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Air Pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa 

Air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa 
Air pollution is the release of pollutants into the air that are harmful to human health and the environment. Such pollutants could be gases, particles or biological molecules. The slightest increase or decrease in the structure of gases could lower the survival chances of any living thing. Air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa is a particular challenge that requires attention.

Why Are Low-Income Populations Home to Air Pollution?

“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low-and middle-income countries the hardest,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The relationship between poverty and air pollution in sub-Saharan countries is evident since poor people are most likely to be exposed to higher concentrations of air pollutants. In contrast, high-income countries seem to have a lower rate of exposure to air pollution.

Environmental experts Paul Mohai and Robin Saha conducted a study in 2015. It examined the U.S. communities before and after hazardous waste facilities were present. The study found that facilities between 1966 and 1995 chose to locate in areas with low-income family populations.

Mohai and Saha believe that facilities move into low-income areas because of the cheap land cost, low cost of labor and minimum community resistance. The presence of these facilities and air pollution leaves low-income countries to face the consequences.

What Are the Health Effects of Air Pollution?

Air pollution holds the largest environmental impact on human health. It can cause a reduction in lung growth and function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma in any child exposed. According to CNN, all adults are at risk for developing cancer, chronic bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases.

More specifically, cardiovascular disease is an ailment that plagues sub-Saharan Africa due to household air pollution. Solid fuels for cooking, heating and lighting are the main perpetrators of this disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), household air pollution (HAP) was responsible for 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Research proves that the level of HAP surpasses the recommended WHO guidelines and the number of people exposed to pollutants has increased from 333 million to 646 million.

Respiratory ailments are very common amongst children in cities with high concentrations of pollutants. According to the Open Knowledge Repository, this impairs their learning and development capabilities. Unfortunately, as adults, they end up with minimum qualifications and skills. With little education and experience, they struggle economically and live life in poverty.

Treatments are available for many of the ill-health issues that occur with air pollution. However, living in low-income countries makes access to affordable health care impossible. The relationship between ill-health and poverty seems inevitable because of this fact.

Disadvantaged people are unable to afford health care, making poverty an obstacle to overcome before receiving adequate care. As a result, families have to deal with the loss of income from out of pockets fees. To care for relatives, some family members may have to quit school or their jobs. Thus starts the never-ending cycle of struggling low-income families.

Air Pollution Monitoring

There is a significant problem with air pollution. However, the exact extent of the problem is unknown and immeasurable due to the lack of monitoring. Aware of the situation in 2019, Dan Westervelt, an associate researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory received funding to install an air-pollution monitoring network in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Kampala, Uganda; and Nairobi, Kenya. Westervelt believes that the problem of air pollution cannot reach a resolution without quantifiable data.

Monitoring provided data in Kinshasa, depicting the average fine particulate matter level to be five times greater than the normal level. Like Kinshasa, more data will be provided in the other two megacities and studied in order to address the air pollution epidemic.

Updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines

Luckily, the World Health Organization provides guidelines to ensure good health. After 15 years, WHO updated its guidelines to improve air quality. The new guidelines specify the damage that air pollution causes the human body. Their solution to revitalize human health is to reduce levels of key air pollutants and emissions.

Six pollutants could have major impacts on health if exposed to them. Those pollutants are “particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.” Fossil fuels, wildfires and agriculture produce particulate matter.

Ground-level ozone comes from the emittance of cars, factories, plants and even some solvents. Burning fossil fuel produces nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollutants. Incomplete combustion containing fuel creates carbon monoxide pollutants.

If countries stay below-suggested air quality guideline levels, significant health risks could decrease. Although this may have a small impact on communities with low rates of air pollution, it would immensely impact those suffering from higher rates. With lower rates of air pollution, disadvantaged communities could have a higher survival rate and fewer health challenges.

Air pollution dominates those who are unable to afford higher quality living. Additionally, to that inability, health issues burden them further which in return starts the cycle of some poverty in sub-Saharan Africa countries.

WHO’s updated air quality guidelines have a goal to eliminate future problems of air pollution and save millions of lives. With these guidelines, air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa should reduce and sub-Saharan countries could inevitably see improvement in their quality of life.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr