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Pollution: World Bank’s report and task before Lagos government

By Chijioke Iremeka
09 July 2022   |   4:08 am
Recently, pollution has become a major problem in many cities around the world, including Lagos, with large population and high concentration of motor vehicles.

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

Pollution is a major problem in many cities around the world, but it is worse in Lagos. The Guardian learnt that air pollution was responsible for over 30, 000 premature deaths in Lagos, with infants under 12 months accounting for half of the number. The Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) confirmed the claim to CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, even as experts differ on the figure.

Recently, pollution has become a major problem in many cities around the world, including Lagos, with large population and high concentration of motor vehicles. Lagos, the largest city in West Africa and the 21st largest city in the world with an estimated 20 million people living on an area of less than 100 square kilometres, is battling with the menace of industrial contamination and smog.

The consequence is the suffocating synthesis of air pollution, single-use plastic pollution, e-waste and solid wastes on the streets of Lagos, causing respiratory problems and other diseases among the residents. Pollution in the state has multiplicity of causes with overwhelming negative effects on humans, animals and the environment, as discovered in a recent study conducted by the World Bank groups.

The study estimated that at least 30, 000 people die every year in Lagos due to pollution, though some experts have voiced reservations about the finding. Some of them who said the figure might not be a true reflection of what obtains in the state, however, maintained that environmental pollution has grave negative effects on the environment, harming living and non-living things.

It was learnt that the World Bank Pollution Management and Environment Health Programme (PMEH) has offered to collaborate with the Lagos State government to create incentives and policies that would lead to improvement upon the air quality in the state. Air quality investment shortfalls could be curtailed through innovative investment and financing. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) Breath Better Bond, also an arm of the World Bank, has offered to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by investing in climate-friendly infrastructure projects.

The study found that illnesses and premature deaths due to ambient (outdoor) pollution caused loss of $2.1 billion in 2018, representing 2.1 per cent of Lagos State Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the same 2018, ambient pollution led to about 11, 200 premature deaths, the highest in West Africa.

It was also learnt that children under five years were the most affected, accounting for 60 per cent of total deaths, while adults suffered from heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends an acceptable annual mean Particulate Matter (PM) concentration level of 10 μg/m3, Lagos has recorded 68 μg/m3, in the same range as other polluted megacities such as Beijing (73 μg/m3), Cairo (76 μg/m3) and Mumbai (64 μg/m3). Particulate Matter, referred to as particle pollution, is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye and are injurious to health.

It was gathered that road transport is the main source of ambient air pollution in Lagos. Each day, over 227 vehicles clog each kilometre of road. Most vehicles are over 15 years old, using old emission technologies and fuel with high sulfur levels, higher than U.S. standards for diesel with the rising cases of illegal oil bunkering in the country.

According to the World Bank’s report, industrial emissions are the second source of air pollution in Lagos. Industrial and commercial zones like Apapa, Idumota, Ikeja and Odogunyan, where cement, chemicals, furniture, refinery, steel industries are concentrated, have high level of pollution. It was learnt that a particulate matter concentration of 1 770 μg/m3 was recorded in a period of 24 hours in Odogunyan, corroborating the World Bank’s report. Electricity-generating sets supply half of Lagos total energy demand and constitute the third source of air pollution. The poor combustion of the gasoline and oil used in operating the generators pollutes the air and causes huge health problems

The WHO, which defined particulate pollution as an environmental contamination that consists of particles suspended in some medium, which comes in three primary forms – atmospheric particulate matter, marine debris, and space debris– described ambient air pollution as a major contributor to mortality and morbidity.

According to the global health body, fine particulate matter is especially harmful to health because it passes lung barriers and enters the blood stream, causing premature deaths, respiratory and cardio-thoracic diseases including Asthma. WHO revealed that exposure to ambient fine particulate (2.5) caused 2.9 million premature deaths or about nine per cent of total deaths in the world in 2017. In West Africa, it was responsible for about 80, 000 premature deaths in the same year.

Sadly, the problem is particularly acute in Nigeria, which had the highest number of premature deaths due to ambient PM in the region, the World Bank reported.

