Thousands of people are exposed to toxic emissions daily. Picture: MAXWELL OCLOO
Thousands of people are exposed to toxic emissions daily. Picture: MAXWELL OCLOO

Breath of death - Vehicular emissions engulf Accra

Accra is experiencing worsening vehicular emissions, raising concerns about their impact on air quality.

Experts and residents are worried about the impact the development is having on the health of millions of people.

The Daily Graphic has observed over more than a year that clouds of thick, dark fumes that emanate from the exhaust of thousands of vehicles daily cause a nuisance to residents as they release toxic substances that kill people, particularly children, slowly.

The vehicles, some of which are rickety, emit poisonous gases into the atmosphere in enormous proportions, posing a health risk to the over four million residents of the national capital and many others who throng the city to conduct business daily.

An estimated 16,000 premature deaths occur annually in the country as a result of air pollution, according to a 2021 World Bank Country Environmental Analysis (CEA) on Ghana.

Health risks of fumes

Experts say fumes from vehicles contain a cocktail of exhaust gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons and particulates that are harmful to human health and the environment.

A research conducted by a lecturer at the University of Ghana, Dr Ama Pokua Fenny, in 2017 revealed dire health consequences of vehicular emissions on the health of traders.

The study, which assessed the implications of vehicular emissions on the health of traders in the La Nkwantanang municipality in the Greater Accra Region, found that traders in the area, which had heavy vehicular traffic, suffered infections and chronic respiratory diseases.

“More frequently, frequent coughing, nausea, poor visibility and difficulty in breathing were among the major self-reported health outcomes,” the report stated.

The report indicated that the illnesses associated with these air pollution-related deaths included lung cancer, stroke and chronic pulmonary diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema.


A 46-year-old shop operator at the Kaneshie footbridge, Daniel Arko, lamented that the volumes of fumes from moving vehicles blurred his vision and made life uncomfortable for him.

“Most of the time, I cough a lot when the vehicles emit fumes into the atmosphere. Even if I put my finger into my nose, I see black substances there,” he said.

Similarly, a dealer in second-hand clothing at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Hannah Obiri-Yeboah, 29, said she had teary eyes anytime moving vehicles let out thick fumes close to her.

“Some of the cars are too old and should not be allowed to be on the road. They give us diseases. After inhaling the fume throughout the day, I cannot sleep soundly at night,” she said.

The teary eyes, blurred vision and other physical effects vehicular emissions have on members of the public may be worrying but there is more to it than meets the eye.

No emission testing law

Despite the danger smoky vehicles pose to lives and the environment, there is currently no law for the mandatory test for emissions in vehicles in the country.

Although the Road Traffic Regulations, 2012 (L.I 2180) provides guidelines to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) to test vehicles for roadworthiness, the testing regime does not include emissions.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the DVLA, Kwasi Agyeman Busia, described the situation as worrying, especially so when the country’s vehicle population kept growing by the day.

“Our vehicle population is increasing and this means that the risk of emissions is also going up. It is a nightmare to be behind cars that have fumes coming from the exhaust. It is harmful to the environment and injurious to health. Many countries have these standards and I am not happy that Ghana is still behind,” he said.

For instance, according to statistics from the DVLA, a total of 3,026,073 vehicles had been registered by the authority as of December, 2021, out of which 35 per cent had no roadworthy certificates.

This means the owners of 1,025,125 flagrantly violate Regulation Five of L.I. 2180, which enjoins owners of private vehicles to renew their roadworthy certificate every year, and for commercial vehicles, every six months.

Dire situation

Apart from having dire health consequences on members of the public, the smoky vehicles also pollute the environment and contribute to climate change.

Environmentalists say the greenhouse gases the vehicles emit into the atmosphere contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and increase in atmospheric temperature, leading to global warming.

A recent study by Ghanaian researchers has revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in Africa was growing at a rapid rate of seven per cent annually and could double by 2030. According to the study, there were approximately 72 million vehicles in use, but only seven countries, including Ghana, were responsible for 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, it was found that the growth in transportation emissions was averaging 11.1 per cent in Ghana.

