Africa is home to some of the world’s most polluted cities—here’s why the air quality is not improving

There’s an obvious air pollution problem across several African cities—worse still, there’s no way to tell just how bad it is.

It all boils down to some grim data: just seven of Africa’s 54 countries are home to “real-time air pollution monitors” while only 6% of children across Africa live within 50 kilometers of an air quality monitoring station, according to a new UNICEF report. In comparison that number is 72% in Europe and North America. The implication is simple: with air quality data not being measured, it is very likely the true scale of the problem is underestimated.

Over the years, there have been tell-tale signs though. A 2016 World Health Organization report placed four of the world’s worst-ranked cities for air quality in Nigeria. Onitsha, the worst ranked city globally, recorded 30 times more than the WHO’s recommended levels of particulate matter concentration. Meanwhile, soot particles often dominate the air in some of the continent’s oil-producing hubs, especially in southern Nigeria.

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