Air pollution more deadly in Africa than malnutrition or dirty water, study warns
Annual human and economic cost of tainted air runs to 712,000 lost lives and £364bn, finds Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Thursday 20 October 2016 07.00 BST
Africa’s air pollution is causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition, and could develop into a health and climate crisis reminiscent of those seen in China and India, a study by a global policy forum has found.
The first major attempt to calculate both the human and financial cost of the continent’s pollution suggests dirty air could be killing 712,000 people a year prematurely, compared with approximately 542,000 from unsafe water, 275,000 from malnutrition and 391,000 from unsafe sanitation.
While most major environmental hazards have been improving with development gains and industrialisation, outdoor (or “ambient particulate”) air pollution from traffic, power generation and industries is increasing rapidly, especially in fast-developing countries such as Egypt, South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
“Annual deaths from ambient [outdoor] particulate matter pollution across the African continent increased by 36% from 1990 to 2013. Over the same period, deaths from household air pollution also continued to increase, but only by 18%”, said a researcher at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development development centre. The OECD is funded by the world’s richest 35 countries.
For Africa as a whole, the estimated economic cost of premature air pollution deaths in 2013 was roughly $215bn (£175bn) a year for outdoor air pollution, and $232bn for household, or indoor, air pollution.
The study’s author, Rana Roy, is concerned by the pace at which outdoor air pollution is growing in Africa, bucking the downward trend in most countries. Used cars and trucks imported from rich countries are adding to urban pollution caused by household cooking on open fires.