Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Air Quality and Health in West Africa

Written By

Odubanjo D. Adedolapo

Submitted: 14 January 2022 Reviewed: 17 January 2022 Published: 24 May 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102706

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Air Quality and Health

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One of the most important elements for survival is air. Its significance cannot be overstated, necessitating proactive measures and regulations to ensure clean air in our atmosphere. Africa is one of the continents with the worst air quality. According to NASA modelling research, air pollution causes approximately 780,000 premature deaths per year in Africa. Experiments were carried out by the European-African consortium DACCIWA to investigate the causes and effects of air pollution by looking at the entire chain of natural and human-made emissions, from formation to dispersion to repercussions. The findings suggest that air pollution has already reached a dangerous threshold for human health in most West African countries. The aim of this chapter is to highlight and increase awareness about the severe risk that air pollution poses to the health of inhabitants of West African countries.


  • air pollution
  • air quality
  • health
  • particulate matter
  • emission
  • disease
  • pollutants

1. Introduction

Africa is undergoing a lot of major changes. In this century, the continent’s population is expected to more than triple, from 13 billion in 2020 to 43 billion in 2100. Cities are rapidly increasing, economies are booming, and life expectancy has nearly doubled. At the same time, as a result of increased fossil fuel burning, ambient air pollution is increasing, and mortality from ambient air pollution has increased from 2613 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 2915 per 100,000 population in 2019. Despite its small volume, this rise is unmatched in history. The most significant gains are found in Africa’s most developed countries [1]. African cities have become a substantial source of pollution as a result of rising populations, urbanisation, and resource-intensive industries. African urban growth rates are currently and will likely remain the highest in the world, averaging 3.1–3.8% each year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the annual median concentration of PM2.5 in more than half of Africa exceeded 26 g/m3, much surpassing the WHO-set guideline of 10 g/m3 as the annual average for healthy outdoor air. Air pollution monitoring is severely poor; only six of the 47 countries that make up Sub-Saharan Africa can provide long-term data on airborne particulate matter (PM), spanning 16 cities [2]. The automobile pool is the most significant source of pollution in urban areas. Increased traffic congestion is caused by an increase in the number of vehicles on the road and a lack of urban planning, which leads not only to increased air pollution but also to major economic losses in terms of time and fuel. In Sub-Saharan Africa, PM from road traffic is substantially higher than in developed countries. PM2.5 values varied between 40 and 260 g/m3 in a review of eight studies of outdoor air pollution in African cities (covering seven nations), compared to an annual average of 13 g/m3 in urban Europe and 9 g/m3 in urban America in 2019. In four West African cities, road traffic was the leading source of black carbon and PM2.5 (88%), with diesel exhaust being the most significant contributor to PM at roadside in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contained several substances linked to negative health impacts, including chromium, cadmium, zinc, and lead [2].

It is now well known that air pollution causes a significant amount of disease. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organisation recently has classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans, placing it in the same category as cigarette smoke, UV radiation, and plutonium. In 2010, ambient fine particles were responsible for approximately 223,000 lung cancer deaths, with more than half of those fatalities occurring in China and other East Asian countries (Straif et al. 2013). In 2019, an estimated 1.1 million people died in Africa as a result of air pollution (95% UI 932,000–1.26 million). HAP caused an estimated 697,000 fatalities (95% UI 526,000–879,000), ambient PM2.5 pollution caused 383,000 deaths (95% UI 289,000–491,000), and ambient ozone pollution caused 11,300 deaths (95% UI 4800–18,300) [1]. Air pollution is Africa’s second leading cause of death. It caused more deaths than tobacco, alcohol, car accidents, and substance abuse. Only AIDS is responsible for more deaths. Chronic lung infections (336,460 deaths; UI: 251,827–430,493), myocardial infarction (223,930 deaths; UI: 185,558–268,252), new-born disorders (186,541 deaths; UI: 152,569–229,402), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (70,479 deaths; UI: 53,765–87,251), and stroke are amongst (193,936 deaths, UI, 165,936–227,196) [1]. Due to the adverse effects of air pollution, clean air guidelines and policies have been approved or backed by the WHO and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This has aided many countries throughout the world in developing efficient policy, tools and data to control, and even reduce, harmful emissions in cities, hence reducing health burdens. Governments in other regional contexts, on the other hand, continue to deal with rising levels of urban air pollution and underperforming air quality surveillance for a variety of reasons. A prime example is Africa [3].


