Top 5 Causes of Air Pollution in Ghana

The causes of air pollution in Ghana might be few but have had huge impacts on the health and wellbeing of Ghanaians and their environment. This has drawn the attention of foreign bodies and NGOs looking to see what can be done to help the air pollution situation of Ghana.

Breathing dirty air is bad for human health negatively affecting the heart, lungs and brain. Recognition of this fact has caused many countries in the developed world to take legislative actions and to adopt policies to clean up their air.

But many developing countries face a very high level of air pollution from the combination of man-made and natural sources and surprisingly we still know very little about what these high exposure levels mean for health, particularly where other threats to health such as poor nutrition to infectious diseases are large.

How important is the harm caused by air pollution relative to these other factors? Answering this question is also hard. In most poor countries, air quality monitors are unavailable, existing measures underestimate the contribution of biomass burning to local air pollution.

So, how can we get a more accurate picture of the problem? In new research, a combination of air quality measurements was obtained from satellites with household survey information on nearly a million births of 30 sub-Saharan African countries.

All these data help in separating the role of air pollution from many other factors that also affect infant health.

Through this data, it has been found that exposure to microscopic particulate matter is responsible for more than 20% of infants deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and this exposure led to about 400,000 excess infant deaths in these 30 sub-Saharan countries in 2015.

The research shows that the health burden of poor air quality is perhaps twice as large as existing estimates and unlike other environmental factors, air pollution appears to affect poor and wealthy households equally

But, it also suggests the potential impacts of policy action are large. Compared to other popular health interventions like vaccines and nutritional supplementation, modest reductions to exposure to the particulate matter as achieved by wealthy countries will have major beneficial effects.

The researchers suggest that finding cost-effect ways to improve air quality could yield huge benefits in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Air pollution remains Ghana’s number one environmental risk to public health. It is responsible for about 8% of total annual mortality. The economic cost associated with air pollution is estimated at 2.5 billion USD which is about 4.2% of Ghana’s GDP.

Because the quality of air is not visible, it appears to be a silent killer.

In Ghana, thousands of premature deaths can be associated with poor air quality. There is increasing scientific evidence that poor air quality is associated with heart diseases, stroke, lung diseases including lung cancer, chronic cough, asthma and even more recently, coronavirus disease outcomes.

Major sources of air pollution in the Greater Accra region, in particular, are industrial sites, vehicular movement, waste sites and domestic activities.

To address the existing monitoring and planning gaps and to strengthen the capacity of air quality management, the World Bank’s pollution management and environmental health program which is funded by the government of Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom has supported the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It’s an air quality management pilot that was identified to intervene in seven cities globally and Ghana is one of them that was selected. The project has several objectives.

The first one is to build the capacity of those cities to adequately measure air pollution. Also, in the process better able to identify those sources of air pollution and finally to identify actions and financing mechanisms to help fund programs that would alleviate the air pollution.

Environmental Protection Agency is mandated to co-manage the environmental quality of Ghana and to ensure the achievement of sustainable development.

The EPA has a role to ensure good air quality in the country, they have started monitoring the air quality but along the line, there were problems of equipment channelling them to seek support as the data that was being collected were every six days so, it was unreliable for reporting.

The world bank through the pollution management and environmental health program has impacted positively on the functions of EPA, particularly in the areas of skill development that is capacity building.

The world bank project has helped the EPA to come up with an air quality management plan which is meant to be a guide for interventions within the city centre.

The Accra Metropolitan Assembly has worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency in the drafting and implementation of the document.

The EPA in Ghana can get minute by minute and continuous data which is more reliable and more accurate and similar to what is present in developed countries. There is also a database that describes the air quality situation in the country.

This makes it easier for decision-makers with that information to be able to come out with policies to combat air pollution. They also have data that can be transformed into Air Quality Index which can be used to educate the general public on the air pollution situation in the country.

Apart from the Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Ghana also benefited directly from the pollution management and environmental health management program. The program has enhanced data monitoring in terms of quality and has also helped put Ghana on the international map.

To ensure that the outcome of the pollution management and environmental health management program is sustainable, stakeholders identified some key recommendations and they include:

  • The program has enabled better access into the institutional capacity and how it can be improved.
  • Opportunities have been identified both for financing for these kinds of activities as well as opportunities to do things differently, for instance, modern ways of cooking, to prevent people from cutting trees and the use of more environmentally friendly solutions.
  • This has also brought a revelation on the need to improve enforcement of air quality guidelines and regulations in Ghana
  • The need to develop an air quality management policy for Ghana
  • The need to finalise the air quality management plan for the greater Accra metropolitan area.
  • There is also a need to transition from biomass fuel to LPG which is more sustainable in the terms of the environment.
  • The need to provide sustainable financing for air quality management and to mainstream air quality planning for government activities as well as the private sector.

It is estimated that in 2015, about 2,800 in the greater Accra region because of air pollution. This number is expected to increase to 4,600 by 2030 if no action is taken to improve the current and projected future levels of air pollution considering the challenges posed by air pollution.

A lot of work is remaining to be done especially in the area of behavioural change. There is a sense of urgency here, the numbers speak for themselves and the World Bank is very much concerned and very much into supporting Ghana and the rest of the world during this fight.

Every stakeholder, private or public institution should come together to support Ghana in this area.

It has been seen that human activities on daily basis are related to the quality of air around us. This means that we all have diverse roles to play to promote good air quality including advocacy and increasing awareness on the importance of air quality but also behavioural change.

The public should be aware that there is a crisis of air quality in the country and that they should desist from actions that result in air pollution particularly the burning of waste in the society.

Top 5 Causes of Air Pollution in Ghana

The following are the top 5 causes of air pollution in Ghana.

