By Victor Amusa
For decades, the problem of power generation has crippled many developing nations across Africa, the erratic and likewise epileptic way the megawatts of power generated fluctuates in Nigeria coupled with the huge sums on record to have so far been invested in the power sector leaves a lot of unanswered questions on the lips and hearts of residents.
Due to the relative importance of power in contemporary urban society, a lot of homes generate their own power at least to meet their basic demands, much thanks to the different array of electricity generating sets available to individuals and organizations to choose from regardless of economical divides -either rich or poor there is a category of electricity generating set that fits.
In recent times, a lot of calls have been made to the government on the need for increased budgetary allocations and implementation of transport infrastructure especially fixed installations like roads, railways, and terminals such as airports, railway stations, jetties, and seaports. These infrastructure would not have been necessary if there is no pressing need for transportation of persons and haulage of goods to fulfill the ever-demanding quest for industrialization and civilization.
The United Nations Environment Programme in its reports recently presented a staggering fact, stating that pollution of the air, freshwater, oceans, and land kills more than 12 million people every year – that is nearly one in four deaths worldwide. Pollution also threatens vulnerable wildlife and plants and can devastate the entire ecosystems.
Further estimates show that each year over 6.5 million people die prematurely because of poor air quality, while some are attributed to indoor air pollution from cooking mostly in low and middle-income countries, quite a high percentage of these deaths are largely owed to respiratory infections caused by air pollution. About 600,000 deaths in Africa are traceable to poor air quality premised on air pollution.
Nigeria with a population of over 180 million people and a status of developing nation is exploring every aspect of civilization in a great deal, over 80 million Nigerians own either an electricity generating set or a means of transportation like automobiles.
Regrettably, these generating sets and automobiles all depend on fossil fuels for their operation. Another sad news is that Nigeria’s electricity consumption per capita is the lowest in Africa as over 80 percent of about 30 million households in the country lack access to electricity from the national grid. The economic implication of this amounts to about N9 trillion spent annually on fueling automobiles and generating sets as industrialization and civilization largely demands.
Although Nigeria lacks any standard national emission inventory like developed nations, which shows the contributory indices of pollution sources and emissions, it is estimated that two of the main sources of air pollution are generating sets and automobiles
The proliferation of electricity generating sets have grown to an alarming level due to the continuous dwindling power generation in the country, the use of generators indiscriminately has also worsened situations of air pollution in Nigeria.
Studies reveal that people across the globe are breathing air that contains dangerous pollutants, it is believed that the levels of fine particulates known as PM2.5 exceed the WHO limit of 10 micrograms (μg) per cubic meter of air by at least half.
World Health Organisation suggests that 10 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 should be a guideline level for safe air. Of a truth, not all cities collect good enough data to be measured in the situation of air pollution, however, during the study of air quality, the size of particles found in the air was taken into cognizance.
According to the World Health Organisation, a lot of attention is placed upon particles of a PM2.5 size, which is around one-30th the size of a human hair. The worrisome part of this revelation is because these particles have the ability to enter blood tissue and lungs thereby causing serious health problems.
The recent sad news is that quite a number of Nigerian cities – Onitsha, Kaduna, Aba and Umuahia now rank on the list of the Most Polluted Cities in the World the imperatives of which is that more Nigerians are now very much exposed to air pollution at a level exceeding WHO recommendation.
There is no region of the world that is exempted from the threats of dwindling air quality occasioned by air pollution but people in poor settings and low-income settlements are worst hit. Close to 80per cent of residents of urban areas are daily exposed to poor air quality at levels exceeding World Health Organization limits mostly as a result of exhausts from automobiles and industrial turbines, the peculiarity of low-income settings is that activities like waste burning, use of electricity generating set, use of wood for cooking and even automobile exhausts also contribute to the already threatened wholesome living of the population.
Implications of decline in urban air quality increase in the cases of chronic and acute respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer and even increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant-Director General, Family, Women and Children’s Health in the Geneva release of 2016 said “Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it they have a benchmark”. Developing nations especially in Africa need to take convincing steps at monitoring air quality, informed decisions are driven by requisite data, actions are not purposeful if there are no clear-cut impact targets.
Nigeria needs to check its fast-rising air pollution statistics, measures need to be put in place to appropriately monitor air quality. The number of casualties from inhalation of toxic fumes of generator has spiked at very alarming proportions in the last decade, on a weekly basis news media report cases of carbon monoxide poisoning leading to tragic deaths, in most cases a whole family gets killed over the night as a result of inhalation of exhaust fumes from generators.
The spate of asthmatic attacks in homes where fossil fuels like kerosene or wood are burnt for cooking is likewise disturbing, not to mention the susceptibility of residents in urban areas to lung cancer and other upper respiratory tract health conditions.
In the words of Dr Carlos Dora, a renowned epidemiologist and Interventions for Healthy Environments unit coordinator at World Health Organization “It is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority,” He further submitted that, “When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows”
Most, if not all sources of outdoor air pollution are far beyond what individuals have control over, it is imperative for local, national and even international stakeholders and environment decision-makers to press for cleaner transport measures, less fossil fuel burning through cleaner energy advocacies and cleaner waste collection and disposal methods that enshrine zero waste burning policy and emission regulations for industries.
There is a glimmer of hope across the global stage as Paris recently announced that all vehicles with petrol or diesel engines are to be banned from Paris from 2030 under a swift anti-pollution plan tabled by the capital’s Socialist council. Joining in the radical environment protection stand are Britain and China both of which have also pledged to ban sales of petrol and diesel engine cars and vans by 2040 in their respective countries.
On a national scale, Nigeria needs to increase the use of renewable sources of power by exploring its vast resources in the area of solar and wind, great priority should be given to inter- and intra- city rapid bus transit, with fewer vehicles on our roads, our toxic exhaust coefficient will also reduce considerably. Other explorable areas are in cycling and walking.
There is a need for very urgent decisive action on staring down Air Pollution across Nigeria. Some states warn residents against waste burning but it has to go beyond the pages of newspapers, effective enforcement needs to be in place to ensure compliance.
At this level in our National life there should be definite strategic policies in place to drive good air quality and monitor the levels of pollutants in the air per cubic meter of our cities, slums and rural areas alike, as every Nigerian life counts.
There should be stiffer regulations on industrial air pollution as carbon pricing and emission tax should be enforced to encourage manufacturers and players in the industrial space to seek cleaner energy sources. Incentives should also be made available in the form of emission tax cuts and clean energy rankings for industries and manufacturers doing a great bit of environmental friendly industrialization.
Much is expected however as regards how stakeholders and policymakers will chat a robust strategic action plan that will enshrine sustainability in these two necessities of urbanization – Power and transportation, even as Nigeria strives to make good its pledge to environmental protection and sustainability by its subscription to the Paris agreement.
It is worth mentioning, that in actualizing this dream of a sustainable framework, every Nigerian must set a renewed drive for protecting the environment one step at a time, simple lifestyle changes like cooking with biofuels and other cleaner fuels, boarding urban transit buses to work, joining networks of renewable energy users and enthusiasts, recycling and upcycling non-organic waste, composting of organic waste, saying no to waste burning, owning and using bicycles, and making rural dwellers explore other sources of income like wildlife conservation, forests and games reserves other than making of charcoal or illegal lumbering will yield positive results.
Together with politicians, academia, giant business entities and social enthusiasts we can all define models that set Nigeria on the route of becoming an environmentally sustainable nation.
Victor Amusa is the Chief Executive Officer, Vicfold Recyclers.