Ghana’s Old, Polluting Cars Are ‘Killing People Silently’ (1)

 

Health experts are sounding an alarm over the dramatic increase in deaths and illnesses caused by Ghana’s growing air pollution.

Air pollution induced illnesses including pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, asthma, heart failure, stroke and cancer were the leading causes of deaths in 2022 – the last year where data is available.

For four years, hypertension and acute respiratory tract infections have been the leading cause of out-patients’ cases in Accra, according to data from the Ghana Health Service.

The biggest culprit is Ghana’s aging, highly polluting fleet of vehicles. The transport sector, made up of 3.2 million vehicles as of 2022, is the leading producer of air pollution, according to the Ministry of Transport’s recently released National Electric Vehicle policy.

Ghana’s vehicle fleet is dominated by old and highly polluting vehicles that make up more than 95 per cent of domestic transport services.

Old vehicles releasing harmful pollutants have helped push Ghana’s air pollution to levels 11 times those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“This is a wake-up call,” says Dr. Carl Stephen Osei, Programme Manager, Occupational and Environmental Health Unit of the Ghana Health Service (GHS).

“Facilities are recording new induced asthmatic cases. Those with existing conditions are exacerbated due to high exposure. There is enough evidence to show that diesel-powered vehicle fumes have been classified as carcinogenic and cause lung cancers. These gases and particulate matter are killing many people silently,” he added.

 

Sensors Show Dangerous Levels on Routes 

To assess the level of air pollution commuters in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area are exposed to, Afri-SET– the air quality sensor evaluation and training facility in the Department of Physics, University of Ghana and the Ghana News Agency (GNA), conducted a survey of air pollution in May, 2024.

Journalists carried Atmotube Pro low-cost air quality sensors on round trips using commercial minibuses, known as “trotro”, sedan cars used as taxis, and in ride-hailing cars, from the major Tema Station, in Accra Central, to and fro 10 routes during morning and evening rush hours.

As an average, the sensors showed levels in the range of “moderate” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.

 

However, for many parts of the trips, the pollution levels spiked to the “severely polluted” range meaning even healthy people can experience adverse symptoms.

Those high level spikes were observed along the routes: Tema Station to Adentan, Odorkor, Ablekuma, Achimota, Newtown, Spintex, Amasaman, Kaneshie, Achimota, Kwabenya, Korle Bu, and Nungua. The findings alarmed some passengers on the route.

“I am exposed to danger!” exclaims Jonathan Frimpong, an officer at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, after seeing the sensor register ‘severely polluted’. “I need to check my lungs because I have done this for two years.”

All people who commute to work at the Central Business District of Accra and back in trotros and taxi without air conditioning are exposed to high levels of dirty air, especially during the rush hours, according to Dr. Allison Hughes, the Facility Manager for Afri-SET.

After analysing the data, he says commuters’ exposure is high during the rush hours between 0600 hours and 1000 hours as well as 1600 hours and 1800 hours.

It shows that cyclists, riders, street hawkers and pedestrians are exposed to even higher levels of pollution. Commuters are largely unaware of the serious dangers they face.

On a recent morning trip, Godfred Addo held the door of his trotro, with one hand.  The other was firmly gripping his nose to block his nostrils. But as he attempted to do his job as a conductor – beckoning passengers to the commercial vehicle – he was forced to surrender his grip. At once the dark smoke from the tail pipe of another trotro flooded his nose, mouth and eyes.

“Mostly, I catch a cold, or feel dizzy after such incidents,” says the 20-year-old who does an average of eight trips a day from Odorkor to the Tema Station, inhaling soot and toxic chemicals.

“When pollution breaks in traffic, you cannot see anything. There is no escape for anyone. Passengers struggle to breathe, covering their noses with handkerchiefs. I know it is dangerous, but there is no option for me, so I don’t add it to my worries. Fumes from cars is a pandemic, and it is everywhere on the road,” he said.

Among the long line of workers waiting to board passenger buses one morning at Amasaman bus station was Georgina Awuah.

She tells GNA that it takes about two and half hours from her home to work and the same on her journey back each day, exposing her to many hours of dangerous emissions.

“By the time I get to work my energy level is reduced for the day’s work,” Awuah says, adding, “At 1500 hours or 1600hours I am thinking of getting back home. The reason is if I delay, I will have to wait for like an hour before catching a bus. Working under such circumstances feels like a punishment.”

 

By Albert Oppong-Ansah

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