Air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa

Deogratius Nsubuga

WHO defines air pollution as the “contamination of indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere”. Some common sources of air pollution are household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires.IMG_4416

Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. One may also note that outdoor and indoor air pollution cause environmental changes leading to respiratory and other diseases, which can be fatal.

According to WHO, 3.7 million deaths globally attributed to ambient air pollution, 88% of which occurred in low and middle-income countries. 95 % of people in Sub-Saharan Africa use unprocessed biomass fuels as their main source of energy for essential household activities resulting in to pollutant levels inside homes much greater than the World Health Organisation considers safe.

Household air pollution from open combustion of solid fuels indoors has been cited as the third largest risk of premature mortality, responsible for more than 108 million disability-adjusted life-years. The principal sources of indoor air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa are linked to the methods used to heat the homes, domestic activities, tobacco use and chemical products used for cleaning, building, and decorating [Zhang J & Smith K.R 2003]. Some of the other sources of identified pollution were traffic, industry, stationary fuel burners, forest fires, and solid fuel combustion. [Boama, P.O, et al 2012].

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other human anthropogenic are mostly causing global warming. This has caused more frequent extreme weather events, heavy rainfall with floods and heavy snowfall, ocean acidification and species extinction.

Possible societal responses to global warming include mitigation by emissions reduction, adaptation to its effects, building systems resilient to its effects, and possible future climate engineering.

Evidence shows that chemicals released into the air can cause adverse health effects. The associated burden of disease can be substantial, in addition to high costs of out of pocket health care costs. Therefore pollution control is an important component of disease control and it requires multi-Sectoral partnerships to identify, design and implement priority interventions.

To ensure sustainable development, environmental sustainability is key. Sub-Saharan Africa needs concerted actions to safely manage the use of toxic chemicals and to develop monitoring and regulatory guidelines.

Other interventions would be to encourage the use of biodegradable products, industries should use technologies that reduce air pollution at the source, regulation on the use of private motor vehicles, encourage the public to use environmental friendly sources of energy and also employ the principles and practices of sustainable development, coupled with local research, will help contain or eliminate health risks resulting from chemical pollution.


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