Wanted: Clean air for healthy living
Not unexpectedly, the global celebration of clean air for healthy living was large without impact in Nigeria; no thanks to the myriad of economic, political and insecurity problems that have made other important issues look insignificant.
Yet, this country, perhaps more than most others, needs a searchlight on her environmental matters, given its huge population of about 200 million, the massive neglect of the environment and the corresponding negative impact on health. Certainly, air pollution is a problem that has not been sufficiently acknowledged as one. The time to address it concertedly should not be further postponed.
In the wake of the apparently unending air pollution across the world especially among industrial nations like China, America and Britain, the United Nations had every reason to take the gong the other day ahead of the third-year celebration of International Day of Clean Air for blue skies and called for cleaner air globally. Indeed, the UN is right to be worried as the world continues to face the ordeal of air pollution.
Over the years, the evidence base for the harm caused by air pollution has been growing rapidly and points to significant risks to the world and particularly so, to people living in lower-income countries.
In its bid to achieve cleaner and safe air globally, the UN has outlined certain steps to reduce air pollution and keep people and the planet healthy and safe. This year’s event aimed to raise awareness and facilitate actions to improve air quality around the world.
According to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, climate change and air pollution are a deadly duo. Therefore, all countries must strive and work together to combat air pollution and invest in renewable energy and swiftly transit from fossil fuel as well as rapidly move to zero-emission vehicles and alternative modes of transportation. In addition, efforts need to be made to increase access to clean cooking, heating and cooling; and recycle waste instead of burning it.
Insofar as air pollution persists globally among both the rich and poor nations, polluted air may continue to be one of the burdens and greatest environmental threats to public health even as it accounts for an estimated seven million premature deaths every year. 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.
As the UN scribe noted: “Today, air pollution is denying billions of people their rights. Dirty air affects 99 per cent of people on the planet, and the poor suffer worst; especially women and girls who suffer from cooking and heating with dirty fuels.”
Indeed, the consistent lamentations of the UN about air pollution and the gloomy picture it paints about the planet, especially with climate change belie the fact that there are regulations on air pollution which, unfortunately, many nations are not obeying.
Failure of the major pollutants to strictly adhere to regulations constitutes a major problem. The unrelenting air pollution and climate change around the world would impact negatively on the people’s livelihood and increase restiveness among regions in Africa.
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.
As expected, the unabated pollution and gas flare has degraded both land and water surfaces, thereby rendering fishing and farming impracticable in the region. 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.
The danger and health implications these portend are enormous, as people are dying from hunger and disease, much against the Sustenance Development Goal (SDG) 3 2030 that stipulates the imperative to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for people of all ages. Regrettably, neither the Federal Government nor state governments see air pollution as a national security threat.
Aside from the deadly situation in oil-producing areas, air pollution is pervasive in cities through industrial and vehicular emissions, cooking with firewood, refuse to burn, improper disposal of waste and other uncontrolled human activities. Most of these activities undermine existing laws that governments, even at the local level, could enforce but for negligence and official ineptitude. It is important for all governments to have a change of attitude in this regard.
Findings have prompted the United Nations to annually highlight the importance of clean air for blues skies. The theme for this year is, “The Air We Share,” essentially, these are mere expressions used by the international body to deliver beautiful keynote speeches and rehearse the same air pollution problems plaguing the world without holding pollutants to account.
Over the years, the world has been unable to be on the same page in tackling climate change and air pollution in order to ensure a healthy and sustainable planet. There has been no curtailment of the massive annual air pollution and climate change crisis. The consequence of climate change and the catalogue of air pollution plaguing the world is too numerous to mention.
For instance, the sustainable management of water resources and access to safe water and sanitation which are essential for unlocking economic growth and productivity should be sustained in order to fulfil the needs of the growing population as well as provide significant leverage for existing investments in health education. It remains worrisome that the issues often end up as the subject of international diplomatic discussion leaving the people and planet to suffer.
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.