Air pollution - Let’s tackle it now before it kills us all
It has almost become a yearly ritual for the country to broach the subject of air pollution because we have failed to deal decisively with the menace which is now threatening our existence.
That has invariably made it a subject of commentary for the Daily Graphic since 2020 when a World Bank report 2020 Country Environmental Analysis (CEA), stated that air pollution was responsible for 16,000 premature deaths in the country each year — a figure that was projected to increase to approximately 46,000 deaths by 2030 “if no action is taken”.
Also, the 2016 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study says air pollution is one of the highest and fastest rising causes of ill health in the country, and is implicated in increasing asthma, respiratory conditions and cardiovascular diseases, accounting every year for about 17,000 deaths in Ghana.
Last year during the commemoration of the third International Day of Clean Air for blue skies held on September 7, on the theme: “The Air We Share,” to focus on the trans-boundary nature of air pollution, the need for collective accountability and collective action was highlighted.
Unfortunately, little seems to have been done since the September meeting on air pollution and the fact that pollution of air transcends boundaries.
At a workshop organised by the University of Ghana, Legon, in Accra recently, air pollution was identified as a contributor to the growing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Accra, making it a major public health concern in the capital.
The revelation, established by an investigation by the University of Ghana on clean air in Accra, mentioned the NCDs of concern to include lung cancer, chronic ischaemic heart diseases (heart problems caused by narrowed heart (coronary) arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle) and acute respiratory infections (pneumonia) in children.
The investigation and workshop were part of a global partnership project, dubbed: “The Pathway to Equitable Healthy Cities Project”, which had Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah of the University of Ghana as the Lead Investigator.
An Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Prof. Raphael Arku, also said it had been established that there had been about 25 to 180 per cent increase in nitrogen oxide pollution in Accra, a marker of traffic emissions in cities over the last 15 years.
We could not agree more with Prof. Arku that the national transport system needs to be overhauled to improve health outcomes in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area as well as other cities across the country.
His observation that Accra is currently composed of a mixture of combustion and non-combustion sources of air pollution, including biomass fuels, road dust, vehicle emissions and regional dust storms, is also spot on.
Currently on our roads are many vehicles that spurt out carbon monoxide fumes from their exhausts, which even makes drivers in air-conditioned vehicles with windows rolled up duck for cover when the thick black smoke is emitted in traffic.
Woe betides the driver behind the smoke-emitting vehicle – the thick smoke will find its way into the car even if the windows are rolled up. The impact is even worse when the air-condition is on.
If we indeed want to deal with the high incidence of air pollution in the country, we have to walk the talk and stop paying lip service.
There must be strong collaboration between the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and the Motor Transport and Traffic Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority to ensure that vehicles on the road are actually roadworthy and are not emitting unacceptable levels of emissions.
Let us build the capacity of the MTTD to enable it to test for illegal levels of vehicle emission on the spot and keep such vehicles off the road.
Road contractors must be made to keep dust levels to the barest minimum by at least watering down the dust as vehicles ply the roads which are still under construction.
Our Environmental Protection Agency must be up and doing to whip in line all establishments and individuals whose work pollutes the air because we share and breathe in common air that needs to be clean at all times.
We also urge the Judiciary to assist in prosecuting flouters of our pollution laws so we do not have to contend with foul air.