Tuesday, February 20, 2024

About Smog and more

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The word smog was formed early during the last century in London from the smoky fog that covered that city because of industrial air pollution, more especially from large amounts of coal burning.

Smog is a problem in many cities around the world and is harming human health. Senior citizens, children and people with heart and lung conditions like bronchitis and asthma are especially susceptible. Smog can inflame the airways, decrease the lungs’ working capacity and cause shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, and coughing. It can cause eye and nose irritation and it dries out the protective membranes of the nose and throat and interferes with the body’s ability to fight infection, increasing susceptibility to illness. If any of these symptoms are familiar in your surroundings, they could be related to smog or air pollution. Think again.

Worldwide air pollution is responsible for large numbers of deaths and cases of respiratory disease. Gases such as carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming, are gaining recognition as major pollutants.

While major stationary sources like factories are often identified with air pollution, the greatest source of emissions is mobile, mainly automobiles. This is no different in Addis Abeba as there are hardly any factories in the city centre as compared to the ever-increasing numbers of cars, although we see many electric cars driving around town now adays as well. Anyway, meals are cooked in many homes by burning wood sending vast amounts of domestic smoke into the air. Cars, buses, and trucks with diesel engines seem the worst polluters as they spit out huge amounts of black exhaust right into the face of pedestrians walking along the road. It is not only a lack of modern exhaust filters; it is also a lack of maintenance, while many cars are assembled at sea level and not tuned to the altitude of Addis Abeba where the oxygen/fuel mixture is negatively affected by the thinner air.

I came across a news item of a few years ago about another city, affected by smog. This is what it said:

“More than 1,600 people have been taken to hospitals as pollution in the capital reaches critical levels, health officials have said. Hospitals have reported increased cases of heart attacks and breathing problems, while many residents are complaining of fatigue and headaches. Public offices and schools have been closed in an attempt to reduce traffic and clear the city’s blanket of smog. Authorities have warned of thousands of casualties if pollution levels persist. There is no wind or rain, and the dirty air is trapped on top of the city by the mountains surrounding it. The health ministry said the extent of deaths and casualties from pollution were “not less” than those in a recent plane crash, which killed more than 100 people. However, there is no official confirmation of any smog-related deaths. From Monday, cars will only be allowed into the city centre on alternate days, depending on whether their number plates start with odd or even numbers. Authorities have blamed the severe smog on emissions from cars. It is estimated that up to 5,000 people die every year from air pollution in the city.”

Admittedly, the smog in Addis Abeba and beyond may not have reached such serious levels yet and the numbers of cars and polluting industries are still far less than in other cities around the world, but we are moving in that direction. And continuing in that direction without taking measures will one day result in a situation as described above.

Imagine the effect such a situation has on the economy, which we are desperately trying to boost. Many workers will be less effective while health related costs will become a burden for society. Meanwhile we will continue to contribute to global warming while we should find ways to reduce emissions and thus reduce global warming, which is believed to be a major cause for climate change of which we increasingly see the effects regionally and locally. More frequent and serious periods of drought, followed by floods are situations that do not contribute to economic growth, do they?
Talking about our environment, smog is not the only result of pollution in the city. There are other obvious signs of pollution, which negatively affect the environment we live and work in. Surely, the way we deal with domestic and industrial waste is an issue here. And while there are some initiatives in collecting domestic waste, this doesn’t go much further than taking it out of sight to a dump somewhere else in the neighbourhood where it lies rotting and stinking away several days before taken to the city waste dump. The health hazards are obvious.

I could go on, but I guess I made my point. Pollution negatively affects our health and economic growth. Something needs to be done about it, in terms of legislation, yes but probably more so by investors, industrial sectors and individuals becoming aware of their contributions to it and developing a consciousness to change our attitude towards the environment we live and work in.

Ton Haverkort

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