Raising issues with Nigeria’s air quality and standards
• NESREA Should Enforce Environmental Standard
For the umpteenth time, Nigeria has been in the news globally for the wrong reasons.The World Health Organisation (WHO), recently rated Onitsha as world’s most polluted city for air quality, when measuring small particulate matter concentration (PM10).
The other three cities shamed in the WHO report for high PM10 levels are the transport hub in the north, Kaduna, which came fifth, followed by the cities of Aba, which came sixth and Umuahia, which emerged in the16th position. They are both trade centers in southern Nigeria.
But Nigerian environmental experts have disagreed with the report, saying, however, that some of the cities’ levels of pollution are increasing because of rapid economic and industrial development without the appropriate technology. At home, due to sporadic electricity supplies, many Nigerians rely on generators, which spew out noxious fumes often in unventilated areas.
To arrive at the ranking, WHO compared a total of 795 cities in 67 countries for levels of small and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) during the five-year period, which started from 2008 to 2013.
PM10 and PM2.5 include such pollutants as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and into the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health. Data was then analysed to develop regional trends.
The primary source of data include, official reporting from countries to WHO, and official national and sub-national reports and websites containing measurements of PM10 or PM2.5. Measurements reported by the following regional networks were used: the Clean Air Asia for Asia and the European Environment Agency for Europe’s Air Quality e-Reporting database.
In the absence of data from previous sources, data from UN and development agencies, peer-reviewed journal articles and ground measurements compiled in the framework of the Global Burden of Disease project were used.
Annual mean concentrations of particulate matter (PM10 and/or PM2.5) based on daily measurements, or data, which could be aggregated into annual means, were included in the database. In the absence of annual means measurements covering a more limited period of the year were exceptionally used.
The major causes of urban outdoor air pollution are from ‘mobile’ sources (cars) and ‘stationary’ sources (smoke stacks), all of which make significant contributions to urban ambient air pollution. Other major sources include exhaust fumes from vehicles, emissions from manufacturing facilities (factories) and power generation (smoke stacks of coal fired power plants).
Also in those cities, where residential use of coal and wood for cooking and heating is permitted, the emissions from households using these fuels can make an important contribution to the levels of outdoor air pollution.
Ambient air pollution, made of high concentrations of small and fine particulate matter, is the greatest environmental risk to health—causing more than three million premature deaths worldwide every year.
“Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
WHO noted that most sources of urban outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demanded action by cities, as well as, national and international policymakers to promote cleaner transport, more efficient energy production and waste management.
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 that air pollution damage costs about 1 per cent post of Gross National Income.
The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, told The Guardian: “I believe this is the time for Nigeria to set up comprehensive monitoring systems in our cities. Onitsha may have once been the most polluted, but right now, no city can compete with New Delhi, India.”
The Executive Director, Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria), Leslie Adogame corroborated his views, saying, “I am not aware Nigeria’s pollution level has exceeded that of New Delhi in India or that of China. I have also not come across any recent report to that effect, but if there is any such, it is alarming. Just as it is not possible for me to momentarily confirm how right the assessment is, I cannot also say it is incorrect.
“This is because ambient air pollution is scientifically measured by certain parametres (SPM) using appropriate sampling devices called air samplers and this levels are compared to a national or international average. It is not visibly possible to adjudge an environment to be concentrated or polluted with SPM, unless such measurement is done.
“In the case of Onitsha, don’t forget that it is the major gateway and hub to the east axis with very high concentration of vehicular traffic with mainly diesel engines (trucks, lorries and trailers) emitting very high volumes of suspend smoke, black carbon (soot) and dust particles jam-packed within a small location of the city, with only one access route inward and outward. Since WHO reference of this pollution is PM10 concentration, then it means the most likely source would be a combination of smoke soot and dust particles, as a result of high traffic,” Adogame said.
But Bassey said: “Without adequate and verifiable measurement systems, any figure mentioned for Nigerian cities must be very approximate guestimates. Again, I doubt that Onitsha could have the most polluted air among the cities in Nigeria, especially considering that some other cities, such as Warri and Port Harcourt are heavily impacted by toxic emissions from gas flares, refineries and petrochemical complexes.”
Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba, another environmentalist and Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Ebonyi, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI), also chaired this view. “But of the Nigeria cities mentioned, I doubt if Onitsha is more polluted than Lagos and Aba. Onitsha has improved significantly in the recent years. If that is the case, then we may extrapolate globally and doubt the position attributed to the WHO.”
According to Bassey, “there is no doubt that the air quality of our cities is not the best. First, the fumes from the automobiles on our streets are enough to thoroughly compromise our air quality. This is further compounded by the quality of the refined petroleum products that are imported into the country.
“Nigeria needs to carry out a comprehensive environmental audit. We need to have a baseline in order to ascertain when things change and also know the direction of the change. As an emergency measure, government can obtain and further analyse whatever data the WHO has.
“That would reveal possible sources of the particulates and also indicate what steps need to be taken to ameliorate the situation. Whatever is the case, we cannot say this too often: our people are choking on gas flares and toxic fumes from bombed and burnt bush refineries.”
Nwajiuba, who was the immediate past Executive Director, Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST), said what could have prompted the pollution is weak governance manifesting in uncoordinated urbanisation and industrial development, citizens socialisation and therefore attitudes inconsistent with the imperative of what should be the modern society.
He listed environmental challenges facing these cities to include, urban concrete jungles, unregulated urbanisation, as well as, unenlightened citizens that are not equipped to operate in the environments that have emerged away from the traditional village settings that worked and consumed essentially organic.
He said: “The bulk of the citizens in these cities now reside, work and consume non-organic, but without the required attitudes, and no governance to direct the situation.”
The FUNAI VC advocated orientation and enlightenment, while incorporating the needs and attitudes of the people in city planning, as well as, enforcement of such plans.
“Many people are still at the level of village residents, who wrap their foods with leaves and casually fling them into the nearby farm. But these decay because it is organic, and add to soil fertility. For someone driving along a street in Victoria Island, who is stuck in a traffic hold up, and buys Ice cream and throws the wraps out through the windows, is another matter entirely. It all boils down to the mental development of all of us,” Nwajiuba added.
For Adogame, “environmental standards established by National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) need to be enforced from the point of view of ambient monitoring. It starts with the kind and state of vehicles (diesel or petrol) that should be road worthy to the enforcement of environmental standards. Same goes for industrial emissions in urban settlements, especially around residential areas. But the question remains: what is Nigeria’s air quality status and standards?”
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