  • Fashion Waste
  • Electronic Waste
  • Indoor Pollution
  • Construction Dust
  • Emissions from Industries and Factories

1. Fashion Waste

Fashion waste is one of the top 5 causes of air pollution in Ghana.

Today, fast fashion brands are overproducing to meet the demands of modern trends and it’s creating a huge environmental problem in west Africa. In Ghana, 15 million used garments are imported weekly. These used clothes are the western world’s unwanted fashion cast-offs.

About 30,000 traders engage in the second-hand clothing business in the Kantamanto market (Ghana’s second-largest second-hand clothing market) relying on whatever is sent from places like the UK and the US and for most of them it is their main means of income.

Every day, ships bring another 160 tons of old clothes into the country. Clothes that are donated to charity in Europe or the US but which were unwanted in developed countries.

This is where international recycling companies then send the clothes.

These clothes incur a lot of losses and that’s because the quality of second-hand clothing imported into the country has reduced as some of the clothing are spoilt beyond repair.

40% of what arrives in the market goes straight to landfill forming mountains of unwanted clothes where there are burnt and this causes air pollution. The fashion industry losses about 500 billion dollars a year due to fashion waste. This causes an ecological disaster.

Such smoke does not make you sick immediately, but over a long period, it negatively impacts your health. The smoke is harmful to health when inhaled. It’s difficult to breathe making the citizens too often fall sick.

The smoke from these fires is toxic although there have not been any research done there to find out how toxic.

2. Electronic Waste

Electronic waste is one of the top 5 causes of air pollution in Ghana.

At a scrapyard in the Agbogbloshie, Ghanaian capital Accra, workers burn electronic cables to extract precious metals. Electronic products with a large quantity of copper are highly sought after by scrap dealers.

When they burn these electronic materials the smoke released is very toxic to their health and o the environment.  Workers both adults and children sift through the ashes for scraps of metal.

When it rains, ashes flushes into nearby ponds and rivers where animals graze. Across the scrapyard, hundreds of workers take apart electronic products. Only the part containing cables as well as metal and plastic castings are kept for recycling.

The rest are dumped or burnt as there are hardly any e-waste recycling facilities in the country to process them.

The effect of this on the health of the workers is that it affects the nervous system, kidneys and other organs and this is because the e-waste contains dangerous elements like lead, cadmium and mercury which are toxic even at low doses.

A particular concern is the effects of lead and mercury on the developing nervous system in children. Other chemicals emitted from the flames can build up in our bodies through repeated exposure and for some, there is evidence of long term effects including brain development, the hormone and the immune system.

Many of the chemicals present in these electronic devices are environmentally persistent that is, once released they will remain in the environment for a long period.

Local authorities worry that e-waste dumping could become a major problem because there are no laws to regulate e-waste trade and recycling in Ghana. For years to come, this will certainly be a problem.

Today, the dumping of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries is prohibited under the Basel convention. EU law also prohibits the export of e-waste to non-OECD countries like Ghana. Yet, there is a loophole used for exports from the EU declaring the e-waste as secondhand goods.

Environmental campaigners say laws alone cannot stop the growing e-waste trade in West Africa.

Electronic producers should take responsibility by banning toxic chemicals from their products and they should take back their products and recycle in a proper way when they become waste.

Only can they prevent their products from ending up in developing nations like Ghana where they pollute the environment and harm people’s health.

3. Indoor Pollution

Indoor pollution is one of the top 5 causes of air pollution in Ghana. Using firewood produces smoke that pollutes the air. When people inhale the polluted air, they fall sick.

Indoor air pollution is now the number one cause of death in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, around one-third of the world’s population solid fuels are derived from plant materials for cooking of which Ghana is one of them.

These fuels are often used in an open fire or traditional stove that result in significant household air pollution. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of pollution and are also exposed to the highest concentrations.

It is a major cause of chronic obstruction in pulmonary disease in non-smoking women and an attributable risk factor in the deaths of around 500,000 children under five years old from acute lower respiratory tract infections.

Household air pollution is also linked to advance pregnancy outcomes including low birth weights and stillbirths. In 2010, it was responsible for about 3.9 million premature deaths and 4.8% of lost healthy life years.

To reduce household air pollution, multiple strategies are required to meet the need of such households and this includes more efficient stoves, cleaner fuels, solar power and improved ventilation

4. Construction Dust

Construction dust is one of the top 5 causes of air pollution in Ghana.

Dust pollution in some parts of Ghana is a major problem. This is major because of construction activities going on in the area in an attempt to construct better roads. Residents and commuters are forced to wear masks to protect their selves.

Businesses operate in distress as fine powdery dust as this fine powdery dust fills towns and cars parked by the roadside as engulfed with dust. Plans to minimise the effects of construction work on residents have not been consistent.

Red fine powdery dust fills the air, rooftops, homes, schools and businesses. The intensity of the dust pollution forces commuters to alter their way of dressing.

For just a short distance movement, people are forced to put on a different body, face and nose coverings to escape the deep penetration of dust in at least 30 minutes journey.

The people living close to these areas are exposed to several respiratory ailments. People having lungs diseases like asthma and heart diseases in these areas are at high risk.

5. Emissions from Industries and Factories

Emissions from industries and factories are one of the top 5 causes of air pollution in Ghana.

You would need a nose mask to be able to survive a day or two in the Tema Free Zones enclave (an area that houses most steel factories). but the case of most factory workers, they have no option than to inhale the high sulphuric smoke every day as they embark on their daily activities.

The emission darkens the environment making it hard to see or breathe. Some of the workers vomit blood as a result of the smoke as they frequent the hospital time and again.

Poor air quality kills people. Today, the World Health Organisation report suggests that bad outdoor air is a cause of above 4.2 million premature deaths annually since 2016 out of which about 90% of the deaths are from low and middle-income countries including Ghana.

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