By Michael Rothenborg, October 2016
Globally, one in eight premature deaths – seven million people annually – is linked to air pollution. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified the problem as the world’s worst environmental health hazard, and one of the hardest hit regions is Africa.
“It’s time Africa features in global plans to manage air pollution,” says Rebecca Garland, Senior Researcher in Climate Studies, Modelling and Environmental Health Research Group, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.
She highlights that a country like Nigeria has an annual mean PM10 level of 594 g/m3, nearly 30 times greater than the WHO guideline of 20 g/m3 (PM10 is particulate matter that is 10 micrometres or less in diameter). In the air these tiny particles can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems.
And Nigeria’s population is by no means the only one exposed to a high health risk.
“Ensuring all players work together towards more visibility, collaboration and support for air quality in Africa is crucial,” says Rebecca Garland.
African transition to green growth
The African Development Bank is focusing more strongly on air pollution. As part of the bank’s 10-year strategy to facilitate Africa’s gradual transition to green growth, the bank has awarded Ramboll a contract for transport emission mapping and monitoring as well as capacity building in five cities.
Although indoor air pollution is the greatest problem, vehicle emissions are also steadily climbing, driven by urban sprawl, rapid motorisation and low levels of institutional capacity to manage traffic and its impacts. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that vehicle emissions account for 90% of urban air pollution in developing countries.
The main objective of the African Development Bank project is to advise city authorities and policy-makers on efficient and accurate methods for collecting, storing and analysing data as well as mapping air pollution levels in cities and, to identify options for financing low-emission transport technologies. The project will cover the cities of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Yaoundé in Cameroon, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Lusaka in Zambia, and Rabat in Morocco, which will be hosting the UN’s COP22 Climate Change Conference 2016. The ambition is to implement the project results throughout Africa.
“This represents a significant step forward for further developing air quality services on the African continent,” says Frederic Pradelle, who heads Ramboll’s air quality division in France and is managing the project.
In addition to the assistance of Ramboll France, Ramboll Management Consulting in Denmark will provide cost-benefit expertise, and specialists from a Finnish transport team will also be involved.
Rebecca Garland thinks the project is promising.
“It sounds like a step in the right direction, as the underlying data for generating emission inventories to then feed into air quality models is often missing,” she says.
Facts: decouple pollution from growth
Asia also has among the highest numbers of premature deaths linked to air pollution, especially in countries with high growth rates. Within a few years India, which has the highest growth rate of the G20 countries, will surpass China as the world’s most populated country. With rural to urban migration severely straining city infrastructures in India, the Indian government plans to invest EUR 6.5 billion in creating 100 smart cities. The aim is to facilitate sustainable urban growth, for instance, by using smart technology to provide adequate water systems, stable power supplies, and reliable public transport.
Taking some of the first major steps in the initiative, Ramboll is conducting a pilot study in the historic city of Udaipur in Rajasthan. The pilot study is intended to build understanding of the challenges and determine how international experience from places like the Nordic countries and Singapore can benefit Indian cities.
“Studies from around the world reveal that when cities grow environmental quality and thus also liveability deteriorates. Many Indian cities also suffer from water and air pollution. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to decouple pollution from growth,” says Neel Strøbæk, Group Market Director for Planning & Urban Design at Ramboll.