By Ezinne Onwunta
Air pollution can be defined as the contamination of the environment by chemical, physical or biological agents that change natural atmospheric conditions. For instance, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution. Air pollution has been seen as the major issue around the globe rampaging the environment with its dangerous effects. It is noteworthy that air pollution in the western world could be as a result of industrialisation, unlike in many developing countries. In Nigeria, in particular, air pollution is caused mostly by waste deposits, fire, dust and car emissions.
The health and environmental risk caused by air pollution include asthma, cough, wheezing and worsening of already existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. In particular, the effect of air pollution on the health of children under the age of five in Nigeria has become a thing of great concern. Regrettably, according to the United Nations, 2016, Nigeria still has a high rate of under-5 mortality (estimated at 70 per 1,000) and a high maternal mortality rate (120 per 100,000 live births). These deaths are mostly caused by air pollution-related diseases such as pneumonia. In the year 2019, the overall deaths of children in Nigeria under five due to pneumonia (air pollution-related) were 67,416, whereas 49,591 deaths were due to some household air pollution caused by cooking stoves in the house.
Although pneumonia is a major killer disease among infants in Nigeria, it is treatable and preventable with vaccines and antibiotics. Unfortunately, more than 50 per cent of one-year-olds in Nigeria are not vaccinated with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). Also, some of the children suffering from the pneumonia do not get access to adequate medical treatment, which can be as result of lack of funds. In order to effectively handle the major causes of air pollution-related pneumonia among Nigerian children, it is of essence that government introduces policies that will reduce the causes of air pollution such as regular automobile inspection, implementation of efficient electric energy such that it will decrease over dependence on generators, which produce unhealthy air in households. The government should also provide free or subsidized medical diagnoses and treatment, vaccine coverage and good food. All of these would improve children’s health and their immune system, thereby reducing their risk of dying of pneumonia, if they had anyway contracted it. Indoor air pollution can be largely solved by reliable and constant supply of electricity from central power plants, rather than small household generators. Reliable and constant electricity would eradicate the need for kerosene cookstoves in houses, replaced by electric stoves. Also, the vaccines should be made mandatory for every child under five years old. Therefore, we should press our government to: provide continuous and reliable electricity to rural and urban communities, provide financial assistance for households to buy electric cookstoves. Additionally, the government should mandate manufacturing firms within metropolitan areas to follow guidelines with regards to sustainable practices in order to reduce pollution of the air.
Finally, government should place strict sanctions on companies that emit poisonous gases into the air. Only by aggressive government programmes such as these can the health of our children and our nation improve.
•Onwunta is a graduate student of environmental policy, Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.