Friday, 22nd September 2023

Menace of environmental pollution

By Editorial Board
31 March 2023   |   3:00 am
Absence of action by government authorities against the danger of environmental pollution faced daily by Nigerians is most probably a manifestation of the lack of official recognition of the menace of such pollution.

AIR POLLUTION… Nine out of ten people breathe polluted air every day. In 2019, air pollution is considered by WHO as the greatest environmental risk to health. PHOTO CREDIT: WHO

Absence of action by government authorities against the danger of environmental pollution faced daily by Nigerians is most probably a manifestation of the lack of official recognition of the menace of such pollution. Yet, Nigerians are daily exposed to imperceptible air, land and water pollution with their ravaging deleterious effects on their health.

The rising incidents of cancer among the populace have, for instance, been linked as evidence of the worsening pollution by experts. Government cannot afford to be complacent over this destructive phenomenon. The duty of reducing pollution from the micro to macro-environmental levels beckons squarely on governments at the local, state and federal levels.

Air pollution in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, and some other city centres, has become outrageous. Researchers have shown that Lagos’ over 20 million residents inhale daily a deadly mix of Particulate Matter (PM), asbestos, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and partially un-burnt hydrocarbons. No wonder Lagos ranks 133rd in the world’s most polluted cities.

Also, food additives/sharp practices in food production and manufacture and handling are culprits. Examples are ripening agents like carbide used by sellers of fruits to ripen fruits such as banana, pawpaw, mangoes, etc., food colouring to redden stews, palm oil, food enhancers with bleaching and carcinogenic properties, containing Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), cubed and powdered enhancers, sweeteners with aspartame, uncontrolled use of insecticides/pesticides to de-weevil grains and antibiotics, hormones in poultry and fish farming, de-furring of cattle, sheep and goats with kerosene and tires (and so many others).

These practices reportedly contribute to the death of seven million people – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO), released recently. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

Clearly, as experts warn, the situation deserves institution of emergency response. Cancer has become very common with over 90 per cent fatality in Nigeria. Cancer reportedly remains top on the list of diseases that are indiscriminately reducing the welfare and wellness of persons across the world, particularly, in developing countries like Nigeria.

In particular, research reveals a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

Insofar as air pollution persists globally among the rich and poor nations, polluted air may continue to be one of the burdens and greatest environmental threats to public health. Air pollution and climate change are closely linked as all major pollutants have an impact on the climate and most share common sources with greenhouse gases. Environmental factors include putrefying fumes released from dangerous bio-wastes and fumes from fuels used in generators, vehicles, burning wastes, cooking, etc. Environmental pollution contributes up to 80 per cent to risk factors for cancer.

Vehicular fumes and industrial fumes contribute seriously to environmental air pollution in Nigeria. Last year, the World Bank reported that 94 per cent of the population in Nigeria is exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines (compared to 72 per cent on average in Sub-Saharan Africa in general) and air pollution damage costs about one per cent post of Gross National Income (2015).

At home, due to unreliable electricity supplies, many Nigerians rely on generators, which spew out noxious fumes, often in unventilated areas. On the street, car emissions go unregulated. There is no serious roadworthiness oversight of vehicles in Nigeria, while agriculture, telecoms and oil are all driving economic growth at a certain environmental cost. All these leave the lungs in a permanent state of inflammation and could lead to serious complications.

Some areas mining Tin, Lead and Iron Ore, Coal in Enugu, etc. are all emitters that have implicated carcinogenic effects, often by direct exposure or contaminants of drinking water. The unabated pollution and gas flare has degraded both land and water surfaces, thereby rendering fishing and farming impracticable in the affected regions. To make matters worse, the few fertile portions of land have become a regular disorder between farmers and herders overgrazing and destruction of farm produce.

While cases of cancer are burgeoning, there is dearth of diagnostic and treatment facilities around the country. For decades, Nigeria has lacked comprehensive cancer centres covering the six geo-political zones of the country where cancers could obtain treatment. Mercifully, this is gradually changing with the Federal Government reportedly making significant investment into developing functional Oncology centres in Maiduguri, Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, and to some extent in a few other hospitals. There are privately funded Cancer Centres springing up in Abuja, Owerri, Calabar, Lagos, etc. These efforts should be expanded to serve more people.

Nigeria reportedly has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in the world, with approximately four out of five cases resulting in death, according to the Global Cancer Observatory. Also, 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded yearly with 250,000 new cases. The high death rate is attributed to poor health seeking behaviour, denial (it is not my portion syndrome), superstition, conviction that it is not a disease but diabolical, evil arrow, punishment of the gods, something to be ashamed of because it involves t sexual/genital areas – breast, cervix, prostate; fear of stigmatisation, brutal withdrawal of support by male spouses, fear of out of pocket payment of bills, poverty of pocket and poverty of health information, prolonged appointments.

Late presentation, which itself, is tied to the people’s fearful perception that cancer is a death sentence, due to the poor survival statistics also constitute a problem. Drivers of these appalling statistics may include factors like: limited availability of screening units, poverty, lack of proper education/awareness, poor lifestyle choices, etc., that affect health seeking behaviour, resulting in late presentation.

In Nigeria, the environment is a largely neglected issue over the years. Hence, oil pollution and gas flaring in the Niger Delta region have lasted for decades with no end in sight as the goal post to stop gas flaring continues to be shifted due to a lack of political will by the government as well as the pretext that oil industries cannot stop flaring gas so long as they prospect for oil.

It is time for the UN to work out a coherent approach and call on all countries to work together and combat air pollution. Such collective and affirmative action would save millions of lives each year, slow climate change and speed up sustainable development. It is important for the world body to monitor air pollution, make laws to implement WHO guidelines and deliver credible plans to reduce emissions from vehicles, power plants, construction and industry. It is more important for individual countries, including Nigeria, to take the campaign for clean air beyond the present rhetorical level.