Nigeria is a country located in the western region of Africa, one of considerable size and population density. It is bordered by other west African nations such as Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin, as well as having a large portion of its southern land mass facing onto the Gulf of Guinea. It is a rapidly growing country undergoing massive changes to its infrastructure, economy as well as its population, leading to it being dubbed the giant of Africa, due to its sizeable presence on the African continent, both financially and population wise. Due to this large increase in population, as well as an explosion of industries, multinational corporations and businesses being set up, there is subsequently a noticeable and dangerously prominent rise in air pollution, something that has been around for a considerable amount of time but is now garnering more local and international attention, due to the far reaching consequences that it has amongst its general population, as well as the effect on the environment.
Whilst there are many different types of pollutive problems occurring in Nigeria, with ones such as water pollution, noise pollution and soil pollution or damage taking place, there is also a prominent amount of air pollution taking place, which has been on record for causing a growing number of health issues and deaths over the years. In regards to numbers on record, Nigeria came in with a PM2.5 reading of 21.40 μg/m³ in 2019, placing it in 39th spot out of all countries ranked worldwide, coming in just behind other countries such as South Africa and Saudi Arabia.
Of note is that this reading is missing a certain amount of potentially more informative data taken from across the country, and as such is being based off of a smaller portion of cities and is not fully telling of what some of the more polluted areas are truly like. These will be delved into further detail, but as it stands with the data currently available, Nigeria’s 2019 reading of 21.40 μg/m³ put it into the ‘moderate’ ratings bracket for air pollution, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. This indicates that Nigeria is subject to less than appreciable levels of air quality in certain areas, but also has many areas that would have a more pristine quality of air (due to lack of human interference and other related activities). The more densely inhabited areas are where the pollution levels would be at their highest and thus more dangerous to the general population.
Looking at more current readings of PM2.5 taken in Lagos in early 2021, some more valuable data can be imparted regarding the air pollution levels. Due to Lagos being the largest and most densely populated city in Nigeria, as well as the whole of Africa, it would thus hold the key to what the more severe readings of pollution in Nigeria would be like, with its multitude of industrial areas, busy roads and other similar areas all painting a clearer picture of the pollution levels in the country. In February of 2021, Lagos came in with PM2.5 readings ranging from lows of 18.1 μg/m³, up to highs of 78.7 μg/m³. These are readings that were taken over the course of a single day, and show the vast disparity present in such a short period of time.
This higher reading of 78.7 μg/m³ would put Lagos into the ‘unhealthy’ ratings bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³ for classification. As the name implies, this level of air quality would be extremely damaging to the population, and when pollution levels rise to these highs there would be a whole host of different short and long term issues associated with breathing the air, some of which will be delved into further. On average, however, Lagos had PM2.5 readings between 30 to 50 μg/m³, making it move back and forth from moderate pollution ratings up to ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ ones (35.5 to 55.4 μg/m³ required).
Nigeria sees itself with a number of different causes of pollution, ranging from the movement and activities of people, up to disasters, both man-made and natural. One of the most consistent causes of pollution would be that of vehicular emissions, something which is pervasive throughout the entire country as well as the rest of the world, tainting pollution readings in otherwise perfectly clean cities. In Nigeria, a large amount of these automobiles would be of the aged variety, with many cars, motorbikes and even heavy duty vehicles such as trucks, lorries and buses all utilizing engines that are well past their best days. This presents a problem because these poorer quality engines can leak far more noxious oil vapors, tainting the environment as well as creating dangerous fumes that can be respired by commuters and those that live near busy roads. These vehicles also put out large amounts of various chemical compounds as well as fine particulate matter, and being a year round feature for both personal travel as well as the transportation of industrial goods, is an ever present danger.
Other causes of pollution include emissions from factories, many of which utilize diesel fuels for their heavy machinery, as well as producing large amounts of dangerous industrial effluence as a byproduct of whatever is being manufactured, due to less stringent measures in place regarding emission standards. These can include plastic fumes, burnt organic material and all manner of synthetic materials, tainting the air as well as nearby bodies of water. In similar fashion, the vast amount of waste that is produced across the country is very often disposed of by burning, a practice that occurs most commonly in lower income districts due to lack of waste disposal infrastructure. This too can release fumes from both organic material as well as synthetic items such as plastics or rubber, along with hazardous materials such as batteries or electronic waste.
