Onitsha, The bursting commercial nerves centre of the South East geo-political region is renowned for its commercial activities chiefly building materials and every other tradable item on planet earth.
It ranks next to Nnewi, the city reputed for its expertise in fabricating any vehicle part ever invented in the world. Some even joked that any spare part even if it is for nuclear bomb could be fabricated Nnewi boys and you would hardly spot the difference from that manufactured by the experts in Russia, Japan or Germany.
It seems the reputation has by far presided Onitsha as the evidenced by the recent report published by the World Health Organisation., WHO. Though Onitsha and Aba in the South east made the WHO list for some wrong reasons, it bears acknowledging that Onitsha’s inclusion in the WHO list could be considered a milestone considering the reasons responsible the acclaim bestowed on the city.
Like the Cable Network News, CNN, report rhetorically asked Dirtied by success? The report says, “Onitsha – a city few outside Nigeria will have heard of — has the undignified honor of being labeled the world’s most polluted city, according to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Onitsha – The booming port city in southern Nigeria, recorded 30 times more than the WHO’s recommended levels of particulate matter concentration.”
That is rather complimentary because one would have thought that cities like Lagos, albeit the commercial nerves centre of Nigeria by virtue of the flurry of industrial activities, is long renowned for its general uncleanness, Kano city known to be one of the dirtiest cities ever in the African continent, if not the world, hardly made the top 50 list, and Port Harcourt, long considered the petrol-chemical nerves centre of the country in view of the number of refineries and ancillary industries, was no way near Onitsha in the WHO list.
Interestingly, Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, adduced reasons why Onitsha is highly polluted.
Onitsha – “The contributing factors to pollution are a reliance on using solid fuels for cooking, burning waste and traffic pollution from very old cars,” Dr Neira.
An indigene of the city proffers further reasons. Onitsha is a major link to the Southeastern parts of the country. It is a passage way to Aba, Enugu, Owerri, Umuhia, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Calabar, and Benue axis leading to North East Nigeria.
“Onitsha links the former Midwestern region-Edo, Delta states and the Western states, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and bordering cities in the Northcentral. It is the bridge across the Niger- where the First Niger Bridge is located.
“Sadly, the road from the point of the bridge into the main town and flowing towards Owerri, Umuhia and the industrial city of Port Harcourt, Uyo and Calabar respectively is not only narrow but a terribly deplorable consideration. It is full of portholes and gullies enough to swallow a camry car in most instances.
“Add that to the fact that people are compelled to hawk all kinds of goods because travellers often found themselves stranded in agonising traffic gridlock and therefore need food and other necessities to ease the burden. Besides, many have discovered that kinds of goods could be purchased at gain and friendly prices in Onitsha during that traffic hold-up and therefore deliberately in most cases prefer to do their shopping there,” Elder Ogbonna Ifeanyi said.
Friday Magazine adds that waste product from the wrappings of loaves of bread and several other items are usually poorly disposed of and therefore inevitably constitutes pollution agents.
Next to Onitsha in the WHO infamous list is Aba. That’s hardly a surprise because Aba- the bustling city has long been reputed for dirtiness and pollution. Aba is commercial hub of West Africa and boasts of expertises in whatever designer wears on planet earth. The city’s expertise is such that whatever design of shoes, clothing or piece of machinery that one takes there could almost flawlessly be copied.
Thus the volume of manufacturing activities which daily carried out in Aba is more than enough to generate pollution. Additionally, the failure of the federal and state governments to accord the city of fabrication its due recognition and legally protected leaves room for avoidable irresponsible behaviours from artisans, machinists and other fabricators that dot every available space from Araria Market-the biggest market West Africa, to Ogbor Hill market among others.
Also, Aba like Onitsha is in dire need of functional motorable roads. The abandonment visited on the city by the federal government and even the respective state governments leaves no little statement about their clear lack of foresight on the goldmine by way of tax on commercial activities and therefore guaranteed supplier of scarce revenue.
The CNN in quoting the WHO report said, “Aba – Trade centers in southern Nigeria, and Umuahia, came sixth and 16th on the list, respectively. Last year, the World Bank reported that 94 percent of the population in Nigeria is exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines (compared to 72 percent on average in Sub-Saharan Africa in general) and air pollution damage costs about 1 percent post of Gross National Income.
The inclusion of Kaduna is somewhat surprising. One known for being textile hub of the country, but the city has lost its allure in that regard. Most of the textile firms are in disuse because textile industry has long suffered neglect from the governments that deliberately encouraged importation of textile materials to the detriment of the local industries.
But then, there is a different reason why Kaduna made the list:
Kaduna – The transport hub of Kaduna, in the north, came fifth on the list, although the report only included pollution levels from cities with a population of over 100,000 residents that monitor their pollution levels — something many African cities don’t do, according to the report.
It further substantiated its position thus: Kaduna – “We need to do an assessment of the sources of pollution at city level, also work on better planning of urban collective transport systems, and take very old cars out of service,” says Neira.
The inclusion of Umuahia, which placed 16th position, is on account of being a growing commercial centre in the South east though not in the shape of Onitsha and Aba, respectively.
The WHO study tracked the growth in the two different sizes of particulate matter, PM10 and PM2.5, per cubic meter of air.
PM2.5 particles are fine, with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (µm) to more than 40 micrometers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
PM10 particles are less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter. Nigeria did not feature in the top 10 for PM2.5 levels.
According to the CNN report the cause of Nigeria’s pollution problem is a complex story.
“The contributing factors to pollution are a reliance on using solid fuels for cooking, burning waste and traffic pollution from very old cars,” Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, tells CNN.
At home, due to unreliable electricity supplies, many Nigerians rely on generators, which spew out noxious fumes often in unventilated areas. On the street, car emissions go unregulated.
Neira adds: “In Africa, unfortunately, the levels of pollution are increasing because of rapid economic development and industry without the right technology.”
Indeed, Nigeria’s economy has raced forward in the past decade, overtaking South Africa as the continent’s largest economy in 2014, following a recalculation of its GDP. Agriculture, telecoms and oil are all driving this growth — at a certain environmental cost.
The latest WHO report may highlight Nigeria, but the true story in other parts of the African continent remains unknown.
The report only included pollution levels from cities with a population of over 100,000 residents that monitor their pollution levels — something many African cities don’t do.
“We need to do an assessment of the sources of pollution at city level, also work on better planning of urban collective transport systems, and take very old cars out of service,” says Neira.
“Regarding the four cities in Nigeria, we would actually like to praise them. They are at least monitoring the pollution levels, others are not even monitoring the air, we know that some are very polluted. These four cities are moving towards taking action to reduce pollution.”
With more than 50 percent of the African population predicted to live in cities by 2030, according to global accounting firm KPMG, the health of the continent’s urban areas is a key concern.


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