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By Marine and Petroleum Nigeria
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Four Nigerian cities --Onitsha, Kaduna, Umuahia and Aba—as they feature in the World Health Organization's (WHO) report on the 20 worst ranked cities with poor air quality and high concentration of particulate matter (PM). Being densely populated and industrial hubs that host considerable manufacturing, the common factor among most of the cited Nigerian cities is industrial plants which run on diesel or low pour oil. Onitsha for instance is evinced to have the worst air quality with PM concentration levels 30 times more than the recommended levels.

Around the world, the WHO says air pollution, which incidentally is the top environmental risk factor around the globe, has risen by 8% over the last five years in the cities tested, with urban air quality data showing that 98% of cities with over 100,000 inhabitants in low and middle-income countries fall short of recommended guidelines while high-income countries fall short by 56%.

These grim statistics have led to concomitant upsurge in advocacy for cleaner air. In Nigeria, the call for the immediate reduction of sulphur levels in imported fuels the present level of 3000 parts per million (PPM) to 50ppm was first mooted at the 10th Oil Trading and Logistics (OTL) Africa Downstream Week 2016, where Hon. Moses Asaga, Chief Executive Officer of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) Ghana, insisted that Nigeria and Ghana should lead the way in banning the consumption of dirty fuels in the West Africa region. Hon. Asaga identified Nigeria as ranking highest among ECOWAS countries in the consumption of dirty fuels containing 3,000ppp levels of sulphur and blamed the failure of its petroleum products regulators to monitor and enforce regulations on fuel standards coming into the country.

“I think it is time West Africa reduced the level of sulphur in our fuels. The world has moved on, some parts of Africa have moved on and it is time for Nigeria and Ghana to show example to the rest of West Africa by leading the way in this urgent matter,” Asaga told delegates at the Africa Downstream Week. The NPA Ghana boss observed that European oil dealers were taking undue advantage of regulatory laxity in Africa and stressed that “we also need cleaner fuels just like the Europeans need cleaner fuels too.”

This call to action was subsequently incorporated into the communiqué issued at the end of the Africa Downstream Week with emphasis on getting governments to urgently adopt a policy of low sulphur fuel specifications Afri-4&5 to protect the health of their people and the environment.

In apparent swift reaction, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through its Minister of Environment, Hon. Amina Mohammed has now given the green light to Resolution 13 of the OTL Africa Communiqué by voting to reduce the current suplhur level in all fuel imports from 3,000ppm to 50ppm.

The laudable decision was reached at the recent high level ECOWAS ministerial meeting on promoting low sulphur fuels in Nigeria and the neighboring countries held in Abuja. The objective of the meeting was for ministers in the region to consider the negative consequences of the use of high sulphur fuels and adopt a realistic approach to the use of clean fuels, as well as set a realistic timeline for achieving low sulphur fuel usage.

Stakeholders and environmentalists have welcomed Hon. Amina’s declaration describing it as an important fallout of the 2016 OTL Africa Downstream Week and called for its speedy ratification by the regional body. They echoed the Minister’s stance that immediate action should be taken on imported fuel products in the sub-region with a review of the national air quality standards and vehicle import policies to ensure minimum impacts of air emissions on climate change, human health and the economy.

They also advised Nigeria to leverage on the size of its market which cannot be ignored, to demand ultra-low sulphur fuels at no additional cost. Other countries that also committed to sulphur reduction at the meeting were Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cote D’Ivoire.

Delegates at the sub-regional workshop ag reed that reducing sulphur levels will lead to reduced vehicle emissions- by reducing sulphur levels in diesel to 50ppm, PM emissions can be reduced by more than 75% in all vehicles.

They also cited improved health as a major benefit of sulphur reduction as- smaller PM can be deposited in the lungs, or even absorbed into the blood through the lungs. Some of the known health effects of high sulphur levels include premature mortality, lung cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Therefore, with the knowledge of the hazards of high sulphur content in fuels, it is i2mportant to adopt low sulphur fuels in order to contribute significantly to the attainment of the health, cities and energy Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Considering the WHO report that outdoor air pollution is responsible for 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide, with majority of these deaths occurring middle and low income countries, any further delay in the ratification of Hon. Amina’s declaration should be viewed as a deliberate attempt to undermine the health of Nigerians in general and treated as a treasonable offence against our collective wellbeing.

Chukwunonso Udeh