The study was led by a Lecturer in Automobile Engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Dr Godwin Kafui Ayetor.

It examined the state and adequacy of fuel and vehicle standards prevalent across the African continent.

The research tested 200 vehicles each in Rwanda and Ghana to ascertain compliance with local and international standards. The study revealed that even some new vehicles failed the emission tests while almost all the diesel cars tested in both countries failed the international standard. The study also showed that poor fuel quality, aging vehicle fleet and the lack of mandatory roadworthy emission tests were to blame for the deteriorating transport emissions.

The crux of it

Speaking to the Daily Graphic on what the research meant to Ghana, Dr Ayetor said since Ghana was a signatory to the Paris Agreement, it was important to find ways of reducing emissions to meet the targets.

The long-term goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the rise in mean global temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 degrees celcius.
The target was in recognition that it would “substantially reduce” the effects of climate change.

Countries that are signatories to the agreement are required to take steps to reduce emissions to reach net-zero by the middle of the 21st century.

It further requires that to stay below 1.5 degree celsius global warming, emissions need to be cut by 50 per cent by 2030.

Dr Ayetor also said since Ghana was promoting the establishment of vehicle assembly plants, it was important to have a solid regime for emission testing.

Touching on how to address the emission challenge, he said, there was the need to ensure that fuel met quality standard “because if fuel quality cannot be guaranteed, it will be difficult to make people do emission tests.”

“We should have a transition and embrace electric vehicles because that will save us all of these things. We need to scale up the use of renewable energy sources to make this transition effective,” he said.

No emission tests

The CEO of DVLA, Mr Busia said even vehicles with roadworthy certificates remained a threat to human health and the environment because their emission status could not be tested.

“If you go to the vehicle testing stations (VTSs) we have in the country, they actually have the machines to test for emissions. What is lacking now is the standards.

“There is a certain standard the car should have to pass the emission test. The standards have been developed and gazetted and currently with the Attorney-General to be passed into law so that the VTSs can test the vehicles to be emission clean before they are certified for roadworthiness,” he said.

Mr Busia said the prompt passage of the law to enforce emission standards would be a major step to address the menace of rickety vehicles on the roads.

He said while awaiting the prompt passage of the emission testing law, the DVLA had ensured that all the VTSs put in place the needed infrastructure in readiness for the new dawn.

“When we go for inspection of the VTSs before we give the thumbs up to operate, we make sure that you have the emission testing facility. We are trying to ensure that they are well equipped while we wait for the law instead of trying to catch up when it is passed,” he said.

Climate change

For his part, the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr Henry Kwabena Kokofu, said vehicular emissions had direct links with climate change adaptation and mitigation for which reason a concerted effort was required to control the situation.

He said although Ghana’s updated nationally determined contributions that were launched last year had measures to check emissions coming from vehicles and other combustive industry activities, the progress was slow.

He said the importation of second-hand vehicles into the country was inimical to the effort being made to control vehicular emissions.

“We have been engaging stakeholders on how we can get rickety vehicles off our roads. Then the issue of socio-economic implications come in. You know the level of poverty in the system; you know the scarcity of transport facilities and the limitations of the public transport system. We trigger a policy and go in for full implementation, and you end up engendering an imbalance in the socio-economic setup,” he said.

Way forward

Touching on the way forward, Dr Kokofu said the EPA would engage the Ministry of Finance, the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority and other stakeholders “to see if as a nation, we can take the rickety vehicles off the road and have a way of compensating the owners through a reduced cost of replacing the vehicles.”

Again, he said there was the need for more attention to be given to the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s policy that encouraged the assembling of new vehicles in the country.

“The whole idea behind that policy is for the populace to patronise the new vehicles assembled locally so that gradually, we can phase out the importation of used vehicles because it turns out to be dumping of unwanted materials on us,” he said.

Dr Kokofu added that the EPA was ready to roll out “hard, biting policies” that would help deal with the menace of smoky vehicles, “but the society must be willing to embrace these policies.”

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