Africa experiences some of the worst air pollution and some of the most severe health consequences in the world. In 2019, air pollution was the second leading risk factor for death across Africa, a large and dynamic continent that is home to more than 1.2 billion people. In terms of ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5), 5 of the world’s 10 most heavily polluted countries are in Africa.

Read the full report: The State of Air Quality and Health Impacts in Africa. English | French

Watch our recent livestream interview with Dr. Alice Kaudia and Dr. Caradee Wright on air pollution and health impacts in Africa.


REGIONAL DISPARITIES

The burden of air pollution on African livelihoods and population health is among the highest in the world and varies widely across countries and regions within the continent. As of 2019, particulate matter pollution (including ambient PM2.5 and household air pollution) was the leading risk factor for deaths across the continent. The disease burden related to PM2.5 was highest in Northern Africa and lowest in Eastern Africa.

  • Overall, PM2.5 exposures across Africa have remained stagnant from 2010 to 2019.
    • Country-level comparisons reveal major disparities in PM2.5 exposures that range from 17.1 μg/m3 in Comoros to 80.1 μg/m3 in Niger.
  • The death rate linked to air pollution in Africa (155 deaths/100,000 people) is almost double the global average (85.6/100,000).
  • The estimated number of deaths due to ambient PM2.5 was highest in Egypt (90,600 deaths in 2019) and lowest (fewer than 100 deaths in 2019) in São Tomé and Príncipe (Central Africa) and Comoros (Eastern Africa).
Regional Disparities pm2.5

Figure: Trends in annual average PM2.5 exposure in five countries across Africa between 2010 and 2019


A BURDEN ON THE YOUNG

  • Newborns and young children in Africa are disproportionately affected by air pollution, especially household air pollution (HAP).
  • Across Africa, about 236,000 newborns die within the first month of life from air pollution exposure, with 80% of those coming from HAP.
  • Air pollution is the third largest risk factor for deaths in children under the age of 5, after malnutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Deaths by Age DRC

Figures: Distribution of deaths in 2019 attributable to PM2.5, ozone, and household air pollution, by age (years, except early neonatal [0 to 6 days] and late neonatal [7 to 27 days]).

Deaths by Age Egypt

Figures: Distribution of deaths in 2019 attributable to PM2.5, ozone, and household air pollution, by age (years, except early neonatal [0 to 6 days] and late neonatal [7 to 27 days]).

Deaths by Age Ghana

Figures: Distribution of deaths in 2019 attributable to PM2.5, ozone, and household air pollution, by age (years, except early neonatal [0 to 6 days] and late neonatal [7 to 27 days]).

5.4 Figure - Deaths by Age Kenya

Figures: Distribution of deaths in 2019 attributable to PM2.5, ozone, and household air pollution, by age (years, except early neonatal [0 to 6 days] and late neonatal [7 to 27 days]).

Deaths by Age South Africa

Figures: Distribution of deaths in 2019 attributable to PM2.5, ozone, and household air pollution, by age (years, except early neonatal [0 to 6 days] and late neonatal [7 to 27 days]).


MULTITUDE OF SOURCES

Understanding major air pollution sources underpins clean air action planning and identification of cost-effective solutions. The sources responsible for PM2.5 pollution vary within and between countries and regions across Africa:

 

Residential fuel use, fossil fuel use for energy production, transportation and industry and waste burning, make significant contributions to outdoor PM2.5.

Fossil fuel use is the biggest contributor in Southern Africa, while residential fuel use is an important contributor in Eastern and Central Africa. For e.g., energy production contributes to 23% of the ambient PM2.5 levels in South Africa.

Desert dust, also referred to as sand and dust storms, is a mixture of particulate matter from desert or arid areas. In the Sahara and Sahel regions of North Africa, as well as in Western Africa, windblown dust is a significant contributor to total PM2.5.

PM2.5 exposure sources

Figure: Contribution of key sources to PM2.5 exposure in five countries across Africa in 2019

Although air pollution exposures remain high across the continent, some countries are beginning to undertake policy measures to improve their air quality:

  • In Egypt, the Greater Cairo Air Pollution Management and Climate Change Project aims to improve air quality in the capital city through improved solid waste management to reduce pollution from waste burning and pilot efforts to expand the use of electric buses and vehicles in the city.
  • In Ethiopia, Addis Ababa’s first Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) outlines the city’s vision and commitment to implementing pollution reduction strategies in priority sectors. These actions are supported by air quality monitoring data and provide crucial first steps towards cleaning the air and improving the health of all residents.