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Is Africa’s air pollution worse than we thought?

Air pollution in Africa is not only caused by factories and vehicle emissions. Picture: Supplied.

Air pollution in Africa is not only caused by factories and vehicle emissions. Picture: Supplied.

Air pollution in Africa has led to the premature deaths of 712,000 people every year. This amounts to more deaths than those who die as a result of unsafe water, malnutrition and unsafe sanitation. These facts were recently presented by the World Health Organisation at a conference in Somerset West in the Western Cape.

Carlos Dora from the World Health Organisation’s Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health department told Quartz Africa that that air pollution in Africa is “a very big problem”.

Dora’s conference presentation was about how Africa’s rapid urbanisation will affect the health of thousands of citizens.

He said that in countries which had many industries, factories, cars and power stations were often pinpointed as key polluters.

However, an important “deadly threat” that many were unaware of was the use of paraffin. He said this liquid is widely used in homes throughout Africa to provide light and to cook, but was most harmful and that many did not know this.

Who is most affected?

Dora said people in impoverished areas on the outskirts of cities were the worst affected as city officials are often unable to provide services at the rate that these rural communities expand.

He said that in such communities where homes are built closely, coal fires were another danger. “Without proper waste removal, people often burn their garbage, emitting even more toxins into the air,” he told Quartz.

Pollution solution

Dora said renewable energy would be pivotal in reversing the damage of air pollution throughout Africa.

The solution to reducing air pollution was said to be complex and will require all industries including urban planners, and the waste management, transport and energy sectors to work towards a solving what could quickly become a “health crisis”.

Air pollution statistics

  • Air pollution causes over a quarter of deaths by non-communicable diseases globally.
  • It can lead to a host of illnesses including pneumonia to dementia.
  • The annual number of deaths from outdoor air pollution rose by 36% between 1990 and 2013.
  • Indoor air pollution rose by 18% during the same period.
  • In 2013, outdoor air pollution cost Africa $215 billion and indoor pollution cost $232 billion.

Source: Quartz Africa

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