Threats to environmental air quality

Smog in the atmosphere

One of the biggest challenges to millions of city dwellers is air pollution. Reports abound of record levels of air pollution in some cities. Though the causes are different, there are some common themes across the board;

Emission of fumes:

Fumes from vehicles and some human activities like industrialization and the burning of tires all lead to the emission of toxic fumes. In addition to the long term health risks posed by these fumes, access to clean air to breathe becomes very difficult. Sometimes these fumes create a cloud of smog in the atmosphere, and it takes hours, even days to clear up. When this happens, the air quality is greatly compromised, and residents find it very difficult to cope.

Locally undesirable land uses:

The biggest culprit is the siting of landfill sites not too far from homes. Where incineration is the primary way of treating the waste on these landfill sites, there are attendant problems of air pollution suffered by neighbouring homes. Beyond the incineration, the decomposing waste also gives off an uncomfortable stench. Worse yet, in some communities, public toilets are a real nuisance and interfere with the smooth enjoyment of quality air.  


Dust also poses a big threat to environmental air quality. This could be from untarred roads or drilling operations nearby. In some countries, there have been complaints about the operations of cement manufacturing and mining producing so much dust. The dust makes breathing difficult and sometimes causes severe respiratory problems. It is a common practice in some areas for people to dampen dusty roads around their houses in an attempt to control the situation.

Poor sanitation

It is a known fact that slums and other informal housing areas are not served with adequate drainage facilities. Sanitation is questionable in these areas, and waste management is a joke. The upshot is mountains of garbage, with an unbearable stench. Again, because there is no proper site layout, developments are mostly haphazard, meaning there is inadequate airflow to some buildings. Some of the roads are too narrow to allow for air circulation within these areas. The quality of air enjoyed by these residents is anyone’s guess.

But how do we enhance environmental air quality?

Tackle problems at the source

Community support and partnerships, local initiatives, and the stricter enforcement of environmental protection laws are just a few ways of dealing with the problem at the source. Whether it is air pollution from the constant burning of tires, burning of farmlands, the burning of refuse or the stench from poor drainage, the first approach is to deal with the root causes. The challenges are unique to every city, and the solutions just as unique.

Greening our neighbourhoods

Having dealt with the problem at the source, one magical approach is the planting of more trees in our cities and neighbourhoods. This has tremendous benefits, including a generally positive effect on all aspects of environmental quality, including the enhancement of air quality.

The challenge of ensuring decent levels of environmental air quality in our cities is an unenviable task. Some of the causes of air pollution are directly linked to the survival of people like industrialization and the burning of tires to extract copper. Striking a balance between economic sustainability and environmental protection becomes the biggest challenge.

Boat Sekyere

Boat Sekyere

Boat is a valuer fascinated by sustainable urban land use planning. He was recently selected as a Local Pathways Fellow of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Youth) - a global Fellowship of 128 young leaders who will champion SDG 11 in their cities. When he's not reading another e-book, he's out photographing an event (@rsbpictures) or cycling in his hood, binge listening to his favorite podcasts. Say hi at

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