Monitoring Air Pollution Crisis in Africa’s Megacities

By 2050 Africa’s fast-growing cities like Lagos and Kinshasa will have populations of over 30 million. The World Health Organisation estimates air quality to be responsible for more than 500,000 deaths a year in Africa from both indoor and outdoor air pollution.

However the air quality in many African cities is almost completely unmonitored due to a lack of air measurements and the absence of medical studies linking pollution to deaths in Africa.

Africa’s air pollution problem is a mix of the burning of rubbish, cooking indoors with inefficient solid fuel stoves, millions of small diesel electricity generators, cars with no catalytic converters, and petrochemical plants.

Hydrocarbons emitted into the atmosphere are readily processesd by an abundance of sunshine in Africa to form harmful ozone and aerosols. Compounds such as sulfur dioxide, benzene and carbon monoxide may indeed be playing a significant role in air pollution in African cities. But by how much is uncertain. Natural sources of harmful compounds also abound from Sahara sand storms and dust, chemicals emitted from trees and seasonal forest fires.

It is important for us to understand the air quality crisis facing Africa to prevent premature deaths, harm to vegetation and crops, as well as climatic changes. Conducting extensive research similar to those undertaken in North America and Europe is obviously needed. Satellite technology can be used to provide high-resolution information about pollutants and monitor the composition of the air over African cities.