2. Air quality and health in west africa

Pollutant concentrations differ considerably based on a country’s population, industrialisation, urbanisation, and economic status, as well as its physical region, emission sources, and meteorology. Air quality research has traditionally focused on North America and Europe’s industrialised regions. However, with significant breakthroughs in our understanding, the focus has shifted to quickly emerging Asian regions (particularly China and India) over the last decade. Despite its enormous and quickly rising population, Africa is still a little-studied region when it comes to air pollution [4]. Pollutant concentrations in West Africa are caused by a number of different sources. Anthropogenic sources, such as transportation, industries, and refuse combustion, as well as natural biogenic emissions from plants, fall under this category. The location of the population is one of the most important elements impacting the locations and sources of emissions in West Africa. West Africa’s population density is higher around the shore because extensive port infrastructures are present in major coastal towns. Shipping emissions are a major source of pollution along the coast, particularly along major shipping lanes and at offshore oil and

gas operations. Within cities, pollution is caused by emissions from industries and power plants, as well as emissions from motorised vehicles and home sources, such as wood-fired stoves for cooking and refuse to burn [4]. Man-made emission sources, such as transportation, household burning, and industries tend to be located adjacent to places with high population density, making anthropogenic emissions one of the most important factors affecting human health. As a result, anthropogenic emissions can be expected to scale as a function of population. As a result of Africa’s widespread economic growth, quick rates of urbanisation and industrial development, and growing population, anthropogenic pollution emissions are expected to climb dramatically during the next century. Much of this growth is predicted to take place along the West African coast. While the effects of anthropogenic pollution on human health have been extensively studied around the world, quantifying the negative consequences on the West African population is difficult [4].

The levels of air pollution in ECOWAS cities are rapidly increasing to alarming levels: Nigerian cities, such as Onitsha and Kaduna, are now amongst the world’s most polluted, with PM10 concentrations 30 and 21 times higher than the WHO’s limit, respectively. To complicate things, all ECOWAS countries are classed as low- or lower-middle-income, implying that their public health systems are vulnerable and that their populations are more susceptible to poverty-related diseases, such as tuberculosis. Long-term exposure to ambient air pollution has been demonstrated to raise the chance of getting active and even drug-resistant tuberculosis infections, putting ECOWAS city dwellers at even greater risk [3]. Despite the great danger that air pollution poses to ECOWAS countries, the availability of air quality data from government sources is a problem. This contributes to the fact that the issue of urban air pollution receives little public attention and is not high on government agendas. Due to a lack of data on air quality, many national and local governments only have a fragmentary understanding of emissions sources, concentrations, and trends. It also means that the efficiency of some governments’ forecasting models may be hampered, as they rely on reliable ground-level readings [3]. ECOWAS countries trail behind other African countries in terms of official air quality monitoring and related health expertise, such as South Africa, which has studies employing air quality monitoring data to identify health hazards. There has been no comprehensive review of available knowledge on this subject to date, as the few existing reviews on air quality and health in the Sub-Saharan African region (none of which were specific to West Africa) have focused on indoor air pollution or specific populations, such as children, and have not assessed the status of air quality monitoring or policy [3].

Accra (Ghana) is one of the ECOWAS cities that has achieved significant improvements in air quality monitoring recently. The Ghana Environmental Protection Agency has established an Air Quality Management Plan that covers up to 10 districts in Accra and its environs, in collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and UNEP [3]. In the case of Nigeria, [5] indicate that the monitoring network is “scantily disseminated,” implying that there are stations, but no mention of their location or functionality. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency established five stations across the country in the early 2000s, however it is speculated that they have not been operational since 2013, probably due to a lack of technical expertise required to properly maintain equipment. Furthermore, air quality monitoring equipment is occasionally damaged, possibly as a result of a lack of public knowledge of pollution-related health problems [3]. [6] particularly highlight the six measuring sites in Dakar, Senegal, that are now operational. The city’s Air Quality Management Centre (CGQA—Centre de Gestion de la Qualité de l’Air) manages these sites in the Guédiaway, Medina, Yoff, Bel-air, HLM, and Cathedral districts. Another study conducted by [7] in Dakar combined air quality monitoring data, Ministry of Health data, models, and seasonal variability of Saharan dust influence to look at patterns of respiratory diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. They discovered a significantly greater incidence of respiratory conditions in Dakar than in other parts of the country, implying that anthropogenic air pollution has a significant impact.

