Thu, Jul 14, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Now a dumping ground for old cars,
Africa reels from toxic air and traffic jams

Within a generation 1.5 million Africans a year could die from filthy air as the number of cars booms

By John Vidal  /  The Observer

“A chain of megacities is building in Africa,” he said. “The continent is in the same position that China was 20 years ago. If Africa does not regulate its air pollution, it will be a disaster.”

The WHO highlighted the danger from air pollution last month when it released data on 3,000 cities worldwide. The few African cities that had public monitoring records all had particulate matter (PM) levels way above UN guidelines, and four Nigerian cities were among the world’s 20 worst-ranked.

Onitsha, a commercial hub in eastern Nigeria, had the world’s worst official air quality. A roadside monitor there registered 594 microns/m3 of one type of particulate matter, PM10s, and 66 of the more deadly PM2.5s — nearly twice as bad as notoriously polluted cities such as Kabul, Beijing and Tehran, and 30 times worse than London.

Evans says that African cities have different problems from London, where “pollution is mainly due to the burning of hydrocarbons for transport that can be addressed by tackling fuel usage through electric vehicles and car-free zones.”

African pollution is not like that, he said.

“There is the burning of rubbish, cooking with inefficient solid fuel stoves, millions of small diesel electricity generators, cars which have had their catalytic converters removed and petrochemical plants, all pushing pollutants into the air over the cities. Compounds such as sulfur dioxide, benzene and carbon monoxide that have not been a problem in Western cities for decades may be a significant problem in African cities. We simply don’t know,” he said.

One important step forward would be to stop the dumping of old cars in Africa, De Jong said.

“If African countries could set an age limit on imports, they could quickly improve pollution, and leapfrog technologies. The majority of vehicles which will be on the road in Africa in 10 years’ time are not here yet. If these countries impose higher import standards, the majority of the fleet will soon be compliant, but if we wait nine years, the majority of cars will have come to Africa and it will be locked into heavy pollution,” he said.

De Jong advocates the widespread use of electric bikes.

“In China there will be 300 million by 2020. They are cheaper than petrol. It’s purely a policy and awareness problem,” he said. “The problem can be avoided by acting now. There is a massive opportunity for Africa to go down another road. Its air pollution must be a priority for the world.”

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