While Asian countries rightly receive the most media coverage about extreme levels of air pollution, areas of Central and West Africa are becoming major pollution hotspots as fossil fuel use continues to grow. In the most polluted areas of Central and West Africa, pollution levels are 12 times the World Health Organization guideline and taking as much as 5.4 years off lives. The African countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Republic of Congo are among the ten most polluted countries in the world—more polluted than China, which ranks thirteenth.
Despite now being highly polluted, none of the 27 countries in Central and West Africa have a national pollution standard to provide a benchmark for pollution policies. In fact, only 17 of Africa’s 58 countries—4.9 percent—have adopted legislative instruments containing some air quality standards. Furthermore, just 3.7 percent of countries in all of Africa have air quality monitoring data that the government makes fully transparent. The lack of data transparency is a major hindrance to policy action as there is no information for citizens to base calls for change and for policymakers to build air standards.
There is an outsized opportunity to reverse this inequality. While air pollution is now as much of a health threat in Central and West Africa as well-known killers in the region like HIV/AIDS and malaria, the entire continent receives under $300,000 in philanthropic funds to help combat outdoor air pollution (i.e. the current average price of a single-family home in the United States). Meanwhile, $18 billion in aid went to combat HIV/AIDS and $2.7 billion to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. More funding and air quality monitoring would go a long way in providing the basic building blocks African citizens and governments need to effect change.