African mega-cities such as Lagos or Dakar already have worse air quality than Beijing. Rapid urbanization, the growing numbers of cars, and the poor quality of these cars, which are mostly second hand, partly explains the worsening air pollution in African cities.

The crucial factor though is that most African countries still permit the use of High-Sulphur diesel and gasoline. On average, African Sulphur limits in diesel are 200 times above the European limit, in some countries this figure is as high as 1,000.
Sulphur in fuels is crucial to air pollution because of its direct health-damaging effects but also because it destroys emissions control technologies in vehicles. As long as fuel Sulphur content remains so high, any efforts to reduce air pollution will be in vain.

Without rapid and meaningful improvements in fuel quality, traffic-related air pollution will soon be a major health issue. Respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive lung diseases, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases will rise.

On the other hand, the use of ultra-low Sulphur fuels (10 parts per million [ppm] Sulphur) would immediately halve the emissions of pollutants. If done together with the introduction of cars that use existing emissions control technologies, the emission of pollutants could be reduced by 99 percent.
The fuel business in Africa is very opaque. Companies take advantage of weak African standards to use cheap and dirty additives to create what's called "African Quality" fuels, according to a report from Swiss watchdog group Public Eye.

Over the past decade, important shifts have happened, almost unnoticed. As oil majors pulled out from Africa’s retail business, Swiss trading companies moved in, expanding downstream to control key assets such as storage facilities and hundreds of petrol stations across Africa. Hidden from view by operating behind the Shell and Puma Energy brands, two big Swiss trading companies Vitol and Trafigura, together with smaller Swiss companies, have a dominant position in the import and distribution of petroleum products in many African countries, especially in West Africa. Other heavyweights, namely Glencore, Mercuria and Gunvor, that don’t own petrol station networks, are equally important in supplying African markets. To access markets and increase their market share, they often rely on dodgy local door-openers or other politically exposed persons.

Interesting enough, Swiss traders provided most fuel imported in 2014 by Nigeria, where fuel standards allow 3,000 parts per million of sulfur in diesel and 1,000 ppm in petrol. The European Union limit is 10 ppm in petrol. So Nigeria, mother nation of famous superb Bonny Light Crude, a jewel praised by the entire World is importing back the lowest quality of refined products poisoning its population. Something is very wrong and let’s hope that because of the publicity around the report of public Eye Authority around the world will make sure that we stopped this environmental abomination and offer our brothers in Africa a quality product similar to what they are selling us. Nigeria produce petroleum with the world's lowest sulfur levels but have no refining capacity and therefore have no choice but to import, at least for the time being.

It is way too often that in the name of profit we forget ethics and decency!


The Public Eye report can be accessed at: