SOUTH AFRICA—A report prepared by Greenpeace Africa and Greenpeace MENA has revealed that Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa have emerged as Africa’s most polluted countries. 

This is in terms of air pollution disease burden, with profound health consequences for Africa’s people and exacerbated impacts on climate change.

Titled “Major Air Polluters in Africa Unmasked,” the report investigated the biggest human sources of air pollution across Africa, focusing on major industrial and economic sectors, including the fossil fuel industry.

Every year in Africa, as many as 1.1 million premature deaths have been linked to air pollution.

The report found that Africa is home to some of the worst nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide hotspots in the world, primarily linked to thermal power plants.

Eskom, a public utility company with the government of South Africa as its sole shareholder, operates many of the most polluting plants in South Africa.

Exposure to air pollution is the second leading risk factor for death in Africa (HEI 2022), and achieving World Health Organization guidelines could result in significant gains in life expectancy.

The report also highlighted that pollutant emissions lead to a considerable number of premature deaths in Africa, with Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa consistently exhibiting large disease burdens linked to fossil fuel air pollution.

Additionally, six of the world’s ten largest NO2 emission hotspots identified were found in Africa, all in South Africa, while two of the world’s ten largest SO2 emission hotspots were identified in South Africa.

Of the ten largest SO2 point sources identified in Africa, nine are thermal power stations, and one is linked to a smelter complex in Mali.

Health impact studies suggest that life expectancy could be improved by up to 3 years in some African nations if air quality met WHO guidelines.

Exposure to air pollution, including nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, can cause both short- and long-term health problems such as heart and lung diseases, pregnancy problems, kidney issues, and cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

Speaking during the report launch, Dr. Aidan Farrow, Senior Scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, noted that in many parts of Africa, a lack of air quality monitoring has allowed pollution to remain hidden.

He argued that there is abundant evidence that African nations face a serious public health crisis from air pollution, with the root causes being the air pollutant emitters.

Data from satellites and fuel sales in each country allow scientists to investigate emission sources, pointing towards the biggest hotspots and contributors to pollution, such as Mpumalanga in South Africa, where coal burning for electricity is prominent.

On her part, Sarra Ben Abdallah, Greenpeace MENA Campaigner, highlighted the urgent need for North African governments to adopt the report’s recommendations, particularly the installation of air quality monitors and ensuring access to real-time data.

This proactive approach empowers affected communities to address their governments for action, take charge of their well-being, and make informed decisions to collectively work towards cleaner and healthier environments.

Fana Sibanyoni, an activist from the Mpumalanga region, also added that the burden borne by the people of Mpumalanga due to South Africa’s coal dependency, results in health issues and joblessness.

He emphasized the need for action to address pollution and systemic injustice.

The report presents recommendations to address the critical issue of air pollution in Africa, emphasizing the need for investment in clean technologies, especially in the energy sector.

International institutions share a significant responsibility for sustainably developing the African continent. Policies aimed at reducing air pollution offer a win-win strategy for both climate and health.

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