Pollution: Africa’s Skies Need Urgent Action


Gorée Island, a small island off the coast of Senegal near Dakar, was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast between the 15th to 19th Centuries. Many amateurs swim out to it every year, yet some days it vanishes from sight, lost in a miasma of dust and pollution. In Port Harcourt, Nigerian city with part of it set for oil production, black soot settles on everything. The air resident’s breath is contaminated, leaving the lungs clogged with particles.

Africa’s Skies and Premature Deaths

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 4.2m people die impulsively yearly from dirt exposure. The World Bank estimates that the cost of death due to air pollution amounts to $5trn a year. Africa is mostly affected. However, it is hard to know how bad as outdoor pollution is rarely measured.

Major Causes of Pollution

Rotten rubbish, filthy factories, and old cars fill Africa’s air with smoke. Surprisingly, it never hindered by law enforcement or environmental standards. A study conducted by the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a pressure group, observed that; Nigeria, where international commodity traders exploit weak regulations by importing fuel dirtier than the fuel produced by bush refineries in the Niger Delta and vastly more toxic than the one found in Europe, contributes largely to pollution. Rana Roy of OECD estimates that air pollution causes premature deaths in Africa than poor sanitation, malnutrition of children, or even dirty water. The WHO says that Onitsha, a city in Nigeria, is the most polluted in the World.

WHO estimates that only 0.5% of African towns and cities have access to air-quality data. This is a situation that is unthinkable in the west. In Africa, only 0.06% of children live within 50km of an air-monitoring station, unlike Europe and America, with 0.72% of their children residing near the air-monitoring station. This is risky for African children. The data collected by African cities that track air quality is, at times, sporadic. “Most of the equipment in use is obsolete,” says Kofi Amegah.

Africa’s Exception

In as much as Africa is polluted, South Africa is an exception. South Africa has quality data that is consistent and publicly available. With this public data, asthmatics and commuters can avoid the worst smog. Researchers can reckon the damage to both the economy and the individual’s health with reasonable accuracy.

Everywhere else in Africa, the little information collected is rarely made public, making it even worse. This is unreasonable because this data collected is paid by the citizens through taxes to help their public health.

Turn of Events and the Sweet Impact

Information, once known by two, is information with the potential to spread anyway. American embassies have access to public findings every day. In 2008, the American embassy released air-pollution data in Beijing. The diplomatic fight gave courage to campaigners to challenge official claims, which led to new standards, more testing, and cleaner air.

Hope at The End of a Dark Tunnel

African activists are changing the narrative by buying cheap air sensors. Local data matters for cleaner air. Thanks to four low-cost sensors provided by code for Africa, a network for an open-data activist, that made the reality of cutting pollution from factories in Syokimau, a Nairobi Suburb, come to reality. It still has a dream of installing 3000 more sensors in African cities.




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