Households also contribute to the air pollution levels, with many houses using either kerosene stoves or simple wood burning ones, both of which can increase toxic smoke and particle matter buildup inside households (sometimes with deadly consequences) as well as bringing up the countrywide pollution level, due to the sheer amount of households all contributing. It is estimated that across the African continent, over 700 thousand people a year have their lives ended prematurely due to air pollution related issues, highlighting just how dangerous these air contamination sources can be when left unchecked.
With a wide variety of different polluting sources being present in Nigeria, coupled with the wide array of different types of pollution and high PM2.5 readings present, there would also be a whole variety of health issues that arise as a result. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, sometimes going down to sizes as small as 0.001 microns or less in diameter, and with these considerably small sizes comes a large increase in health risks. Due to this, PM2.5 is a major component used in the calculation of the overall AQI, or air quality index, alongside other polluting chemicals which will be discussed in short.
Some of the health issues that arise from the inhalation of these tiny particles and various chemicals include short term acute ones such as increased bouts of coughing, chest infections as well as aggravation of preexisting conditions such as asthma. Irritation to the mucous membranes can also occur, with the eyes, nose, mouth and ears all susceptible to aggravation or breakouts, with allergies being triggered off in vulnerable groups that include young children and those with a predisposition towards chemical sensitivities.
Furthermore, other long term and chronic ailments include instances of ischemic heart disease, a condition where the heart tissue starts to become damaged due to decreased oxygen flow, which can trigger off other conditions such as heart attacks, angina and arrythmias. Due to the incredibly small size of PM2.5, it can penetrate deep into the lung tissue and from there cross over into the bloodstream via the small air sacs, or alveoli. Once in the blood stream, it can cause all manner of damage, destroying blood vessels and making its way into various organ systems, causing disruption to the kidneys, liver and reproductive system.
Various respiratory issues can also occur, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an umbrella term that contains within it various respiratory ailments such as pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema. This can reduce the life expectancy of those who are affected, as well as stunting the growth of young children. There are also portions of the population who are more vulnerable, such as the previously mentioned young children, the elderly, those with preexisting conditions or compromised immune systems, as well as pregnant mothers. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, as overexposure to pollution during this vital period can cause instances of miscarriage, premature birth as well as low birth weight, which can raise the infant mortality rate considerably.
Some of the various pollutants found in the air in Nigeria would come from a wide range of the different polluting sources. Ones such as cars and other vehicles would release large amounts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), as well as carbon monoxide (CO) and black carbon, the main component in soot and a potent carcinogen when inhaled. As well as coating areas of high traffic with thick black layers and being visually unappealing (as well as dangerous to health), black carbon can also have a profound effect on the environment due to its ability to absorb solar radiation from the sun and convert it directly into heat.
Others would include ones from factories and open burn sites, where fossil fuels, organic matter and synthetic materials are all burnt. They include pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOC's), polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, furans and even heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Some examples of VOC's include formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene and methylene chloride. They can also find their release from household items of products, with varnishes and other similar materials emitting these chemicals. This is further compounded if such materials are burnt in an open fire, releasing large amounts of these VOC's and other chemical compounds and particulate matter into the air.
Looking at the air pollution readings taken over the last few years, it seems apparent that the air quality is indeed improving. The numbers on record are taken from between 2018 and 2019, and in 2018 a PM2.5 reading of 44.84 μg/m³ was taken. This is a dangerously high reading that would place Nigeria into the top 10 most polluted countries ranked in the world, but has since shown a massive reduction with its aforementioned 2019 reading of 21.40 μg/m³, a number which is less than half of its prior years reading.
Whilst this may not be indicative of a true air quality improvement (with a number of different factors being in play such as possible fluctuations in pollution levels coupled with meteorological factors such as pollution being blown away from monitoring stations) it is still a step in a positive direction, and if Nigeria can see improvements each year it will be able to improve its world ranking considerably, but it will be the following years post 2020 that will be truly indicative of this.
In the coming years, with a massively growing population and economy, Nigeria will need to start implementing a large amount of preventative measures to keep pollution levels down and thus improve the wellbeing of its inhabitants. Some of these initiatives could be ones such as the gradual move away from relying on fossil fuels such as diesel in cars, and whilst this may be a long way off, even a slight reduction in its use could see substantial changes. Others would be to place emission caps on factories or businesses that produce pollution, holding such places accountable if they exceed the limit for pollutive output and imposing fines, charges or threats of closure. These are some incentives that could be utilized in the future as Nigeria makes its way into being a larger entity on the world circuit.