The increased cost of air pollution in Africa calls for urgent mitigation action, says new OECD Development Centre study


17/10/2016 – The human and economic costs of air pollution in Africa are growing fast, according to a new OECD Development Centre study on the Cost of Air Pollution in Africa. Already, they are surpassing the costs associated with unsafe sanitation or underweight children. Without bold policy changes in Africa’s urbanisation policies, these costs might explode.

Building on the OECD’s methodology to assess the Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution for OECD countries, China and India, the paper provides new, critical evidence on the economic cost of the impact of air pollution on human lives for African countries.

Between 1990 and 2013, total annual deaths from outdoor air pollution -- ambient particulate matter pollution (APMP), mostly caused by road transport, power generation or industry -- rose by 36% to around 250 000. Over the same period of time, deaths caused by household air pollution (HAP) --caused by polluting forms of domestic energy use -- rose by 18%, from a higher base, to well over 450 000.

For Africa as a whole, the estimated economic cost of those premature deaths is around USD 215 billion for outdoor air pollution in 2013, and around USD 232 billion for household air pollution. And this is in spite of slow industrialisation, and even de-industrialisation in many countries.

Although the study stresses the lack of precise information on the exact composition of the sources of air pollution in Africa, it does note that its deleterious impact has risen in tandem with the continent’s steady and rapid urbanisation, a megatrend set to continue to unfold throughout this century and which makes bold action to tackle and reverse the impact of air pollution even more urgent. This suggests that current means of transportation and energy generation in African cities are not sustainable. Alternative models to those imported from industrialised economies, such as dependence on the individual automobile, are necessary. The new evidence also reinforces calls for more effective regulation of the toxicity levels of imported fuels.

The study also underlines that while “early industrialisers”, such as many OECD economies, have been facing the challenges of industrialisation and environmental protection – including combatting air pollution – in a sequence, African nations are compelled to face them simultaneously. This makes the challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) all the more arduous.

Finally, the trans-boundary nature of air pollution and its negative contribution to global climate change call for international, co-ordinated action to combat air pollution in Africa. The New Urban Agenda discussed this week in Quito, Ecuador during the United Nations-Habitat III Conference (17-20 October 2016) presents an opportunity to foster such collective action.

For further information, journalists are invited to contact the OECD Development Centre‘s Press Office: [email protected]; T: +33 (0)145 24 82 96.


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