A 2022 study from the Health Effects Institute (HEI) took a deep dive into the state of Africa's air and outlined its impact on people's health. Pollution is a significant problem on the continent, whereby civilians are at risk of pulmonary diseases caused by the number of air pollutants created by households and large corporations. Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths worldwide, and Africa's vast regions deal with the issue differently. Some countries have begun navigating air pollution by introducing clean transportation solutions like electric cars. How have these countries implemented this solution, and are they stepping in the right direction in ensuring cleaner air?
A study of road vehicle emissions shows that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in Africa are growing at a rate of 7% annually. However, amongst the 72 million vehicles in use in Africa, only seven countries are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. "Poor fuel quality, ageing vehicle fleet, and lack of mandatory roadworthy emission tests were to blame
for the deteriorating transport emissions," the 2021 study claims. Africa has a major problem where more than half the population has access to poor-quality fuel. Healthwise, long-term exposure to air pollutants puts citizens at risk of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Transportation is responsible for 24% of direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions making it the fastest-growing source of fossil fuel CO2 emissions globally. Furthermore, there needs to be more regulation amongst companies importing and assembling cars in Africa regarding emission technologies and emissions testing. A 2020 United Nations Environment Programme report exposed a dark side to African road relations with America, Europe, and Japan. It was uncovered that these regions were dumping millions of cars onto the continent. Why would this prove to be a sinister act? Well, the cars were highly polluting the air.
"They are contributing to air pollution and are often involved in road accidents," the report elaborated. "Many of them are of poor quality and would fail road-worthiness tests in the exporting countries." This kind of environmental sabotage further proves how more affluent countries are dangerous to Africa.
There is a surge of clean energy alternatives in some parts of Africa, and in Benin and Kenya, electric vehicles are taking centre stage. In Nairobi, Kenya, the Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a new opportunity. When bus drivers were ordered to halt operations to slow down viral transmissions, there was a change in the atmosphere, literally. "Within three days, the air completely cleared. You could see Mount Kenya … crystal clear," entrepreneur Jit Bhattacharya recounted. Public transportation is a significant fixture in Africans' daily lives as a cheaper and somewhat reliable way to get around, meaning it contributes to many CO2 emissions. Introducing clean energy into the transportation sector was the birth of BasiGo, Bhattacharya's startup revolutionising public transport in Kenya's capital.
According to Bhattacharya, BasiGo's two 25-seater electric buses have done exceptionally well, having carried 175,000 passengers and driven over 135,000 kilometres so far with very minimal technical downtime.
Benin's favored mode of transport is the two-wheeler bike. More than 250 000 drivers use moto-taxis. However, these harm their health. Not only are they highly pollutant, but some drivers complain that the bikes cause respiratory complications and affect their eyes. So, the Electric bikes were introduced in July 2022, and about 2000 are operational, according to The Guardian. "There is a lot of demand," claims the chief executive of M Auto, the bikes' Indian manufacturer, Shegun Bakari, on their popularity. There are over 100 000 registrations in Benin, and the plan is to transition all moto-taxi drivers onto electric bikes and expand to Togo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.
"We have to do something about air pollution in our cities. For me it's a duty. It's a health issue, and people riding moto-taxis are facing a lot of pain," he added.
An added benefit of the new bikes is their ability to be recycled. Bakari claims that the bike's plastic body can be recycled, and the metal parts, like the engine, can be used as scrap material. Unfortunately, there is a downside to the bike. "Swap stations" across Cotonou allow drivers to purchase new batteries. However, this setup is inconvenient for drivers outside of the city. The daily cost of replacing a battery is another inconvenience as buying petrol is cheaper than buying new batteries regularly. This is a qualm Bakari is well aware of and assures that the company is working on improving it.
It is terrific that countries are actively working towards creating cleaner environments for the people as, unfortunately, air pollution is the second leading cause of death in Africa. However, while significant strides are made toward making greener alternatives widely accessible, there is still a long way to go before the transition is complete or available to the larger majority.