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Most African countries will have switched to unleaded petrol — or will have almost phased out lead from petrol — within five years, according to research by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

A survey to be presented to environment ministers at a UNEP conference in Nairobi, Kenya, next week shows that four countries (Egypt, Libya, Mauritius and Sudan) are already lead-free. And this year Morocco, Réunion, Tunisia and Western Saharan territories will also completely phase out leaded petrol.

The survey indicates that a further 22 countries — including Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo and Uganda — have drawn up, or are in the process of developing, plans to phase out leaded petrol by 2006.

Lead in petrol can be a serious health risk, particularly in children. It can cause irreversible brain damage, stunted growth, behavioural disorders, and visual and hearing problems. Around 90 per cent of the world's petrol supplies are now unleaded with the remainder concentrated in developing countries, especially Africa.

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