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WHO warns of air pollution danger

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman & Prince Acquah
Mr Emmanuel Appoh (middle), Head of Environmental Quality Department at EPA, addressing participants at the press briefing. Those with him are Mr Ebenezer Appah-Sampong (right), Deputy Executive Director of the EPA and Mr Desmond Appiah (left), Resilience and Sustainability Advisor to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.
Mr Emmanuel Appoh (middle), Head of Environmental Quality Department at EPA, addressing participants at the press briefing. Those with him are Mr Ebenezer Appah-Sampong (right), Deputy Executive Director of the EPA and Mr Desmond Appiah (left), Resilience and Sustainability Advisor to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for urgent actions to tackle increasing air pollution in the country, particularly in the Greater Accra Region, to contain such impact on health and the climate.

It said steps were needed to control the menace since it mostly affected the poor and the vulnerable, particularly children and individuals suffering from air pollution-related diseases such as stroke, cardiovascular, respiratory and lung diseases.

In Ghana, WHO estimates that air pollution from all sources caused about 28,000 deaths in 2016, over 4,000 of them being children under the age of 16.

In the Greater Accra Region alone, outdoor pollution caused some 2,000 deaths in 2017, the WHO asserts.

Urgent actions

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The WHO Technical Officer of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, Mr Thiago Herick de Sa, who stated this in Accra yesterday, said “estimated 2,000 deaths occur annually in the Greater Accra Region due to the effects of air pollution”.

“However, 30,000 lives could be saved every year by 2050 in the Greater Accra Region if efforts are made to promote sustainable land use, public transport, solid waste management, clean energy, electric vehicles and enhance green spaces in several neighbourhoods worst affected by air pollution,” he stated.

He was speaking at a press briefing following a two-day workshop for stakeholders on planning for climate action, improved air quality and health in Accra.

Economic loss

Mr Herick de Sa noted that increasing poor air quality in the Greater Accra Region cost the economy an estimated $550 million annually due to poor health, increased health cost and low productivity.

“The health and well-being of the citizens in a city are its main assets and we cannot afford to lose such assets,” he said, pledging the commitment of the WHO to contribute to all efforts taken to address air pollution in Accra and other cities in Ghana.

“We will continue to work with local and international partners to implement actions that will deliver a vibrant and healthy Accra and many cities in Ghana,” he assured.

Urgent actions

The Deputy Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mr Ebenezer Appah-Sampong, said outdoor and household air pollution jointly caused around 6.5 million deaths per year, and over 45,000 children in Africa under the age of five died annually due to the menace.

He said in Ghana, it was estimated that in 2015, about 2,800 lives were lost in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Areas (GAMA) due to the effects of air pollution, especially exposure to higher levels of particulate matter.

“And the number could increase to approximately 4,600 by 2030 if no action is taken to reduce current and projected future levels of air pollution,” he stated.

Individual roles

The WHO Country Representative for Ghana, Dr Owen Kaluwa, called on Ghanaians to adopt positive attitudes to reduce air pollution, improve the health of local communities and mitigate climate change.

“The local government and all other stakeholders need to play their roles in ensuring short-lived climate pollutants are reduced significantly in Accra and across the country to benefit everyone, particularly the most vulnerable people, especially our children,” he said.

Recommendations

 The Resilience and Sustainability Advisor to the AMA, Mr Desmond Appiah, said all the stakeholders who took part in the workshop agreed to control air pollution in the capital, there was the need for priority to be given to efforts to address the sources of the pollution to ensure clean and safe air.

He said they, therefore, called for increased investment in sustainable mass transport, electric vehicles, decentralised public services, improved infrastructure to increase cycling in the city and to take actions to discourage the use of motorcycles.

“We must consider setting up a scheme that allows for the replacement of cooking fuels from wood to gas for street vendors, and demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of cleaner fuels such as LPG and electricity,” he said.