The World Health Organisation has named Onitsha in Anambra State as the most polluted city in the world. WHO, in its latest report on Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution, stated that a study of Onitsha’s water pollution found more than 100 petrol stations in the city, selling low-quality fuel, many rubbish dumps, fuel spills along with high levels of arsenic, mercury, lead, copper and iron in its water.
It noted that the city’s metal industries, private hospitals and workshops were heavy polluters emitting chemical, hospital and household waste and sewage.
The WHO said, “The level of pollution in Onitsha is getting increasingly serious. It is difficult to get accurate measurements in Africa. You can get super-high readings, but ideally the measurements should be done over a year to include different seasons and times of day. The reading in Onitsha may be representative but not altogether reliable.”
Onitsha with a population of 350, 000, tops the list in the WHO report, with a PM10 measure of 594. It is followed by Peshawar in Pakistan and Zabol in Iran.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the global health body stated that more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas were exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits, while all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted.
According to the latest urban air quality database, 98 per cent of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100, 000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines.
However, it noted that in high-income countries, the percentage decreases to 56 per cent.
In the past two years, the WHO added that its database, now covering 3, 000 cities in 103 countries, had nearly doubled, with more cities measuring air pollution levels and recognising the associated health impacts.
“Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it, they have a benchmark. When dirty air blankets our cities, the most vulnerable urban populations are the most impacted,” WHO Assistant-Director General, Family, Women and Children’s Health, Dr. Flavia Bustreo, said.