Air pollution killed 1.1 million people across Africa in one year

air pollution africa, african cities
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In 2019, 1.1 million people across Africa died because of air pollution – which “threatens to increase” as cities expand in line with economic growth

According to new data, air pollution was the cause of 1.1 million deaths across Africa in 2019. Among these cases, household air pollution via indoor stoves were responsible for an astounding 700,000 deaths. On the other hand, outdoor pollution took 400,000 lives.

The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, casts a foreboding image of future air pollution deaths – especially in relation to COVID, the virus that is made more potentially fatal by air pollution.

African population will triple by 2100

In a different study, scientists pointed out that cities globally take up just 3% of the Earth.  As Africa continues to change, the density of cities will change with it.

Currently, the population is expected to triple from 1.3 billion in 2020, to 4.3 billion by 2100. Life expectancy, happily, is almost doubled.

Boston College Professor of Biology Philip Landrigan, who led the study, said: “The most disturbing finding was the increase in deaths from ambient air pollution. While this increase is still modest, it threatens to increase exponentially as African cities grow in the next two to three decades and the continent develops economically.”

Pattern of death increasing, especially from ambient pollution

The study examined trends in air pollution in Africa to determine impacts on human health and economic development in 54 African countries. The team devoted special attention to three rapidly developing Sub-Saharan countries – Ethiopia, Ghana and Rwanda.

The team found that fossil fuel combustion created outdoor air pollution, which killed 29.15 people per 100,000 in 2019. This pattern of death is up from 1990, at which time 26.13 people died per 100,000 from the same air pollution. While the increase may seem marginal, the projection population increase in line with the status of climate change and viral respiratory diseases creates a stark warning for future health across the African continent.

As expected, the trend in outdoor pollution is most clear in Ghana – the most economically advanced of the countries. The same effect is becoming apparent in Ethiopia and Rwanda too.

Transition to “wind and solar energy”, say researchers

Professor Landrigan further commented: “We encourage Africa’s leaders to take advantage of the fact that their countries are still relatively early in their economic development and to transition rapidly to wind and solar energy, thus avoiding entrapment in fossil-fuel-based economies. We argue that African countries are in a unique position to leapfrog over mistakes made elsewhere and to achieve prosperity without pollution.

“Air pollution in Africa threatens economic development and future growth, but can be avoided by wise leaders who transition rapidly to wind and solar energy and avoid entrapment by coal, gas and oil.”

Read the full study here.


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