25 June 2015

A Plea for Action against Pollution in Nigeria

94 % of the population in Nigeria is exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines. An estimated 7 million people were killed by diseases related to indoor and outdoor air pollution alone in 2012 according to the World Health Organization.

Stella walks to work every day within the city limits of Lagos, Nigeria. She has the reverse commute of the scavenger, as her office sprawls upward on a 2,400 metric ton mountain of garbage called the Olusoson Landfill Site.

A whole community has sprung up on and near this spectacularly sized dump.

“I come here to look for my daily bread,” Stella says as she collects nylon scraps to sell along with children and other young men and women.

On its main streets, Lagos, Nigeria has the hectic promise of Africa’s fastest growing metropolis. Known as Africa’s first city, signs of its vibrant economy and exponential growth are everywhere:  It is a place of perpetual action, with oil company executives, small business owners and a thriving cultural scene.

But with 21 million people, Lagos is choking from its own escalating pollution, poisonous air that drags down its citizens and commerce while health care costs balloon. Traffic is increasing, emissions are not regulated and fuel tankers often catch fire on the streets.

Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Environment Laurentia Mallam visited Washington, D.C. this spring. At the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event on the U.S. National Mall, in front of a crowd of over 200,000 people, Mallam pledged to improve environmental health 50 percent by 2020. “Nigerian citizens deserve air that is clean, water that is drinkable, and land that is safe from contamination,” she said.

Pollution contributes to the preventable deaths of an estimated 9 million people each year—most of them in developing countries. An estimated 7 million people were killed by diseases related to indoor and outdoor air pollution alone in 2012 according to the World Health Organization.

Data for Nigeria included in the newly released Little Green Data Book 2015 indicates that 94% of the population is exposed to air pollution levels (measured in PM2.5) that exceed WHO guidelines (compared to 72% on average in Sub-Saharan Africa) and air pollution damage costs about 1 percentage post of Gross National Income.  

Investing in Pollution Management

At the same Earth Day event at which Mallam spoke, several countries came together to announce the launch of the Pollution Management and Environmental Health (PMEH) program, a new multi-donor Trust Fund administered by the World Bank. The program, with an initial allocation of around $45 million, will focus primarily on air quality management in five major urban areas in China, Egypt, India, Nigeria and South Africa, and could contribute to improved environmental health conditions for an estimated 150 million people in those cities over the next five years. PMEH will also support other countries and cities of Sub-Saharan Africa, and aim to reduce land and water pollution.

The road to a cleaner, greener Nigeria is not a short one, and it reflects the broader problem as Africa’s countries grow. Lagos, for example, is the place where old computers and smart phones come to die from across the globe, leaving behind toxic waste and devastating health issues. In the next decade many of the worlds largest cities will be located in Africa, and in this way Lagos shows us a glimpse of the future.

Fishing villages are located in one of the biggest slums. “So when we have an oil spill or plastics in the water we lose money. Again, when the water is polluted the fish migrate,” said Stephen Aji, chief of the Makako Community.

Dr. Olanweraju Yusuf is an environmental health specialist in Lagos. One of his many concerns is that electricity is unreliable and many residents in Lagos have generators in small, improperly ventilated homes. “They breathe that in and it slowly poisons the blood system,” Yusuf said.

The World Bank has already taken a first step in curbing pollution by supporting a new rapid bus system in Lagos that is taking cars off the road and makes transportation more efficient. More must be done to bring about cleaner fuels and safe waste disposal

African cities are growing as fast as their children breathe. There is no time to waste.

Story from The World Bank and Globalnyt.