20-May-2014.By: Sylvester Iriogbe
World Health organisation recently reported that air quality in most cities worldwide fails to meet its stipulated guidelines for safe levels, thereby putting people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems. WHO’s urban air quality database for 2012, which covers 1600 cities across 91 countries (including Nigeria cities), has revealed an increasing recognition of air pollution’s health risks.
The report stated that only 12% of the people living in cities being monitored complies with WHO air quality guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends - putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.
The organisation expressed its concern that compare to previous years, air pollution is getting worse, with many factors contributing to this worrisome increase. These factors include reliance on fossil fuels such as coal fired power plants, dependence on private transport motor vehicles, inefficient use of energy in buildings, and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.
Air pollution is a problem that should not be taken with levity by any government, family, group or individual as it is dangerouse to breathe and exposes people to so many health risks. Assistant Director-General for Family, Children and Women's Health, WHO, Flavia Bustreo said that too many urban centres today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible. “Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe. So a growing number of cities and communities worldwide are striving to better meet the needs of their residents - in particular children and the elderly."
A WHO 2014 report also revealed that outdoor air pollution was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 3.7 million people under the age of 60 in 2012. The Organization also emphasised that indoor and outdoor air pollution combined are among the largest risks to health worldwide.
Concerned by this data, WHO is calling for greater awareness of health risks caused by air pollution, implementation of effective air pollution mitigation policies; and close monitoring of the situation in cities worldwide. There are many components of air pollution, both gaseous and solid. But high concentrations of small and fine particulate pollution is particularly associated with high numbers of deaths from heart disease and stroke, as well as respiratory illnesses and cancers.
To achieve clean and safe air, the organisation is recommending sufficient implementation of effective policies and strategies, siting examples of Copenhagen and Bogota, where the quality of air is remarkably improved by promoting active transport prioritizing dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling. It also suggests that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for “space heating” in buildings, using renewable or “clean” fuels for electricity production, and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.
The problem of air pollution is not an entirely lost battle in a country like Nigeria. There are measure that can be taken to win the fight against air pollution and reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as lung cancer.
Dr Carlos Dora, Coordinator, Interventions for Healthy Environments, WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health noted that clean air cannot be bought in a bottle, “but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people.”
Such measures include ensuring that houses are energy efficient, that urban development is compact and well served by public transport routes, that street design is appealing and safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and waste is well managed. Such activities not only clean the air but can also serve as a catalyst for local economic development and the promotion of healthy urban lifestyles.
As individuals, there are some things we can do to ensure a cleaner and less polluted air in our homes and environment.
Keep your environment clean; ensure that all drainages around your house is cleared and avoid having stagnant water anywhere close to your home. For those of you who enjoy planting flower and other garden plants, avoid using chemical pesticides or fertilizers in your yard and garden. Many fertilizers are a source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Try organic products instead. Plant trees! Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and filter out air pollution.
Compost your yard waste instead of burning it. Outdoor burning is not advisable and even no longer allowed in many areas; but even if you live in an area where it is allowed, breathing smoke is bad for you, your family and your neighbours. Instead, call the waste disposal department in your area to help you dispose properly.
Be energy efficient. Most traditional sources of energy burn fossil fuels, causing air pollution. Keep your home well-maintained with weather-stripping, storm windows, and insulation. Lowering your thermostat can also help. For every two degrees Fahrenheit you lower it in the winter or raise it in the summer, you save about two percent on your heating bill. Turning off all unused lights help to reduce pollution.
Avoid smoking cigarette or exposing yourself to cigarette smoke. The smoke of a cigarette is dangerous to your health whether you are the smoker or not.
Keep your vehicle well maintained. A poorly maintained engine both creates more air pollution and uses more fuel. Replace oil and air filters regularly, and keep your tires properly inflated. Drive less. In these days of high gas prices, carpooling, walking, bicycling, riding the bus, or working from home can save you money as well as reducing air pollution. Don’t idle your vehicle. If you stop for more than 30 seconds, except in traffic, turn off your engine. Idling a vehicle for a total of 10 minutes a day uses an average of about 22 gallons of gas per year, as well as polluting the air. By turning your vehicle's engine off when it isn’t moving, you’ll save money on gas and breathe cleaner air.
Last Updated: 30-Jun-2016 07:39 PM
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