In summary, only two of the 15 ECOWAS countries appear to have operational government air quality monitoring stations. Cabo Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone had no information [3].

2.1 The DACCIWA project: dynamics-aerosol-chemistry-cloud interactions in west africa

It is clear that there is a major shortage of knowledge and observational data in West Africa regarding atmospheric composition and air pollution. The Dynamics-Aerosol-Chemistry-Cloud Interactions in West Africa (DACCIWA) project, funded by the European Commission’s Framework 7 programme with €8.75 million, has helped to close this knowledge gap [8]. The partnership, which includes universities, research institutes, and operational meteorological and climate services, is made up of 16 partners from four European and two West African nations. The DACCIWA consortium’s expertise spans atmospheric chemistry, aerosol science, air pollution, and their consequences for human and ecological health, as well as atmospheric dynamics, climate science, cloud microphysics, and radiation. It has competence in the ground, air, and space observations, as well as modelling and impact studies [8]. DACCIWA intends to contribute to 10 fundamental objectives, the first nine of which are research-oriented. The objectives are as follows [8]:

  • During the wet season in southern West Africa, determine the impact of different emission sites (natural and anthropogenic), as well as mixing and transportation processes, on aerosol composition.

  • Evaluate the effects of surface pollutants (particularly particulate matter and ozone) on human health, ecological health, and agricultural output.

  • Accurately measure two-way aerosol-cloud interaction with a focus on cloud condensation nuclei properties and distribution, as well as their impact on cloud characteristics and aerosol removal by precipitation.

  • Determine the factors that influence low-level cloud formation, persistence, and breakup.

  • Determine the meteorological factors that influence precipitation.

  • Measure the effect of aerosols and clouds on energy and radiation budgets, with an emphasis on aerosol effects on cloud characteristics.

  • Analyse meteorological, chemical, and air quality models, as well as satellite precipitation, radiation, cloud, and aerosol retrieval.

  • Examine the impacts of precipitation and cloud radiative forcing on the water budget and the circulation of the West African monsoon.

  • Evaluate the socioeconomic consequences of future changes in emissions, climate, and land use on human health, ecosystem health, agricultural output, and water availability.

  • Inform the general public, scientists, operational centres, and policymakers about critical results.

To achieve these goals, DACCIWA science is divided into seven scientific Work Packages (WPs) that coincide with the major study areas, which are [8];

  1. Boundary Layer Dynamics

  2. Air Pollution and Health

  3. Atmospheric Chemistry

  4. Cloud-Aerosol Interactions

  5. Radiative Processes

  6. Precipitation Processes

  7. Monsoon Processes

The lack of data was a key stumbling block to achieving the DACCIWA research goals outlined above. To address this, DACCIWA conducted major field campaigns in SWA in June and July 2016, which included coordinated flights with three research aircraft—the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) DHC-6 Twin Otter, the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) Falcon 20, and the Service des Avions Francais Instrument’es pour la Recherche en Environnement (SAFIRE) ATR-42 and a wide range of surface-based instrumentation in Kumasi, Ghana, Savé, Benin, and Ile-Ife, Nigeria [9]. During the 3-week campaign period (June 29–July 16, 2016), the three aircraft flew 50 research flights across Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. One of the purposes of the research flights was to collect air pollution measurements all across some of the world’s most populous cities. Abidjan.

(Côte d’Ivoire), Accra and Kumasi (Ghana), Lome (Togo), and Cotonou and Save were amongst the cities targeted by the DACCIWA flight tracks (Benin). Each plane carried an identical cargo of instruments for measuring weather patterns, chemical concentrations, and aerosol and cloud characteristics. Most of the measurements were made onboard the plane; however, some of the samples acquired in flight were analysed offline [4].

Notwithstanding the project’s primary focus on meteorological conditions, it came to a number of important conclusions about air quality and its effects on human health. In the cities of Abidjan and Cotonou, measurements of tiny particles suspended in the air (known as PM2.5) were taken. The locations were adjacent to major sources of air pollution, including waste burning at a dumpsite, motor vehicles, and cooking fires. PM2.5 concentrations are virtually always above 10 g m−3 (the WHO yearly limit) and frequently exceed 25 g m−3 at all sites (WHO 24-hour limit). These concentrations are higher than those found in European cities but lower than those found in Asian cities [10]. Gaseous pollutants (ozone O3, nitrogen dioxide NO2, sulphur dioxide SO2) have no long-term observations in southern West African cities. DACCIWA conducted bi-monthly surface observations at the four air quality measuring sites from 2015 to 2017, as well as airborne observations in the summer of 2016. The concentrations of these contaminants did not surpass WHO guidelines. However, it is possible that NO2 levels will rise on some days [11]. In Côte d’Ivoire, DACCIWA took direct measurements of particle and organic gas emissions from individual automobiles. They were much greater than the region’s average. Old gasoline vehicles pollute the environment by a factor of a thousand. The performance of older diesel automobiles was just a factor of five worse. The emissions from new four-stroke engines are much lower than those from the new two-stroke engines [12].

