You Can Clean the Air — Here’s How
Air. That thing we breathe in and out every day of our lives. When a person ceases to breathe, then we know he has gone beyond. Like the many supreme beings we believe in, it is one of those things we cannot see, yet it can give or take away life as we know it. This air, crucial as it is to our survival, is becoming polluted by the ones whose survival actually depends on it. Ironic right? Humans (sigh). The Nigerian air is no longer what it’s supposed to be, but instead now a world of its own; a world overpopulated by foreign particles. WHO has termed Nigeria as one of those countries with the most polluted towns on the continent. The country has an air pollution mortality rate of 307.4 per 100000 people, which means that the amount of people who have been killed due to bad air is more than in South Africa, Angola, and Kenya combined. In 2016, Onitsha, a city in eastern Nigeria, had the world’s worst air. In 2017, 114000 deaths in Nigeria were linked to air pollution, the highest on the continent that year. Kano, in the north, had the worst air pollution levels in Africa in 2018. (Chasant, 2018).
In Lagos, one of the most known states, approximately 11,200 deaths that occur every single year are due to air pollution (Kazeem, n.d.), with children under the age of 5 being the most affected group of people (Croitoru et al., 2020). It is sad to know that, in addition to the already large number of children who die from malnutrition and diseases every year, others also die because they breathed in polluted air. In 2018, the impacts of air pollution in Nigeria cost society about $2.1 billion (Croitoru et al., 2020). Seeing how a large part of our existence depends on this air, one should not be surprised if the cost of the impact is that huge when it is polluted. Facts, facts, facts. Gloomy? Dark? Yes. Apologies, but the picture had to be painted that way just so the severity of the problem is grasped.
Cars emitting fumes from exhaust pipes (Essen, 2017)
WHY IS THE AIR SO… DIRTY?
The issue has been primarily driven by humans and their activities. Over the past few years, the number of vehicles being driven on the Nigerian roads has increased, especially in the more densely populated cities like Lagos, which has about 14 people – sorry, 14 million people. The country seems to have issues with urban mobility as public transport options, numerous as they are, are still not enough for its population and so people have to rely on private transportation. Amongst many of the megacities in Africa, Nigeria also seems to have one of the shortest public railway systems. Records show that Lagos alone has about 227 vehicles per kilometre (Zaccheus, 2017). Now that’s something. With this vehicle density, we can imagine the fumes that are released into the atmosphere daily. This is made worse by the fact that a number of these vehicles are outdated models with ancient emission tech built into their engines. Because of this, you can notice the difference between an old car and a later model by the colour of the emissions from its silencer which grows darker the more senior the vehicle is. Power generation has also proven a very major contributor to the problem. The irregularity of electricity supply, or as Nigerians would call it, the “No Light” situation, has prompted the population to find alternative sources of electricity. There is almost no home or shop without an electric generator. These are engines of different sizes and capacities that produce electricity through the burning of petrol or diesel. Like other engines that burn fossil fuels, they emit fumes that pollute the air. Then there are the industries and factories, blasting factory fumes into the air like there’s no tomorrow. Also, some of the seemingly “little” things we do, like burning that refuse because the waste management truck never arrived that month, actually impact our air quality significantly.
HOW EXACTLY IS THIS BAD AIR AFFECTING THE COUNTRY?
One would expect that polluting this air will somehow have an effect on the one who breathes it (every single one of us by the way), and this is precisely the case. Inhaling air polluted by dust or smog can cause migraines, in other words, severe headaches. People who work in industries mostly suffer various health problems due to the amount of polluted air they continuously inhale. It’s even worse for those who already have underlying respiratory and breathing problems like Asthma. But it’s not just us humans it affects. Our pets, our plants, and all wildlife around us have a respiratory system which depends on this air. Just like you, your dogs and cats have lungs that are affected the same way yours would be if you breathe in dirty air (Wreglesworth, n.d.). Acid rain, a phenomenon that occurs when the air is polluted by acidic pollutants and then combines with water in the air to form rain, negatively affects our building structures, skin, soil, water bodies and agriculture (Nunez, 2019). Don’t panic, it’s not the kind of acid you see in movies that melts through tables; otherwise, I’d have packed my bags and left this planet (it’s not like there’s anywhere more conducive though). These are some of the ways air pollution affects us, and let’s not forget the larger issues it adds up to – climate change and global warming.
Solar panels used to generate electricity (stock image, Pexels)
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
We have most likely all heard the same things on what should be done to stop or reduce air pollution. Shifting from using fossil fuels to power engines and generate energy, to using renewable fuels, seems to be the most ideal solution. The Burning of fossil fuels releases carbon into the atmosphere, which is one of the most significant air pollutants we have. If all engines were to run on green energy (solar, wind, hydro), then we wouldn’t have to use fossil fuels, and thus carbon emissions would be eliminated. Countries could also ban the use of all those old faulty cars that keep releasing excess smoke. The government could… the Ministry of Environment can… Industries should…What can WE do? Me and you, the civilian, the student, the regular person, the layman. Ask a person this question, and he might have to think for a while before providing an answer. There are ways we can all contribute to making our air cleaner regardless of what level we are in society, or what sector we might be engaged with.
