Generate evidence to tackle indoor air pollution

Woman cooking in her kitchen
Woman using firewood to prepare a meal for her family Copyright: K. Trautmann/CCAFS,CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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  • About 80 per cent of residents of Sub-Saharan Africa cook with solid fuels
  • But such energy sources contribute to increased air population and negative health effects
  • Scientists call for African policymakers to increase efforts tackle the issue

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[ACCRA] African countries should increase efforts to develop monitoring systems and emissions inventories to generate evidence-based data for tackling household air pollution, scientists say.

According to the WHO, illnesses attributable to household air pollution contribute to almost four million premature deaths globally a year, with most deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
But scientists say that the lack of adequate monitoring of air quality in Sub-Saharan Africa underestimates the contribution of indoor air pollution to deaths from diseases including asthma and pneumonia.

“Air pollution is a killer just like malaria and unwholesome drinking water and it's important we avert deaths attributed to air pollution by monitoring air quality and using the data to inform air pollution control policies,” says Adeladza Kofi Amegah, a senior lecturer at Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, in an interview with SciDev.Net yesterday.  “African governments should invest massively in air pollution control by procuring state-of-the-art regulatory monitors for assessing air quality in all urban settlements.”

“African governments should invest massively in air pollution control by procuring state-of-the-art regulatory monitors for assessing air quality in all urban settlements.”

Adeladza Kofi Amegah, University of Cape Coast

Amegah, who conducts air pollution exposure assessments, adds that the findings of a report released last month (30 May) showing that household air pollution accounts for nearly 65 per cent of the primary air pollutant emissions in Ghana call for more action from policymakers and researchers.

According to the report published by the US-based Health Effects Institute, 80 per cent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa cook with solid fuels such as biomass, wood, and charcoal but a comprehensive assessment of how such fuels contribute to air pollutions in the region is lacking.

The report makes recommendations for improving estimates of household air pollution impacts on health outcomes in Ghana.

“While Ghana is relatively rich in terms of data and studies compared with other countries in the region, the emissions inventories are limited, particularly in rural areas,” says the report. “It  is critical to develop accurate activity factors (number of vehicles  including  motorcycles,  types  of  vehicles, quality of vehicles, quality of fuel, number and capacity of generators and the fuel used)  for developing emission inventories.”

Efforts including use of emerging low-cost sensors for assessing household air pollution periodically have great prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Pallavi Pant, a co-author of the report and an environmental scientist at the Health Effects Institute.

“Such efforts could promote cooperation across countries in the region instead of focusing on city- or country-specific analyses in tackling household air pollution,” Pant explains.

Allison Felix Hughes, a lecturer at the Department of Physics, University of Ghana, and a member of the household air pollution working group that produced the report, tells SciDev.Net that policymakers should subsidise the price of liquefied petroleum gas for low-income users to enable them reduce the overdependence on solid fuels, adding that in Ghana a kilogram of liquefied petroleum gas costs about three Ghana cedis (almost 60 US cents). 

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.