A Senior Environmental Specialist in the World Bank Nigeria Country Office, who leads the Lagos Pollution Management and Environmental Health Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA), Dr. Joseph Akpokodje, said there was the need for innovative investment to reduce the scourge.

“Following an earlier World Bank study – ‘Cost Of Air Pollution in Lagos’ which estimated the health cost of the pollution to be $2.1 billion in 2018, and causing an estimated 11, 200 premature deaths in Lagos, the new study conducted in 2020/21 has revealed a worsening air quality situation in the city, requiring urgent attention,” Akpokodje said.

He said that air quality investment shortfalls could be curtailed through innovative financing, even as he revealed that the main sources of outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals.

Akpokodje canvassed concerted action by local, national and regional level policy makers working in transport, energy, waste management, urban planning, and agricultural sectors to tackle the menace.

According to him, there are many examples of successful policies and technologies in transport, urban planning, power generation and other industries that reduce air pollution, including clean technologies that check industrial smokestack emissions and improve management of urban and agricultural waste.

Akpokodje also listed access to affordable clean household energy solutions for cooking, heating and lighting; shifting to clean modes of power generation; prioritising rapid urban transit, walking and cycling networks in cities and rail interurban freight and passenger travel as innovations that could help to address the menace of air pollution.

The Guardian learnt that shifting to cleaner heavy-duty diesel vehicles and low-emission vehicles and fuel, including those with reduced sulfur content; improving the energy efficiency of buildings, and making cities more green, compact and thus energy-efficient are part of the solution.

An assessment by WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2013 revealed that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, with the particulate matter component of air pollution most closely associated with increased cancer incidence, especially lung cancer.

It was learnt that there is an association between outdoor air pollution and increase in cancer of the urinary tract/bladder, but addressing all risk factors for non-communicable diseases – including air pollution – is key to protecting public health.

Validation Of World Bank’s Report By LASEPA
In his reaction to the report that 30, 000 Lagosians are being killed annually by pollution, the General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), Dr. Dolapo Fasawe, said the World Bank’s report titled ‘Making Lagos a Pollution Free City’ was being validated.

“Unarguably, pollution is a pressing challenge in Lagos State. It has contributed to the high mortality, morbidity rates and caused respiratory problems, flooding and ultimately global warming/climate change. It is, however, worthy to note that it is a global challenge with varied localised effects and Lagos State is not exempted.

“LASEPA, in response to this global pollution menace, has in recent times put more effort in advocacy, education and information, and has gone all the way to mitigate and even plan programmes and projects that would help improve the situation.

“The agency has various advocacy programmes such as ‘Trash for Cash’ – Collect plastic from people and pay them and ban of single-use plastic (nylons). Plastic pet-bottles have been banned in LASEPA. Sustainable alternatives have been provided such as reusable water bottles (water dispensers put in key areas). There was a collaboration with Coca–Cola to swap plastic pet bottles for glass bottles within the agency,” Fasawe said.

On efforts to tackle the menace, she said: “So far, LASEPA is committed to advocacy, awareness, monitoring, compliance and enforcement of environmental laws to help curb air pollution amongst other environmental problems.

“The transport sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution according to the World Bank. To this effect, we are working closely with the Ministry of Transportation, Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) and the agency in charge of monitoring car emissions LACVIS, to reduce the menace of air pollution from traffic in the state.

“The agency is also partnering with private and strategic development partners to improve the intrinsic infrastructure and skill levels within public service, to ensure a holistic approach to air quality management. Such partnerships will help to gather baseline data on air quality and very soon, we will be able to talk about air quality real-time online and its health impact on people.

“Also, LASEPA is advocating strict adherence to set emissions standards by industries and power generation companies. It also discourages bush burning, open fire cooking and improper waste disposal/waste burning at community levels.

“Using this strategy will reduce air pollution, while enforcement of the law with fines will discourage activities that cause pollution in the state.”

An environmentalist and Chairman of Lekki State Urban Forest and Animal Shelter Initiative, Desmond Majekodunmi, said, “About 30, 000 people dying yearly is probably due mainly to the density of the population of Lagos where massive amount of small generators are in use.

