Onitsha, in Nigeria’s South East, has been tagged the world’s most polluted city, according to data obtained from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to the report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Onitsha produced pollution “levels of nearly 600 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10s – around 30 times the WHO recommended level of 20 micrograms per cubic metre,” to get the unenviable rating.
Onitsha, along with three other Nigerian cities, Aba, Kaduna and Umuahia, featured in the top 20.
“Air pollution has risen by eight percent globally in the past five years,” resulting in three million premature deaths yearly, WHO says.
This remains one of the greatest environmental risks to human health, notes the report, as part of its ongoing annual African edition in Kigali, Rwanda, regretting that “most large cities in the developing world are breaching global air pollution guidelines.”
Following Onitsha on top of the list is Peshawar, Pakistan; Zabol, Iran; Rawalpindi, also in Pakistan; before Kaduna and Aba; while Umuahia; Ralpur, India; Kabul, Afghanistan; Ma’ameer, Bahrain; and Boshehr also in Iran, were the bottom five of the table in 2016 update of the WHO Urban Ambient Air Pollution database.
“The cost for countries is enormous. Air pollution affects economies and people’s quality of life. It leads to major chronic diseases and to people ultimately dying,” says Dr. Mari Neira, director of public health in WHO.
The new data, drawn from city and academic records, shows a rapid deterioration in air quality as low-income cities grow unchecked and populations become unable to escape clouds of smog and soot from transport, industry, construction sites, farming and wood-burning in homes.
Curiously, Lagos was not on the table of the latest urban air quality data, collected between 2011 and 2015, showing that 98 percent of cities with over 100,000 inhabitants in low- and middle-income countries do not meet WHO air quality guidelines.
“Of the 3,000 cities in the WHO’s air quality database, the most polluted at the time of measurement was Onitsha, a fast-growing city in Nigeria, which recorded roughly 30 times more than the WHO’s recommended levels of PM10 particles. Peshawar in Pakistan was in second place, followed by Zabol in Iran.
“These cities are mostly located in rapidly growing economies in the Middle East and South East Asia. Four of the 20 urban areas with the worst air quality at the time of measurement were in Nigeria, three were in Saudi Arabia, three were in India, and two in Iran.
“China, which has been working to tackle its air pollution problem, is the only country with just one city on the most polluted list.
“The Eastern Mediterranean (covering the Middle East and parts of North Africa) and South East Asia were the regions that performed worst overall in the database – with urban air pollution rising 5% in more than two-thirds of cities. Annual mean levels of air pollution in cities in these regions often exceeded five to 10 times WHO limits.”
Commenting on the data, Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said: “Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health.
“At the same time, awareness is rising and more cities are monitoring their air quality. When air quality improves, global respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses decrease.”