Amid a climate crisis, air pollution is becoming a growing and the second leading cause of death after malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Air pollution is the main environmental risk factor for death in North Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that high air pollution exposure in Africa triggers both short and long-term illnesses, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, kidney problems, and pregnancy complications. These contribute to premature deaths and decreased life expectancy, as highlighted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the UNEP, outdoor air pollution is projected to increase the yearly number of premature deaths from 930,000 in 2030 to 1.6 million by 2063.

Household air pollution accounts for 63% of deaths attributed to air quality in Africa yearly, with newborns, the elderly, and children below five years being the most susceptible.

The latest report by Greenpeace Africa, titled Major Air Polluters in Africa Unmasked, examines air pollution in Africa and uncovers major air polluters on the continent and the massive impact air pollution has on public health across the continent.

South Africa stands out as an air pollution hotspot, holding numerous point source emitters, including 6 of the 10 largest point source emitters globally and 9 of the largest emission points in Africa. It is also home to four of the nine thermal power plants with the highest emissions on the continent.

Despite the danger air pollution poses in Africa, there is a lack of sufficient air pollution monitoring in many regions across the continent. Thus, Greenpeace Africa investigates air pollution and major polluters in Africa using recent satellite data to identify large point sources and emissions data from databases to locate smaller or distributed emission points.

Several of the identified emission epicentres in Africa are linked to thermal power plants, industrial zones, cement plants, urban areas, or metal smelters. For context, nine of the ten largest sulphur dioxide emission hotspots are thermal power stations, while the remaining one is a metal smelter complex. In addition, all ten largest nitrogen dioxide point sources found in Africa are also thermal power plants.

Despite the alarming nature of this crisis, there is hope for Africa as highlighted in the various case studies showcasing community efforts in combating air pollution. Some community actions and campaigns that have made or are making a difference in Africa include Tunisia’s “Agareb is Not a Dump!” Movement, Malawi’s “Solar Mamas” comprising a group of women revolutionising the energy landscape, Burundi’s renewable energy service firm – Kobani –whose

focus is rural electrification across the country and community action by Syokimau residents in Kenya.

Greenpeace calls on governments and legislators to make a just transition towards clean, renewable energy and end dependence on fossil fuels to promote the well-being of Africans and the environment. The report released in March 2024 further recognises the efforts of communities across various regions in Africa, that are making a difference by improving air quality.

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