Nigerian girls knitting with plastic (252971)
Credit: Contributed

Approximately 7,000 delegates from more than 100 countries are registered for a major conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi this week. Organized by the United Nations Environment Assembly, it is the highest level decision-making forum on environmental issues.

Workshops chaired by the United Nations Environment Program center on health consequences from pollution.

On the eve of the conference, hundreds of international and local cyclists took part in a bike marathon to create awareness about pollution and demand sustainable transportation.

At the conference opening, Rwanda and Kenya were praised for taking the lead in sustainable environment protection. Kenya’s initiative on banning plastic bags got honorable mention. Similar bans have been introduced in Botswana, Eritrea, Mauritania, South Africa and Uganda.

“By 2050 there will be more plastic in the seas than fish,” the head of UNEP warned. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 8.8 million tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean every year, the equivalent of a garbage truck dumping a full load every minute. A shopping bag is estimated to need hundreds of years to degrade.

The ministers are also set on negotiating a ban on the use of toxic lead in paint. UNEP says a ban would remove an environmental hazard “that harms the mental development of 600,000 children every year.”

But Africa is engaged in an uphill battle to control pollution. According to a report in Nature magazine, “We know almost nothing about the pollutants emerging from Africa’s new urban centers and their impact on weather systems, crops and public health at large. There’s little monitoring of pollution, no emissions inventories or statistical information on things like fuel consumption. Researchers say that they struggle to find funding to study the issue.”

In West Africa, emission from aerosols and other gases have grown quickly and are projected to double and possibly quadruple by 2030, especially in cities along the Guinea Coast.

As much as 94 percent of Nigeria’s population is exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed what the World Health Organization deems safe.

Meanwhile, a group of young Nigerian women are taking part in an initiative to recycle plastic bags by knitting them into handbags, mats and laptop bags. For more information, see #DoingYourBit:Nigeria on Twitter.