According to new research, foreign governments are spending more than 30 times as much on fossil fuel projects in Africa as they are on initiatives to reduce the effects of the continent’s second-leading killer, air pollution.

The report, released on International Day of Clean Air, revealed how little donor countries spend on improving air quality while investing in dirty energy and infrastructure projects across Africa.

According to the United Nations, air pollution kills approximately nine million people worldwide each year, with fossil fuels accounting for two-thirds of the levels of harmful particulates humans are exposed to.

According to a landmark United Nations climate science assessment released this year, the financial benefits of improving air quality alone would far outweigh the costs of reducing emissions to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals.

Nonetheless, as the Clean Air Fund’s analysis released on Wednesday shows, US, European, and Asian governments are continuing to pursue fossil-fuel-based development projects that will likely worsen already poor air quality in African cities and along highways.

The fund discovered that only 0.3 percent of African countries’ development assistance received between 2015 and 2021 was specifically designated for air quality projects, despite pollution being responsible for one in every five deaths on the continent.

During the same time period, donor countries provided 36 times the funding for extending the use of fossil fuels in Africa.

“That difference alone is extremely startling,” says Dennis Appiah, co-author of the report and head of the fund’s Ghana office.

“I think it’s also highlighted that most governments don’t pay attention to air pollution,” he told AFP.

“Either they are unaware of the impact, or they do not see it as a problem.”

Air pollution, according to Appiah, is a “silent killer” because its effects are far more difficult to see and communicate to communities than other climate-related phenomena such as flooding.

On current birth rates, Africa will be home to 2.5 billion people by 2050, with the UN estimating that 26 countries will have doubled their populations by then.

The vast majority of population growth will occur in cities, with much of the infrastructure required to support the growth yet to be built.

Despite being virtually blameless for climate change, the continent remains a hotspot for extreme events linked to global warming.

While Africa’s development needs are vast, Appiah believes that governments should prioritize long-term methods of electrifying and connecting communities.

“Policymakers are trapped in the same traditional development chain that we see in the West, as well as in some Asian countries that are now suffering the consequences of some of those decisions,” he said.

“I believe Africa is well-positioned to benefit from some of the available technology. We don’t have to go through the same process as developed countries; we can simply skip ahead to new technologies.”

With renewable energy such as wind and solar already frequently cheaper per kilowatt hour than oil and fossil gas, African governments may be able to factor the economic benefits of avoiding air pollution into their development plans.

In the report’s preface, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate stated that policies involving new fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa were “a death sentence for people in communities like mine.”

“It’s time for governments to listen to the voices of people all over the world who want leaders to clean up our air and protect our health,” she said.


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