As the United Nations marks World Environment Day, this year’s theme focuses on air pollution – and that’s a significant challenge on the African continent.
A recent study from NASA in the United States found some 780,000 premature African deaths per year were linked to air pollution from different causes. In Nigeria and South Africa, the growth in industrial sources causes a high mortality rate, while fire emissions are tied to deaths in West and Central Africa.
About 43,000 premature deaths are linked to burning biomass, primarily in agriculture.
The scientists, using satellite data as well as health and climate models, also found a surprisingly high rate of deaths linked to naturally occurring dust blown from the Sahara that causes poor air quality.
“Africa holds the world largest source of desert dust emissions, undergoes strong industrial growth, and produces approximately a third of the Earth’s biomass burning aerosol particles, the authors said. “Sub‐Saharan biomass burning is driven by agricultural practices, such as burning fields and bushes in the postharvest season for fertilization, land management, and pest control. Thus, these emissions are predominantly anthropogenic.”
Yet if scientists are learning where the sources come from, it remains hard to measure air quality on a continent where relatively few locations have local monitoring stations. Only six percent of children in Africa live in areas where air pollution is reliably measured, compared with 72 percent in Europe and North America, according to a UNICEF report released in conjunction with World Environment Day.
Air pollution is a growing challenge for Africa that also impacts ecosystems and food crops. “A recent study noted in the report estimates the economic cost of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution across Africa to be $215 billion,” UNICEF said.
The complete Silent Suffocation in Africa report from UNICEF is available at this link.
Image: NASA EOSDIS file