The regulators must be alive to their responsibilities
Nigeria has again been rated poorly in respect of air pollution, an ugly situation that should concern everyone, particularly in this period of COVID-19. According to the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), an international resource watchdog group, Nigeria has some of the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of choking soot hanging over gridlocked cities, leading to a rise in serious health conditions. Cities mostly affected, according to the report, are Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha, and Kaduna where poor air quality has reached crisis levels of pollution in recent years. And there is irrefutable evidence of cause to effect, considering the rising cases of asthma, lung, heart, and respiratory diseases.
The researchers zeroed in on the bad quality of fuel imported and used in the country, as well as the equally bad quality fuel refined illegally in the creeks of Port Harcourt and Bayelsa, which, from investigation, is of higher quality than the imports. Regardless, the unsophisticated refining process adopted in the creeks sends up impurities into the atmosphere and this is driven by strong sea wind to where it can do damage to unsuspecting residents.
In most of the nation’s cities, vehicles with unacceptable emission standards clog the streets, oozing impurities unchecked. Majority of these are used vehicles that are close to end-of-life, meaning they are forbidden in the streets of the European and American cities from where they were shipped to Nigeria. More of these vehicles are expected on the shores of the nation in the years ahead, as the developed world increases its switch to electric vehicles that are more fitting for the global quest for a reduction of emissions of CO2 that is implicated in global warming. Also fingered in the reduction of the nation’s air quality is the unwholesome practice of burning tonnes of tyres by artisans to extract wires which are sold to recyclers. Regrettably, this activity takes place mostly at night when people are asleep and most vulnerable.
Air pollution is regarded as one of the primary causes of health ailments and premature death in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that outdoor air pollution kills around three million people every year. They identified what is responsible as criteria air pollutants, which are ground-level ozone, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Ozone pollution comes from the emission of volatile organic compounds that interact with sunlight and heat to form ground-level ozone, a key ingredient of haze. Ozone pollution can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and do lasting damage to people’s lungs.
Due to the dire consequences of air pollution, the federal government ought to maintain a system of rating the safety of the air in every part of the country, called the Air Quality Index. It gives people vital information about the conditions of the air in their location and how the quality of the air in their city can impact their health. In the absence of real time Air Quality Index, there is urgent need for the government to launch awareness programmes to call people’s attention to the harmful effect of air pollution, particularly carbon emissions from vehicles and black soot from illegal activities, as well as the danger of being exposed to the particulates.
Nigeria’s air quality is expected to be governed by the National Environmental (Air Quality Control) Regulations, 2014. The purpose of these regulations, according to the government is to provide for improved control of the nation’s air quality to such an extent that would enhance the protection of flora and fauna, human health and other resources affected by air quality deteriorations. But like many laws in Nigeria, there has been no enforcement.