For the first time, DACCIWA researched how the local population is affected in the cities of Abidjan and Cotonou. The number of hospital visits and PM2.5 concentrations was found to be significantly correlated at all three monitoring locations in Abidjan, especially during the rainy (summer) season. This shows that humidity may play an important role in the relationship between particulate matter and health, presumably by assisting in the inhalation of contaminants. The connections we detect between particulate matter and health outcomes vary by metropolitan region, implying that when addressing air quality implications on health, not only the concentration levels but also the source of PM2.5 should be considered. Long-term relative risk estimates for each municipality in Abidjan were derived using the number of medical visits as a benchmark for bad health outcomes. The link between long-term exposure to PM2.5 and respiratory, cardiac, and dermatologic health, as well as emergency room mortality, is described in this study. With PM2.5 concentrations decreased to the WHO recommended limit of 10 g m3, the number of visits to the emergency department for respiratory or cardiac difficulties might be reduced by 3–4%, and up to 4% of emergency room mortalities could be averted [9]. Domestic fires pose a significant health danger because of the high concentration levels, although the risks from heavy traffic or rubbish burning were less severe. The findings may be obscuring the serious risk associated with long periods of time near a significant emission source because this study focused more broadly on residents of the neighbourhoods surrounding the DACCIWA measuring sites, rather than specifically on bus drivers, people working in food preparation, or at the landfill site. Direct contact assessments on various groups of people in the vicinity of these sites revealed that the health risk was highest for children in waste burning sites owing to heavy metals, while the risk was highest for women in the home burning site in the summer due to organic matter [9].


3. Conclusion

In general, air quality monitoring, public policy, and regulation in ECOWAS cities are improving slowly, while it still has a long way to go before reaching Europe, America, Asia, or even other African regions. Research must be encouraged to accurately measure and manage the origins and health impacts of urban air pollution in ECOWAS [3]. While this study has shed light on the major flaws in current inventories; long-term observational data is required to thoroughly evaluate emission inventories for the region and to allow for ongoing monitoring of emissions changes over time. The West African region currently lacks these observational data, and future studies should focus on developing a broader observational network in the region [4]. However, [13] believes that when it comes to investigating air pollution and its health impacts, Sub-Saharan Africa—and the current study has revealed that ECOWAS is acutely susceptible and is systematically left out of such studies, further lagging the region. Creating public awareness is particularly challenging due to a lack of air quality or health data to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. Investments in infrastructure, such as waste management and energy provision, are also important aspects of any holistic policy in these metropolitan contexts. Also, because facts alone do not form a policy, politicians and administrations must pay close attention and have a comprehensive vision to ensure successful urban air quality management, as updating laws is a critical first step. Some West African countries have environmental rights included in their constitutions, while others have air quality rules dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. Despite this solid start, many laws are already antiquated, with PM limits well exceeding WHO norms, for example. As a result, even in countries where standards are publicised, public health is not adequately protected [3]. To these limited regulations, issues of unstable governance and insufficient enforcement capacities must be added—even when legislation is established, maintaining compliance is typically difficult due to limited administrative resources. This is due in part to the fact that urban air pollution is a problem that impacts a wide range of industries. As a result, its administration necessitates a high level of coordination and cooperation amongst them. Although extensive evaluation studies are missing, having an organisation responsible for centralising air quality control, as in the examples of Senegal, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, could lead to beneficial results in this regard [3].

In summary, it is not enough to simply provide these countries with air quality data; it is also critical to encourage long-term efforts that will boost data availability, good communication across government sectors and stakeholders, and ECOWAS-wide collaboration. This will increase government action, sufficient legislation, and public awareness, resulting in the area as a whole prioritising urban air quality and public health protection [3].


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Written By

Odubanjo D. Adedolapo

Submitted: 14 January 2022 Reviewed: 17 January 2022 Published: 24 May 2022