a result of these difficulties.

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