Last updated: 23 February 2019 12:02 PM (GMT)
By Muntaka Chasant | 1416 words | Reading time: 5 min
Smoking of fish over an open fire with wood at Jamestown, Accra, Ghana/ November 2018
AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA
Dangerous levels of toxic air, mainly from car exhaust, rubbish fires, road dust and soot from biomass-fuelled cookstoves, is killing thousands of people in Ghana every year, figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal.
Air pollution is linked to around 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year, with developing countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and India worst impacted.1
Ghana’s annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 far exceed WHO guidelines by as much as three times - 31.1 micrograms per cubic meter [μg/m3] of ultra-fine particles of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter which are known to pose the greatest threat to health as they can clog human lungs.
The WHO recommended annual guideline for PM2.5 is 10 μg/m3.
All publicly available data ranks the capital Accra the city with the worst air pollution in Ghana.
The PM2.5 annual mean concentrations in Accra in 2016 was more than 5 times above the safe limits set by the WHO - 55 μg/m3.
The PM10 annual mean concentrations in Accra in 2015 was one of the worse in the world (172 μg/m3 compared with the WHO annual guideline of 20 μg/m3).
AIR QUALITY MONITORING IN GHANA
Ghana suffers from a serious lack of air pollution exposure information. Ghana does not have a real-time or near real-time public air quality information.
Air quality monitoring (non-continuous) in Ghana is limited to only 15 locations, all in the Greater Accra Region. None for the rest of the country’s 15 regions (including the 6 newly created).2
Ghana's EPA only monitors particulate matter. No nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide or any gaseous pollutant.
To make it worse, Ghana's EPA does not issue any form of air quality alerts to the public.
Lack of real-time air quality monitoring networks, exposure information, reliable data and awareness could be contributing to mortality and disease burden attributable to air pollution in Ghana.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA?
Ghana’s dirty air (both indoor and outdoor) is characterized by:
1. Toxic smoke from car exhaust. Example - ’trotro’ and taxis. 'Trotros’ are a popular form of transportation in Ghana. Mostly old and rickety, these minibuses clog roadways and fill the lungs of urban dwellers with deadly fumes.
Air Pollution in Ghana, Accra, Ghana/ February 2019
2. Open burning of residential trash. Ghana’s waste management system is likely one of the worst in the world (mainly due to dysfunctional municipal services).
Many areas in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, are usually littered with trash, especially plastics.
Due to this poor waste management practices, residents sometimes burn trash in the open, sending toxic fumes into nearby homes, businesses, etc.
3. Biomass burning. Many Ghanaians still rely on solid fuels such as charcoal and wood for cooking in open fires and leaky stoves indoors and on the streets (food vendors).
Wood-based biomass is the most dominant source of energy in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) - more than 80% of households in the region- according to a study by the World Bank3.
See also: Pictures: The Rwandan Genocide
Biomass burning emits soots especially inside homes, and these are known to cause heart disease, pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, and other cardiorespiratory diseases.
Indoor or household air pollution kills close to 4 million people prematurely worldwide every year. 4
Smoking of fish over an open fire with wood at Jamestown, Accra, Ghana/ November 2018
4. Dust from unpaved roads. Residential road networks in Ghana are mostly unpaved (like in the photo below and worse):
Dusty Roads in Ghana. Pantang Hospital, Ghana's top psychiatric hospital - Accra, Ghana/ January 2019
Other sources include bushfires, Harmattan and pollutants from industry.
The AirMask & Textiles Company identifies the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump as a major source of air pollution in Accra.
Scrap workers at the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump regularly burn insulated copper wires, alternators, refrigerator coils, old electronic components, radial tires, etc. to recover copper, steel and other precious metals.
This “urban mining” of rare earth metals at Agbogbloshie releases a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals into Accra’s air, exposing the city’s population living downwind of the smoke to serious health risks.
See also: Agbogbloshie and Air Pollution in Accra
Agbogbloshie and Air Pollution in Accra, Accra - A short film
Agbogbloshie - A short film
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA?
