Air pollution is a deadly problem in Africa. Air pollution in Africa is causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition, and could develop into a health and climate crisis for the continent. Air pollution is the “world’s largest environmental health risk” (WHO 2014).


Between 2008 and 2013, global urban air pollution levels increased by 8 percent between 2008 and 2013 (WHO). Migration to urban areas will increase human activities and therefore also increase air pollution. Increasingly high levels of urbanization compounded by poor urban planning exposes people to living in congested and poorly serviced housing. This point worsens the problem of pollution.


The dangers of air pollution

Air pollution is caused harmful particulates and gases, released in high quantities into the air. The pollutants cause disease and death to humans, animals, plants and ecosystems. Air pollution is caused by indoor and outdoor activities.   Air pollution in Africa is caused by, and not limited to, burning fossils fuels, burning charcoal for cooking in homes and vehicles exhaust emissions. Air pollution includes black carbon and greenhouse gases which causes global warming as heat from the sun is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. Black carbon adversely affects people’s health such as asthma and other respiratory issues, low birth weights, lung cancer and heart attacks.


The cost of air pollution

The deaths and disabilities resulting from air pollution in Africa carry a quantifiable economic cost to society. Globally, air pollution claims an annual toll of several million premature deaths and imposes a cost of several trillion US dollars. From 1990 to 2013, the total deaths from premature deaths caused by air pollution increased by 36 percent in Africa. A study suggests air pollution causes 712,000 premature deaths in Africa, compared to approximately 542,000 from unsafe water, 275,000 from malnutrition and 391,000 from unsafe sanitation. From 1990 to 2013, annual deaths from ambient (outdoor) particulate matter pollution across the African continent increased by 36 percent. Over the same period, deaths from household air pollution also continued to increase, but only by 18 percent” OECD. In 2013 the estimated economic cost of premature air pollution deaths in Africa was approximately 215 billion US dollar for outdoor pollution, and 232 billion us dollar for indoor air pollution.


Africa is not a homogenous entity. Cities in Nigeria, Tunisia, and South Africa rank among the thirty metropolitan areas with the poorest air quality in Africa.


Air pollution costs in Africa are rising in spite of slow industrialisation and development. Africa is already ravaged by poverty, malnutrition and overall underdevelopment. Tackling air pollution has taken a backseat amidst the long list of issues facing the continent. Africa has committed to Agenda 2036 and the Sustainable Development Goals under the umbrella of health (SDG3) and cities (SDG11). African countries and the African Union must take bold action to address air pollution to ensure a safe and healthy environment for future generations.


Cities With The Worst Air Quality In Africa

Rank City/Town Country Average mean PM10, ug/m3
1 Onitsha Nigeria 594
2 Kaduna Nigeria 423
3 Aba Nigeria 373
4 Umuahia Nigeria 274
5 Kampala Uganda 170
6 Owerri Nigeria 158
7 Dakar Senegal 141
8 Bamenda Cameroon 141
9 Beau Bassin/Rose Hill, Coromandel Mauritius 131
10 Hartebeespoort South Africa 119
11 Nsukka Nigeria 117
12 Enugu Nigeria 115
13 Bafoussam Cameroon 105
14 Ile-Ife Nigeria 103
15 Tunis Tunisia 90
16 Abakaliki Nigeria 88
17 Sfax Tunisia 87
18 Johannesburg South Africa 85
19 Bizerte Tunisia 80
20 Afikpo Nigeria 72
21 Buchanan Liberia 66
22 Yaoudé Cameroon 65
23 Tshwane/Pretoria South Africa 63
24 Mpumalanga South Africa 61
25 Casablanca Morocco 61
26 Antanarivo Madagascar 60
27 Sousse Tunisia 58
28 Vereeniging South Africa 58
29 Marrakech Morocco 58
30 Tanger Morocco 57