Past, present and future perspectives


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Smoke from fires can cause or enhance respiratory diseases

Ron Giling/Still Pictures

Rapid urbanization and concentration of economic activities in Western Africa's urban centres is leading to air pollution from industry, vehicle emissions and quarrying activities. Combustion of traditional fuels for domestic energy needs is another major source of air pollution in both urban and rural areas. For example, children in the Gambia exposed to smoky stoves were six times more likely to develop acute respiratory infections than unexposed children (World Bank 2000b). Inadequate urban planning is a significant driving force behind rising emission levels, because residential and commercial centres are often far apart, forcing mass movement of workers on a daily basis. Poor economic development has also contributed to air pollution by creating dependence on old vehicles and dirty fuels.

Pollutants such as sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and heavy metals, together with particulate matter, form dense concentrations of smog in urban centres, causing respiratory diseases, contamination of vegetation and water resources, and corrosion of buildings.

Towards improving air quality in Western Africa

Most countries in Western Africa have introduced standards and regulations to control the atmospheric pollution in cities, but lack of resources makes enforcement of these emission standards and regulations weak.

In Accra, Ghana, a project is underway to analyse and monitor sources of air pollution and to compare ambient pollution levels in commercial and residential areas, affluent suburbs and slums (Accra Mail 2001). A recent study of transport in Dakar, Senegal, estimated the costs associated with death or injury, hours wasted through congestion, and health costs relating to air pollution to be equivalent to 5 per cent of GDP (World Bank 2001). This study recommended that planning should be improved to ease the traffic flow and that mass transport should be re-organized. The small French locomotives known as 'Petit Train Bleu' have recently been rehabilitated and this has helped to alleviate urban congestion and pollution as well as providing reliable, secure, affordable mass transit and creating jobs (UNCHS 2001). Other measures to improve air quality include tighter controls on importation of second hand cars from Europe (see Box 2a.6).

Box 2a.6 Tackling vehicle emissions in Senegal

Senegal has become a major importer of used cars in recent years and these now represent 84 per cent of all vehicles in the Dakar region where they constitute a major source of air pollution. The average age of vehicles in Dakar is approximately 15 years for cars and 20 years for buses.More than 40 per cent of the cars have diesel engines, which have particularly toxic emissions. The high level of diesel use results from a combination of many diesel engine cars being imported and many owners replacing petrol engines with diesel engines after importation, because diesel is cheaper than petrol.

The Senegal Ministry of Environment has proposed a new law to provide new clean air standards to limit emissions from vehicles. The law also re-introduces a requirement for customers to lodge request for cars before they are imported, a measure which was scrapped in 1996. It also rules that imported cars must be under five years old.

Air quality monitoring stations are to be set up around Dakar, to record ambient pollution levels on a daily basis. The ministry also intends to establish an environmental police force, backed up by the national police force, to impose compliance with the regulations and track down polluting vehicles.

Source: Abdourahmane Ndiaye,Advisor to the Ministry of the Environment (quoted in Africa Online News, 21 January 2002)