Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, and its neighbors, Benin, Ghana, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire banned the importation of dirty fuels from Europe, in a move that the United Nations said will save at least 250 million people from air-borne infections.
They took the decision after meeting with UNEP, in a move that banned fuels that cannot be sold to European markets because of their high sulphur levels.
“West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe. Their decision to set strict new standards for cleaner, safer fuels and advanced vehicle emissions standards shows they are placing the health of their people first,” United Nations News Centre quoted Erik Solheim, head of UNEP.
The decision taken last week came after a report released in September, revealing that oil firms in Switzerland exploit weak fuel standards and poor regulation to sell diesel and gasoline, which is poor in quality, exposing millions of lives to health risks, according to Dirty Diesel, a report by Public Eye, a non-profit Swiss organization.
The companies which include Gunvor, Glencore, Vitol and Trafigura mix cheap but intermediate petroleum products to produce what the industry calls, ‘African Quality’ fuels.
The West African nations, despite being leading producers of crude oil, usually export diesel and gasoline, which have high sulphur levels, from the US and Europe.
The report added that these fuels have sulphur levels of 100 times more than the European standards.
UNEP has been working with African nations to develop legal framework and policies that will stop importation of the low-quality fuels in a bid to reduce air pollution which is one of the leading killers on the continent.
About 600,000 people die annually on the continent, according to statistics by UNEP.
Nigeria is home to four of the leading cities with the highest levels of air pollution, according to statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO).
These are Kaduna, Aba, Umuahia and Onitsha.
Amina Mohamed, Nigeria’s Environment minister hailed the decision, that will see sulphur levels reduced from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million, a 60 percent reduction.
The West African nations also agreed to upgrade their national refineries in order to boost the quality of fuels produced locally.