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Blog 23 November 2023

109,000 lives could be saved in 6 African cities by 2040

Kevin Urama, Chief Economist at African Development Bank
$19.2bn could be saved by 2040, reveals our updated analysis of six African cities, including Nairobi and Yaoundé. By adopting air quality measures, African governments can generate billions in economic benefits in their rapidly growing cities.

Africa is home to the world’s youngest population and the world’s fastest growing cities. City planners and policy makers across the continent are addressing the challenges that these demographic trends pose to the creation of an environment in which young people can thrive. 

As the policy brief, From Pollution to Solution in Six African Cities shows, the challenges that flow from rapid urbanisation across the continent are immense, including drastic increases in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which if unchecked will bring disastrous consequences for human and economic health. On the current trajectory,  following a ‘business as usual’ approach means air pollution will collectively cost Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi and Yaoundé an estimated $138bn in premature deaths and worker absenteeism over the next two decades.

Now more than ever, governments must utilise the policy levers that deliver the biggest impact. Investments in programmes to clean the air are one such tool.  As the analysis in this brief shows, doing so brings positive impacts for public health and for our economies. Across the six cities examined for this study, actions taken today could help save 109,000 lives and $19.2bn by 2040.

The African Development Bank supports African countries in creating an enabling environment to maximise their potential and effectively contribute to inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa. It is well understood that tackling poverty, bringing clean water to people everywhere and investing in education are all critical to this objective.

Ensuring our citizens can breathe clean air is also a vital, but too often neglected, piece of this puzzle. I urge policy makers across the continent to study these findings closely and to recognise the urgency of taking bold action on clean air to ensure our citizens can live healthy and prosperous lives.

Clean Air Fund’s new analysis of 6 African cities

  • Last year, we analysed Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg and Lagos in our report, From Pollution to Solution in Africa’s Cities: The Case for Investing in Air Pollution and Climate Change Together. This year, we’ve added additional analysis of Nairobi in Kenya and Yaoundé in Cameroon to the report.
  • This year’s report found that the six cities studied, Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi and Yaoundé, could save 109,000 lives, unlock $19.2bn and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by up to 18% between 2023-40, if they take action on air pollution.
  • By adopting a comprehensive set of air quality action measures, African governments can generate billions in economic benefits, outweighing the costs of investments several times over. As the annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) approaches, our policy brief outlines recommendations for African governments.
From pollution to solution in Africa’s cities

The case for investing in air pollution and climate change together. This research analyses the health, economic and environmental benefits of clean air in Africa’s six fastest growing cities.

Nairobi and air pollution
Yaoundé and air pollution