According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an average of 4.2 milliondeaths occur every year as a result of exposure to outdoor air pollution, 3.8 million deaths occur as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cooking stoves and firewood, 25% of all heart diseases and 43% of all lung diseases and lung cancer deaths are attributable to air pollution. The World Health Organization also reports that lower respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis replaced AIDS as the leading cause of death in Africa in 2015. Presently, respiratory infections rank between meningitis and malaria as leading causes of death in Africa.
Air pollution is the release of pollutants into the air which are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. The combined effects of outdoor and household air pollution cause about 7 million premature deaths every year, which is largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections. Apart from damaging human and animal health, air pollution causes damages to the vegetation and materials on earth as the continual generation of air pollution contributes to the acidification of coastal waters which indirectly affects human and aquatic organisms.
While all regions of the world are affected by air pollution, low-income cities are the most impacted.
Onitsha, one of the biggest commercial cities in the Eastern part of Nigeria recorded 30 times more than the WHO’s recommended levels ofPM10 (particulate matter). Studies on Nigeria, carried out by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency show a moderate-to high concentration of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, organic acids, particulate matters and hydrocarbon in the atmosphere, majority of which come from automotive engines and industries.
Major contributing factors to air pollution in Nigeria include heavy reliance on fire wood for cooking; the Nigerian Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association reports that 30 million households and about 100 million Nigerians still rely on firewood as source of energy for cooking, burning waste, dust emissions from very old cars, poisonous fumes from generators, as well as Industrial houses. Over Sixty million households make use of generators on a daily basis exposing a huge population of the country to generator fumes which are a mixture of toxic and environmentally unfriendly gases, including carbon monoxide. Diesel fuel used in trucks and buses also pose a major problem as diesel fuel contains high amounts of sulfur which is highly toxic as inhalation of sulfur could aggravate illness in those with already weakened respiratory function, such as asthmatics. Industrial enterprises and thermal power station contribute substantially to the atmospheric pollution of the country. The industrial sources of air pollution resulting from the activities of cement industries, petrochemical industries and petroleum refineries are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases are also a major challenge in Nigeria. They are a group of compounds that are able to trap heat in the atmosphere.By trapping the earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases lead to warmer temperatures and all the features of climate change which includes rising sea levels, more extreme weather, heat-related deaths, and increasing transmission of infectious diseases like Lyme.
Efforts made by the Nigerian Government so far
Nigeria’s contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions are high due to rapid population growth and energy consumptions. To address this, the Federal Government has made a commitment to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030.
In past years, the government has introduced several initiatives to combat air pollution in the country. An example is the 2015 procurement and distribution of clean cooking stove, to reduce the inhalation of smoke that annually caused the death of about 90,000 women and also, to eliminate the felling of trees for firewood. Moreover,the government introduced the Green bonds, also known as climate bonds, as a fixed income securities issued to finance projects that have positive impact on the environment. The Bonds which is up to the tune of 150 million naira was created in 2016.
Another notable initiative was the creation of the Renewable Energy Programme by the Federal Ministry of Environment to ensure the reduction of gas emissions into the environment. The major objective of the Renewable Energy Programme is to ensure that all sectors of the economy adopt cleaner sources of energy. Some of the on-going activities being carried out by the Renewable Energy Programme include;
– The Rural Energy Women Empowerment Scheme (RUWES) which was created to empower ten rural women Cooperatives with the RUWES Business Model Package-tricycle loaded with the cleaner energy lighting and cooking kits.
– The National Clean Cooking Scheme (NCCS), an aggressive drive to reduce and eventually eliminate cooking with firewood and kerosene. Under this scheme, the National Assembly Intervention on Clean Cooking stoves Initiative (NAICCI) was launched and has distributed clean cooking products across Kwara&AkwaIbom States.
– The Rural Energy Access Project (REAP) was also created to ensureRural Electrification. So far, it has provided and installed Stand Alone Solar Systems for 600 households in Taraba State.
In Addition, the World Bank in collaboration with the Government is currently supporting a rapid bus system in Lagos that is aimed at reducing the number of cars on the road and to make transportation more efficient.Furthermore, the Nigerian government has recently pledged to improve environmental health by 2020 through a Pollution Management and Environmental Health Program.
Ideas for Jointly Addressing Threats
Amongst the three most important requirements (Air, water and food) needed to sustain life, air is the most important. Because of this important primary function of air, the need for access to clean air cannot be over-emphasised. It is crucial for individuals, business organisations and the government to make air quality a health and development priority. When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows.
Adverse effects of Air pollution calls for a more efficient energy production and waste management. Efficient energy production involves increasing the use of renewable power sources, like solar and wind, as well as encouraging the use of Liquified Petroleum Gases instead of Firewood. Households and Offices are also encouraged to make use of inverters and solar energy as opposed to generators which contribute a menace to air quality. Even though a cheap and readily available cleanup method, burning of crop residues also known as bush burning, is very dangerous as a lot of smoke is released and inhalation has been associated with a larger risk of lung cancer, heart attack, lung disease, stroke and heart diseases. Local Farmers need to be educated by civil society and advocacy groups on these harmful effects to their health.
The Nigerian Government, despite its enormous positive contributions to ensuring a more habitable environment, needs to increase efforts at protecting public health by regulating the emissions of these harmful air pollutants. There is a need for proper regulation of environmental pollutants in Nigeria and Africa in general. Stringent rules are required to implement the safety standards that are already in place. Erring Companies caught wrongly emitting green gases should be discouraged from doing so. A proper assessment of the sources of pollution at state levels is also very vital, which brings to fore the need for public and private sector investment in environmental research and development.
Business organisations also have vital roles to play in curbing air pollution. Industrial factories need to adopt more efficient ways of emitting gas waste as opposed to releasing it into the environment. Resources and technology can be adopted to treat this waste before releasing into the environment. These organisations can carry out their activities efficiently to prevent wastes as much as possible, as they reduce running costs.
It is in the place of the public sector to establish a more efficient and effective transportation method, using new technology and clean energy to create effective, safe and cost friendly alternatives to the current mode of transportation. Nigeria can take a cue from India with respect to the imposition of tariffs on car owners. In a bid to reduce high level of air pollution caused by emissions from cars, the Indian Government imposed a 2.5% tax on cars that run on diesel and a 4% tax on SUVs and vehicles with bigger engines as opposed to a 1% tax levy on small cars.
Finally, construction and repair works on roads should be monitored so that the rate of emissions and deposition of particulate matter can be minimized whilst residents are protected frompotential resultant health hazards. Distribution of masks to construction workers and residents as well as the adoption of land management techniques will as well, protect people from the dangers of dust storms.
As 2018 environment month runs to a close, many countries are pledging more commitments to investing in activities that can save the planet as well as impact on their society and economies, it behooves all economic, social and environmental actors in Nigeria to develop and effect strategies that will jointly strengthenthe triple bottom line of sustainability in the coming months and years.