Stella walks to her day job within the city limits of Lagos (in Nigeria). She goes the other way on the scavenger hunt, as her office unfolds up into a mountain of 2,400 metric tons of garbage called the Olusoson Landfill.
A whole community has sprung up on and near this spectacular size dump.
“I come here to get my daily bread,” Stella says as she collects scrap nylon to sell with children and other young men and women.
On its main streets, Lagos (Nigeria) contains the frenzied promise of Africa's fastest growing metropolis. Known as Africa's first city, displays of its vibrant economy and exponential growth are everywhere: it is a place of perpetual action, with oil company executives, small business owners and an active cultural life.
But with 21 million people, Lagos is suffocating with its own escalating pollution and poisonous air that attacks its citizens and businesses as health care costs skyrocket. Traffic is increasing, emissions are not regulated, and tanker trucks often catch fire on the streets.
Former Nigerian Federal Minister of the Environment Laurentia Mallam visited Washington in April. At the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event on the National Mall, before a crowd of over 200,000, Mallam pledged to improve environmental health by 50% by 2020. “Nigerian citizens deserve clean air, water that is it is drinkable and land that is free of contamination, ”he said.
Pollution contributes to preventable deaths of an estimated 9 million people each year, most of them in developing countries. An estimated 7 million people died from diseases related to indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012 alone, according to the World Health Organization.
Data for Nigeria included in the recently released Little Green Data Book 2015 indicates that 94% of the population is exposed to levels of air pollution (measured in PM2.5) that exceed WHO guidelines (compared to the average 72% in Sub-Saharan Africa) and that air pollution damage costs about 1 percentage point of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Invest in pollution management
At the same Earth Day event in which Nigeria pledged action, several countries came together to announce the launch of the Pollution Management and Environmental Health program(PMEH), a new multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank. The program, which has an initial allocation of around US $ 45 million, will focus primarily on air quality management in five major urban areas in China, Egypt, India, Nigeria and South Africa, and could contribute to improving the environmental health conditions for 150 million people in those cities over the next five years. The PMEH will also support other countries and cities in Sub-Saharan Africa and aims to reduce land and water pollution.
“The potential to put a megacity like Lagos on a healthier path is enormously motivating. We are very interested in working with Nigerian counterparts and getting the best knowledge available in the world to design air quality management plans that save lives, ”said Jostein Nygard, PMEH Program Manager and Senior Environment Specialist at the World Bank.
The road to a cleaner, greener Nigeria is not short, and reflects the broader problem as the countries of Africa grow. Lagos, for example, is the place where old computers and smartphones come to die from all over the world, leaving toxic garbage and devastating health problems. In the next decade, many of the world's largest cities will be located in Africa, and in this way Lagos shows us a glimpse of the future.
The fishing villages are located in one of the largest neighborhoods. “The problem is that when we have an oil spill or when plastics fall into the water we lose money. And of course, when the water is polluted, the fish migrate, ”says Stephen Aji, head of the Makako community.
Dr. Olanweraju Yusuf is an environmental health specialist in Lagos. One of their many concerns is that the electricity is unreliable and many Lagos residents have generators in small, poorly ventilated homes. "They breathe that in and slowly they are poisoning the blood system," Yusuf said.
The World Bank has already taken a first step to contain pollution by supporting a bus rapid transit system in Lagos that is removing cars from the streets and helping to make transportation more efficient. More needs to be done to achieve cleaner fuels and safely dispose of waste.
African cities are growing as fast as their children breathe. There is no time to lose.