In West Africa, air pollution kills but its extent is still unknown
Air pollution in West Africa is largely underestimated, most local monitoring systems being nonexistent or unadapted. Yet, 600 000 deaths per year on the continent are linked to air pollution, recent studies show. In this article, the French newspaper Le Monde looks back at the seminar on air quality in West African cities, organized by GUAPO on the 28th and 29th of November 2019 in Paris. It stresses the urgent need to find answers to air pollution challenges in West Africa and to implement air quality monitoring systems.
African and international experts, scholars and policymakers gathered on the 28th and 29th of November 2019 in Paris, for GUAPO’s international seminar on air quality in West African cities, and set forth air pollution challenges in West Africa.
Exacerbated by population growth and urban density, air pollution in West Africa is worsening and so are its effects on public health. According to a study by the OECD in 2016, premature deaths linked to air pollution increased by 36% between 1990 and 2013.
In light of the seriousness of the situation, initiatives are emerging to monitor air quality in West Africa. Launched in 2016, the European research program DACCIWA aimed to identify air pollution sources in different West African cities (Abidjan, Lomé, Accra and Cotonou). The results emphasize 5 main sources of pollution : domestic fires and wood combustion, waste burning, road traffic, food and chemical industries, and finally desert dust from the Sahara worseningt air pollution, in particular during the dry season.
Studies such as the DACCIWA project show how essential data gathering and production of knowledge are to implement effective public policies against air pollution. Yet, existing data is still too limited to fully assess the extent of air pollution in the region. Lack of funding to acquire monitoring equipment and lack of local capacity are the main obstacles standing in the way of functioning air quality monitoring in West African cities.
During the seminar, speakers proposed different responses to air pollution challenges in West Africa, suchas the renewal of the car fleet, pedestrianization of roads, deployment of performing public transportation systems and awareness-raising on the threats of air pollution. Bernard Koffi, representative of ECOWAS Commission, also announced a meeting of member states’ ministers of the environment in February 2020 to launch a project of regional air quality monitoring.