Ductless central unit air conditioner (HGTV, 2020)
START FROM YOUR HOMES PEOPLE
There are many little things we do in our homes that can affect air quality, and if we can start being conscious of how we do those things, perhaps we can form habits that would make our air much cleaner. How we use energy, although seemingly unrelated, is actually one of those things. Since most of the energy we use currently rely on non-renewable sources, using less of it can improve the quality of our air. Turn off your lights when you leave the room, and if it’s not in use. There is no need to leave it on and waste some units of electricity – unless of course, it’s at night and you’re scared of the dark, or maybe you’re just trying to ward off evil. Still, on the lights issue, attempt to purchase and make use of fluorescent incandescent bulbs (I mean the energy-saving ones). The next time your bulb gets blown, as that seems to happen a lot in Nigeria for some reason, keep that in mind when you’re buying a new one to replace it.
Now we all like to use air-conditioning, and it is no news that the country can be scorching at certain times of the year. However, it would be awesome if we could avoid using it when it’s not necessary. The older air conditioning systems we all used some years back – yes, those ones with butts that stuck outside your walls or windows – made use of about a third of the energy that our sleek, sexy, and “modern” air-conditioning systems currently use. Whenever possible, try to use an electric fan (ceiling or standing) instead, as they make use of way less energy. Moving over to the kitchen, because as we breathe, so do we eat (well not as frequently, but you get the idea). Many households are fond of using the microwave to heat up meals, and this is great. A microwave oven gives you total control over the amount of time you spend cooking or heating up your food, and thus you have control over how much power you use – a power all other kinds of ovens and stoves do not grant you. Whenever you need to heat or cook a small meal, use a microwave. When you do your laundry, try to dry them on the line in your backyard rather than using your machine’s dryer. The sun doesn’t ask you for monthly bills, it’s free, so use it. Also, if you ever happen to hire a painter, tell him to use a brush, not a sprayer.
STOP WASTING STUFF
When printing, try to do it on both sides of the paper. Use recyclable products. Practice composting. Be as sustainable and anti-waste as you can be.
Man riding a bicycle to work (stock image, Pixabay)
DRIVE LESS AND DRIVE SMART
As mentioned earlier, the vehicle density in Lagos shows that driving is a way of life in Nigeria. If you don’t really have to drive to do something, please don’t (US EPA, n.d.). Order your stuff online. Use a bicycle if you have one, or just walk to your destination if it’s close enough. You would not only be doing the air well, but you’d also be doing yourself a favour as these are suitable forms of exercise. However if you really have to use the car, then drive smart. Keep your tires properly inflated, and use cruise control when you’re on the highway. Don’t play “Need For Speed” on your roads – accelerate gradually and obey speed limits. It is crucial to be conscious of all these things because they determine how much emissions your vehicle releases.
Summarizing it all: let’s be conscious of how our actions at home and beyond affect the air. Practice all these small habits, and with time, they will become embedded in your lifestyle. We don’t have to wait for our government to tell us to do these things. It is important that we take them seriously, so we do not end up having to wear masks beyond the pandemic. Take action! Be a part of the solution, not part of the pollution.
Chasant, M. (2018). Air pollution in Nigeria: Causes, Effects and Solutions. N99 and CE Air Pollution Masks | ATC MASK. https://www.atcmask.com/blogs/blog/air-pollution-in-nigeria
Croitoru, L., Chang, J. C., & Kelly, A. (2020). The Cost of Air Pollution in Lagos. World Bank, Washington, DC. https://doi.org/10.1596/33038
Cunningham, A. (2018). Amid Staggering Pollution, Nigerians Struggle to Catch Their Breath. https://undark.org/2018/10/22/air-pollution-lagos/
Kazeem, Y. (n.d.). Residents in Lagos are paying for the city’s worsening air pollution with their lives. Quartz Africa. Retrieved 7 November 2020, from https://qz.com/africa/1908936/air-pollution-in-lagos-nigeria-kills-11000-a-year-world-bank/
Kemper, K., & Chauduri, S. (n.d.). Air pollution: A silent killer in Lagos. Retrieved 7 November 2020, from https://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/air-pollution-silent-killer-lagos
Komolafe, A., Adegboyega, S., Anifowose, Y., Akinluyi, F., & Awoniran, D. (2014). Air pollution and climate change in Lagos, Nigeria: Needs for proactive approaches to risk management and adaptation. American Journal of Environmental Sciences, 10412423, 412–423. https://doi.org/10.3844/ajessp.2014.412.423
Nunez, C. (2019, February 28). Acid Rain. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/acid-rain/
Parke. (2016). World’s most polluted city by air is in … Nigeria—CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/africa/nigeria-cities-pollution/index.html
Rees, N., & UNICEF. (2016). Clear the air for the children: The impact of air pollution on children. UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/UNICEF_Clear_the_Air_for_Children_30_Oct_2016.pdf
US EPA, R. 01. (n.d.). Actions You Can Take to Reduce Air Pollution | Ground-level Ozone | New England | US EPA [Overviews & Factsheets,]. Retrieved 7 November 2020, from https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/reducepollution.html
Wreglesworth, R. (n.d.). What Are The Effects Of Air Pollution On Animals? Innovate Eco. Retrieved 8 December 2020, from https://innovate-eco.com/what-are-the-effects-of-air-pollution-on-animals/
Zaccheus, B. (2017). LAGOS AND MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION. Lagos State Government. https://lagosstate.gov.ng/blog/2017/07/05/lagos-and-motor-vehicle-administration/