Focus on Environmental
FOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT: THE DEADLY EFFECTS OF INDOOR AIR POLLUTION
Much of the world has taken an environmentally unsustainable path towards economic growth. It is partly in recognition of this that the United Nations, in 1972, designated June 5 as World Environment Day. The day was set aside to highlight the environmental challenges facing countries all over the world, and support the efforts to address them. Every year, the World Environment Day (WED) has a different host country, where official celebrations take place. This year’s host is Angola. The focus of this year’s celebrations is on the illegal trade in wildlife, and will run under the slogan “Go Wild for Life”.
However, we could say that “going wild for life” may be something to do not just for the sake of wildlife. Humans are also been affected by their own actions, often fatally. One of the most difficult problems confronting policy makers, Environmental Groups and ordinary citizens globally is polluted air. Governments proclaim their determination to tackle smog and large scale bush burning; activists insist that not enough is being done to make the air safe to breathe. But in general, all agree that there is some level of risk associated with air pollution, and that something needs to be done about it. After all, there are an estimated 7 million deaths annually attributed to pollution of this nature according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO also tells us that more people die as a result of exposure to bad air indoors, than out on the streets. The major culprit is cooking smoke from burning biomass (wood, animal dung, crop waste) and using Kerosene as fuel. In all, indoor air pollution accounts for over 4,000,000 deaths yearly. And tears unquantifiable, streaming down the faces of those whose loved ones form part of this statistic.
Unfortunately, most Nigerian households do not seem to recognize the dangers that come with the use of unsafe cooking fuels. The Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cook stoves says that over 90% of households in Nigeria use firewood or kerosene, despite the proven harmful effects associated with using these. The sort of cooking stoves, which are found in the vast majority of homes in the country, are precisely those which belch smoke that adversely affects the respiratory tracts. As is found elsewhere in the developing world, the consequences have been devastating: over 120,000 lose their lives annually from diseases linked to cooking smoke in Nigeria. Children under the age of five make up more than half this number. The tragedy of it all is that most people do not even know that these deaths have anything to do with kitchen fumes.
Specific health concerns arising from indoor air pollution include Cancer (of the nasopharynx and larynx), Cataracts, Cardiovascular disease, Asthma, among others. Acute Lower Respiratory Tract Infections (ALTI) is the leading cause of indoor smoke-related deaths among children. Globally, loss of life from pollution-induced diseases has come mainly from stroke, with 34% of these cases attributed to it. Figures from the WHO confirm that this is also true for Nigeria.
The solution to the developing world’s dependence on wood fuels and inefficient stoves lies in the dissemination of information about the horrible effects these items have on the health of their users and the people who live around them. Media campaigns, which carry this message, should also tell of the alternatives that exist. In Nigeria, the most viable of such options is Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). However, while most households surveyed by the Nigerian Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF) in Kano, Kaduna and Rivers states in 2013 preferred LPG to kerosene or firewood, they were reluctant to adopt it in the place of the more traditional fuels because they considered it too expensive. Government will do well to assist private LPG supply companies to set up countrywide LPG supply infrastructure.
At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change / Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris held which took place in December 2015, our President committed to reducing Green House Gas Emissions by 20%, and the NLPGA are on standby to help him achieve this commitment. This should go some way in helping to drive down costs. In the long run, cheaper LPG will be available when the market for the product goes beyond nascence. For households where the use of solid fuels will persist, the promotion and deployment of new efficient stoves which reduce emissions and make better air quality indoors possible.