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Pollution from used car fumes is a silent killer, WHO warns Botswana

CORRESPONDENT
With air pollution killing over seven million people a year across the world, the World Health Organisation has urged Botswana to guard against pollution caused by the use of used and vehicles imported from other countries. Mmegi Correspondent, SHARON TSHIPA writes

KATOWICE, Poland: “Don’t make the mistake we did,” says Maria Neira, director in the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Speaking in an interview at the ongoing global climate change conference happening here, Neira says Botswana should lead the push for a clean up in the used car industry.

“Botswana should pursue cleaner public transport systems in cities, as air quality tends not to be good for human health – according to WHO standards.

“This should be an argument Botswana ministers make in the climate change negotiations,” she told Mmegi this week.

Known as CoP 24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) encompasses countries from across the world, negotiating commitments on climate change. African states plan to push developed nations, who are the biggest polluters, to start funding climate change adaptation and adoption programmes.

 

Vehicle pollution and health

Over the few years, developed countries have been accused of ‘exporting pollution’ by trading second-hand cars to poorer countries. In the case of Botswana, the country’s transport sector has grown rapidly over the decades, and the amount of vehicles now polluting the greater Gaborone area is constantly rising.

According to Statistics Botswana’s latest transport brief, there were 12,583 first vehicle registrations during the first quarter of 2018. Compared to the same quarter of the previous year, first registrations increased by 15.7%.

In the first quarter of 2018, used vehicles made up 82.2% of the total first registrations. Brand new and re-built vehicles contributed 17.6% and 0.2 percent of the total first registrations respectively. The majority of passenger cars were used at 91.5%. Other types of vehicles with a higher percentage of used vehicles were mini buses at 92.4%, trucks at 83.2% and buses with 62.9%. Most of the used cars were imported from Japan.

Vehicle emissions are a worry as they are a threat to human beings and their environment. Exhaust fumes consist of carbon-monoxide, soot, benzene and sulphur dioxide. Ashish Tiwari’s article published on Science ABC two years ago posits that carbon dioxide is the worst pollutant as it binds to haemoglobin in blood, resulting in suffocation if a person is exposed for too long.

Benzene is linked to cancer and the reduction of red blood cells, leading to anaemia. Sulphur dioxide is said to irritate the organs of the respiratory tract, leading to sneezing and coughing and shortness

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of breath. The mass left behind as a result of incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons is called soot. Soot, Tiwari notes, is linked to cancer, influenza, asthma, acute vascular dysfunction and an increased risk of coronary artery disease.

 

Fossil fuel emissions and health

Unfortunately for Botswana, car fumes are not the only form of pollution that threaten public health. A special COP24 report on Health and Climate Change launched by WHO on Wednesday, revealed that burning fossil fuels like coal is the primary source of climate-warming emissions and a major contributor to health damaging air pollution.

Thus, the report highlighted health as the biggest issue to be prioritised during COP24, as it provides key recommendations to climate change negotiators on how to maximise the health benefits of tackling climate change and avoiding the worse health impacts of this global challenge.

Addressing a pool of journalists, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, the WHO’s coordinator at the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health shared recommendations that could advance climate, health, and development objectives.

His recommendations included, engagement with the health community, civil society and health professionals to help them mobilise collectively to promote climate action and health co-benefits, and removing barriers to investment in health adaptation to climate change with a focus on climate resilient health systems, and climate smart healthcare facilities, as well as promoting the role of cities and sub-national governments in climate action benefiting health within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) framework, among others.

All is not doom and gloom however. A Wednesday press release from WHO says that while there is still a long way to go, there has been hugely positive progress in tackling health and climate change issues. Millions of people are still exposed to air pollution globally, resulting in seven million premature deaths every year, while three billion people still lack access to clean and reliable energy and nearly a quarter of all deaths worldwide result from people having to live or work in unhealthy environments.

“Doctors are getting tired, we are tired,” says Neira. For her, using the health argument to fight climate change is key to success.

“People would be inspired to stand up and fight if you told them that their children were getting sick,” she advises, taking into consideration that the ‘save the planet’ argument of fighting climate has not entirely succeeded.



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