A brief review of air pollution in Nigeria and how cities around the world are taking bold and urgent steps to tackle poor air quality
By Muntaka Chasant | 1,239 words | Reading time: 4.5 min
• More than 108,000 people died from air pollution in Nigeria in 2016, the top in Africa – HEI & IHME database
• Onitsha, a port city in southern Nigeria, had world’s worst air (PM10 pollutants) in 2016
• Outdoor air quality monitoring data is not usually available for Nigeria
• Nigeria's air quality monitoring agency does not issue air quality alerts to the public
• Nigeria has a mortality rate for air pollution of 307.4 for every 100,000 people - WHO
• Nigeria has annual mean concentrations of 46.3 μg/m3 of PM2.5 pollutants, 4.5 times above WHO guidelines.
While many low-and-middle-income countries are tightening pollution controls to reduce public exposure to the toxic air hanging over their cities, the air pollution levels in Nigeria remains dangerously high with no relief in sight.
The air pollution levels in Onitsha, a port city on the bank of the Niger River in southern Nigeria, is still at health-damaging level. Onitsha recorded the world’s worst levels of PM10 (particles of less than 10 micrometers) air pollutants in 2016 with an annual mean concentration of 594 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3 ), 30 times above World Health Organization (WHO) annual guideline of 20 μg/m3.1
Air pollution was responsible for about a million premature deaths in Africa in 2016.2 Major sources of air pollution in Nigeria include fumes from vehicle exhausts, smoke from open burning of residential trash, road dust, industry and soot from the use of inefficient cooking stoves paired with solid fuels.
The Health Effects Institute (HEI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME) database shows that more than 64,000 people died from household air pollution in Nigeria in 2016, mainly from the burning of solid fuels such as charcoal and wood indoors.3
Nigeria’s annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 (ultra-fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometers which can clog human lungs) level is far worse, as the country’s air contains more than four times as many of the deadly PM2.5 pollutants as WHO’s guidelines (46.3 μg/m3 compared with WHO's annual guideline of 10 μg/m3 ).4
Nigeria has mortality for air pollution of 307.4 for every 100,000 people, the second worst in all of Africa. More people die from air pollution in Nigeria than in South Africa, Kenya and Angola combined.5
Air pollution is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) worldwide, causing about 24% of all adult deaths from heart disease, 29% from lung cancer, 25% from stroke, and 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), WHO estimates show.6
What are some recent research findings on air pollution?
A growing body of evidence links exposure to air pollution to pregnancy and birth-related problems, including preterm births. More than 3 million premature births across 183 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, could be linked to air pollution, a study has found.7
According to a new WHO report on Air pollution and children health, more than 90% of the world's children under the age of 15 years are exposed to PM2.5 levels above recommended limits. About 600,000 children died in 2016 from air pollution (mainly from acute lower respiratory infections), the report reveals.
The new report confirms the findings of other studies: pregnant women who are exposed to polluted air are likely to experience pregnancy and birth related-issues including preterm births. Poor air quality also impacts children's neurodevelopment and cognitive ability.
“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected.” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.
HEI and IHME database shows that more than 108,000 deaths in Nigeria in 2016 were attributable to air pollution. This was the highest in all of Africa.10
NUMBER OF DEATHS ATTRIBUTABLE TO AIR POLLUTION IN NIGERIA (1990-2016)
The graph above shows Nigeria’s air pollution-related deaths between 1990 and 2016. Despite the decline from 2000, poor outdoor air quality remains a significant health risk, with thousands of premature deaths annually. The graph plots show air pollution-related deaths were higher in Nigeria than in any African country in 2016.
NUMBER OF DEATHS ATTRIBUTABLE TO HOUSEHOLD AIR POLLUTION (HAP) FROM SOLID FUELS IN NIGERIA (1990-2016)
The plots above show indoor air pollution related-deaths in Nigeria between 1990 and 2016. It has been on the decline since 2000 but remains one of the highest in the world.
Here are some countries in the West Africa sub-region with high annual PM2.5 exposure levels:
Constructed by ATCMASK.COM with data from WHO
See also: Videos and Photos of Agbogbloshie, Ghana
Agbogbloshie - A short film
Air pollution is responsible for about 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year with poorer countries in Asia and Africa worst affected.11
Many developing countries are not measuring the quality of the air they breathe. Information on outdoor PM2.5 was only available in 8 of 47 countries in Africa.12 It appears only Senegal has submitted the most recent air quality data (2017) to WHO's 2018 database on PM10 and PM2.5.13
High-income countries, particularly those in the Americas, Europe, and part of the Western Pacific region, have the lowest air pollution levels.
How are cities around the world tackling air pollution?
Many developing cities are racing to limit air pollution levels in urban areas. When the Chinese Government decided to control air pollution levels during the 2008 Olympic Games, researchers in a study of Beijing children before, during and after the Games observed significant lower pollution levels during the period of the Games. This shows that interventions by city authorities could bring significant relief for urban dwellers.
Improved cooking stoves (Patsari) are showing reduction in respiratory symptoms in rural Mexico, another study found.
The city of London in 2018 introduced a daily special tax (Toxicity (T) Charge) of £10, on top of other charges, for the most polluting vehicles entering the city. Madrid recently banned old cars in its city centers. Paris and other European cities also plans to ban diesel cars by 2025. German cities have already started implementing limits on polluting cars.
"Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”
Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!
Note: This article is frequently updated to reflect recent findings, worldwide news and updates on air pollution.
1. http://www.who.int/airpollution/data/cities/en/ (Retrieved October, 2018) ↩
2. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/ (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
3. https://www.stateofglobalair.org/data/#/health/plot (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
4. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
5. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272596/9789241565585-eng.pdf?ua=1 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
6. http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412016305992 (Retrieved October, 2018) ↩
8. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510810 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
9. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0263-3 (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
10. https://www.stateofglobalair.org/data/#/health/plot (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
11. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
12. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/05/90-per-cent-of-the-planet-is-breathing-in-polluted-air-world-health-organization/ (Retrieved October, 2018)↩
13. http://www.who.int/airpollution/data/cities/en/ (Retrieved October, 2018)↩