Air pollution is a leading risk factor for premature death in Ghana.
Globally, air pollution is responsible for about 25% of all adult deaths from stroke, 24% from heart disease, 43% from Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 29% from lung cancer, WHO estimates show.
Ghana’s disease burden attributable to air pollution-related deaths increased substantially between 2012 and 2016.
“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”
These are some annual mortality estimates for Ghana:
1. Air pollution causes about 28,000 premature deaths in Ghana every year - WHO7
2. More than 15,000 premature deaths in Ghana in 2017 were due to air pollution, according to updated estimates from the Health Effects Institute (HEI), the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME), the University of Taxas at Austin, and the University of British Columbia8
NUMBER OF DEATHS ATTRIBUTABLE TO AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA (1990-2017)
Image above plots air pollution-related deaths in Ghana between 1990 and 2017.
You might expect death rates to increase when pollution levels increase. Not true in all cases.
Your risk of premature death from air pollution is determined by a number of factors - the exposure level is only one of them. Your overall health, quality of life and your country’s standard of healthcare, are a few factors.
Increased pollution exposure does not always imply increased mortality rates. Countries with poor ranking healthcare system generally experience increased death rates (when air pollution levels are high or even stable) as opposed to countries with better healthcare systems (even when pollution levels are high).
People in poorer countries generally tend to have less access to health services.
This partly explains why more people die from air pollution in poorer countries than in rich economies.
Take developed countries for instance - they experience only small impact from wood-based biomass fuel, in contrast, to say SSA where majority rely on dirty solid fuels such as charcoal and wood.
Where do you think more people would be dying from indoor air pollution - Canada, Ghana or Guyana?
WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS FOR AIR POLLUTION IN GHANA?
Ghana’s environmental laws already provide frameworks to tackle the country’s dirty air problems.
1. Simple enforcement of existing laws, for instance, should be able to stop Korle Bu, Ghana’s premier healthcare facility, from burning waste openly inside their own premises (photo below), and also remove vehicles which do not meet emission and efficiency standards from Ghana’s streets.
Open burning of waste inside the premises of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana's Premier Healthcare Facility/ 10 March 2018
2. Air quality assessment is critical to tackling air pollution in Ghana. Without data showing national or international air quality standards are being breached, there would be no urge for authorities to act on air pollution levels.
3. Ghana’s EPA should regularly issue air quality alerts to inform the public and sensitive populations (including older adults, children and those suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease) about pollution levels in Ghana.
3. Efficient public transport system could help to reduce traffic congestion in Accra, Kumasi and other urban areas.
4. City authorities could also consider placing restrictions on the most polluting cars entering city centers. Why haven't Ghana considered zero-emission zones yet?
5. And it's time Ghana removes vehicles which do not meet emissions standards from its streets.
See how cities around the world are tackling air pollution in this link: Air Pollution Killing More People in Ghana
“Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains,” says Dr Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
Air pollution in Ghana cannot be deferred to tomorrow's agenda, as existing standards have failed to protect public health. Tightening pollution controls and enforcing already existing environmental laws could improve air quality and save thousands of lives every year.
See also: Videos and Photos of Agbogbloshie, Ghana
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1. http://web.unep.org/environmentassembly/air (Retrieved October, 2018) ↩
2. https://asic.aqrc.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk3466/files/inline-files/Emmanuel%20Appoh%20-%20Ghana%20%20International%20Plenary%20Presentation%20at%20%208am%20of%2014%20Sept%202018.pdf (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
3. https://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTAFRREGTOPENERGY/Resources/717305-1266613906108/BiomassEnergyPaper_WEB_Zoomed75.pdf (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
4. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/household-air-pollution-and-health (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
5. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
6. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/255336/9789241565486-eng.pdf?sequence=1 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
7. http://breathelife2030.org/city-data-page/?city=4385 (Retrieved October, 2018) ↩
8. https://www.stateofglobalair.org/data/#/health/plot (Retrieved October, 2018)↩