“A lot of these generators are diesel-powered, and diesel fumes are more deadly because they are tiny with particular matters which go deep into the lungs, penetrate the whole metabolic system of a man and cause a lot of disease including cancer.

Why do you think China is banning diesel generators in the country? It’s because the fumes are deadly. Other countries in Europe have followed suit.”

On how to confront the problem, he said: “We don’t have to wait and make the same mistake other countries have made. Why don’t we learn from the mistakes of others? Why do we have to go through the same mistake? I found it to be ignorance.

We have many alternative and cleaner power. Solution is to go the renewable and we have alternative and unlimited sources of energy. We have the sun everywhere in the north and other parts of the country. We need solar here and there.”

Similarly, an environmentalist and Desk Officer of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Mariere Maimoni Ubrei-Joe, said when a city is over populated, both residents and the environment suffer some major negative impact. According to him, overpopulation leads to over utilisation of natural resources, which automatically leads to resource depletion.

“For a city of 1,171 km² to accommodate over 15 million people, it spells doom for both the people and the environment as resources are used up faster than they can be replenished, hence pollution keeps rising.

“All the watercourses in Lagos are polluted by plastics and other classes of municipal waste due to run-off from the city. Lagos is a hub of industries in Nigeria, which contributes largely to environmental pollution. As of 2016, the Lagos roads played host to over five million cars and 200, 000 commercial vehicles, when the national average stands at 11 vehicles per kilometre, which accounts for high volume of air pollution,” he said.

To him, the World Bank’s assessment reflected the true position of things in Lagos. He advised the Lagos State government and the private sectors to aggressively invest in recycling by keying into the circular economy model, as a way forward.

“The government can build mono-rails and more rail lines in Lagos to connect all parts of the city and place huge carbon tax on personal vehicles as a way of reducing vehicular emissions,” Ubrei-Joe added.

Ikorodu is a sub-urban area in Lagos State populated with many industrial steel plants and a solid waste dumpsite. The residents do wake up to flooded houses and thick fogs that emanate from the exhaust pipes of industrial plants while single use plastics block the drainages and cause floods. It is one of the many areas in Lagos plagued with at least one form of pollution or the other and is now benefitting from the World Bank’s installation of an Air Quality Monitoring Station. The facility is providing a scientific basis to develop an air quality management plan for the state government. 

The private sector operators have not been resting on their oars with regard to getting rid of pollutants in the state. WeCyclers has created a business model where they pay locals to turn in their trash. The aim is to create a circular economy where single use plastics turn from waste to wealth.

Solution
Offering solution to the menace, Diana Dopheide, said it is important for the country to regularly inspect automobiles to ensure that older cars are not releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.

She advised that vehicles that are too old and toxic to the environment should be removed from the roads. “Implementation of efficient electric energy will help decrease the need for power generator which produces unhealthy air pollution in households and work environments.”

Dopheide noted that Nigeria has access to sustainable energy resources that are capable of providing power to its citizens. These methods are safer for the environment and their usage decreases the use of gasoline-powered generators, thus decreasing pollution.

“Nigerians can reduce air pollution in the household by substituting fuel wood for biogas, which is a form of biofuel that is instinctively manufactured from the decay of natural waste. Biogas would provide sustainable options for preparing food and heating the household while eliminating air pollution both inside the household and the outside environment.”

In terms of trash disposal, she said recycling methods would be helpful to ensure that people are not burning waste, adding that daily waste removal from households would help to properly dispose trash, reducing the fragmentation of waste and preventing odors that contribute to air pollution.

A consultant surgeon at Epe General Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Ngozi Okafor, described air pollution as one of the greatest environmental risks to health, noting that by reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer as well as chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

According to Okafor, the lower the levels of air pollution, the better the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population will be. She said execution of environmentally friendly practices in Nigeria would help decrease air pollution.

For elimination of air pollution to be effective, the country, especially Lagos, must pursue regulatory measures. It is necessary to inform communities regarding the sources and consequences of air pollution for them to effectively take action against the problem.

“Those that become more knowledgeable of the issue are then able to educate others and persuade the Nigerian government to continue to enforce legislation against air pollution,” she added.

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