Air pollution ‘silent killer’ in African cities: study

Pollution in Africa’s fast-expanding cities is deadlier than thought, yet green solutions could save tens of thousands of lives and avert billions of dollars in damage, a report said Thursday.

“Air pollution (in African cities) is high and rising, it’s rising pretty quickly,” said Desmond Appiah, Ghana director at the Clean Air Fund, a British NGO which published the study. “It is a silent killer.”

Urban pollution has been widely overlooked in Africa, the study says.

Africa’s population is mostly rural and only recently followed other continents in making the exodus to the city.

Previous research published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health estimated that toxic air—especially particulates and gases from industry and transport, but also from wood-burning stoves—led to 1.1 million premature deaths in 2019.

By comparison, HIV-AIDS related illnesses claimed 650,000 deaths globally the same year, according to UN figures.

The report looked at four fast-growing cities on the continent—Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg and Lagos—to factor in health, environmental and economic costs.

It compared outcomes between a “business-as-usual” trajectory to 2040 with a green scenario in which the cities adopt clean air measures, such as upgrading public transport, introducing cleaner cooking stoves and industrial technology.

Taking the greener path could save 125,000 lives and $20 billion in economic costs, and cut those cities’ emissions by around 20 percent by 2040, the report said.

On the “business-as-usual” trajectory, the financial bill will soar more than sixfold.

“Africa’s economic growth will be driven by fast-expanding cities,” Clean Air Fund said.

“Over 65 percent of the continent’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2060.

“By the end of the century, Africa will host five of the 10 largest megacities in the world. The big question now is how fast, fair and sustainable this growth will be. ”

Separately, a Boston-based research group, the Health Effects Institute (HEI), said Thursday the disease burden of air pollution in Africa was among the highest in the world.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of deaths linked to air pollution is 155 deaths for every 100,000 people—almost twice the global average of 85.6 deaths in 100,000 people, the HEI said in a report.

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