AFRICA & THE ENVIRONMENT

BIG CHALLENGES AND SOME EASY FIX

African population is growing quickly and especially the metropolis, African cities are becoming megacities. Lagos has reached 21 Million, Cairo is over 20 Million, Kinshasa is close to 15 Million residents. African’s urban population is expected to triple in the next 30 years. Africa’s urbanization comes with a fast-growing car fleet. The continent’s economic development and lack of public transport can only accentuate the problem. These cars are generally second hand imported from overseas and generally do not pass any environmental control. Public transportation is done by an aging fleet that no western countries would admit. Pollution is the latest concern as compared to safety.

However, traffic-related air pollution is becoming a major health issue in many African cities. Images of Beijing’s frightening smog may have shocked many around the world, but Dakar and Lagos have air quality that is worse however nobody is reporting on to it. And while more cars are driven every day in Paris or Rome than in most African cities, outdoor air pollution is undoubtedly much worse in parts of Africa. Air pollution is calculated using a reference called Particles Matter (PM), a complex mixture including solid and liquid organic and inorganic particles that are harmful to public health. The average level of particulate matter, one of the most damaging atmospheric pollutants emitted by vehicles, is five times higher in Lagos than in London. Compared with London, the population of Lagos breathes thirteen times more particulate matter.

This particulate matter comes from several sources, but the main origin are fuels, “dirty fuels”. Fuels that are prohibited in Europe or the USA that includes large quantities of Sulphur. Improving fuel quality has already been on the agenda for some time now. Beginning after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, the UN ran a ten-year clean air campaign based on the fact that “leaded petrol poisoning is one of the world’s most serious environmental health problems.”

There is a double standard with major differences between African, European, and North America fuels. Nothing justifies this situation. There is no technological challenge, no restrictions on the availability of low Sulphur fuels, no significant economic impact related to their adoption. Something needs to be done and African administration around the continent needs to mobilize on this issue and quickly. It is easy and simple to resolve with no economic consequences but besides the political will all Western and Asian operators need to assume their responsibility and stop selling bad products to Africa!

African government need also to consider both solar and biofuel. Biodiesel made of sorghum is an easy fix. 11 of the top 20 Sorghum producers are in Africa. Sweet sorghum juice contains sucrose, fructose, and glucose which can easily be made into ethanol. To optimize ethanol yield, a juice extraction rate of at least 50% from the stalks is needed. Extraction requires a roller mill or diffuser equipment. The bagasse can be used to feed livestock or pelletized to burn. African countries should look at Brazil as a model to get independent from Fuel import that continues to represent a large fraction of the various nation’s Budget.

Solutions do exist but political decisions are rare…..

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