According to a new report called African Environment Outlook-3, Africa’s leaders should prioritise the implementation of environment and health issues if growing challenges such as air pollution, vector-borne diseases and chemical exposure are to be addressed. The report points out that environmental risks contribute 28% of Africa’s disease burden. Diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malaria account for 60% of known environmental health impacts in Africa.
Particulate matter is of particular concern in rural areas: many people do not have access to clean stoves so indoor air pollution is a problem. The low combustion efficiency of solid fuels used for cooking and heating in rural Africa, combined with poor ventilation, often results in concentrations of indoor air pollution 10-30 times over WHO limits. In Angola, 6.9% of the national disease burden is attributable to solid fuel use; in Malawi, the figure is 5.2%.
Degradation of the environment is another concern, as 80% of Africa’s rural population depends on traditional medicine and a large number of fungi, fruit and vegetables are harvested from the wild. Over-harvesting and climate change also contribute to biodiversity degradation and imbalances in predator-prey relationships that may create conditions for disease outbreak.
Chemicals are another problem. In the Ivory Coast, the National Centre for Agronomical Research in Abidjan estimates that 65% of the illnesses suffered by market gardeners, cotton growers, mango producers and consumers are due to pesticides.
The Fourth Assessment of the IPCC pointed out that Africa is warming faster than the global average, and that climate-sensitive diseases may increase with warming. In this context, the report highlights Rift Valley Fever, which affects both people and livestock; cholera, associated with floods; meningitis, associated with prolonged warming; and malaria, which has become a problem in hitherto unexposed areas, such as the highlands of Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, because of global warming.
The report says that in some cases policies exist to address the problem, but problems exist concerning the implementation of these policies.
Read it. I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do as individuals, but at least we should highlight the issue to others in our circuits.