Thursday, January 10, 2013

Traffic Nightmare………impact on our health and the environment

Thursday the 15th of November 2012 started out just like any other day in Lagos with the normal routine of a working life; wake up at 4.30am, leave the house at 5.30am off to work to earn a daily bread. Work went well with series of meetings, got home early, watched a bit of TV then was relaxing with a glass of juice and cashew nuts when hubby came back exhausted. We were having our normal chitchat of the day’s event when he got a telephone call. His friend who was visiting from the United States called him, requesting he should meet him up just around the corner. He went to pick him up and brought him to the house, while I was still entertaining with some finger foods we were contemplating on what to have for dinner and later settled for an outing to have catfish pepper soup.

I have been in this town for over 5years but what I experienced that day cannot be forgotten in a hurry, we got to Maryland (Lagos mainland) at about 9pm and were heading towards CDM in Magodo (Lagos-Ibadan expressway) to drop him off at his hotel but the traffic was at a standstill. We were all perplexed at the cause of the traffic at that time but nobody had answers to our queries. There were rumors that a trailer carrying flammable products fell on the road blocking it although we never got around to actually sighting it. The traffic was really bad because we had people from different background stuck in the traffic ranging from workers; entrepreneurs, construction workers, vendors, school kids to mention a few.

I guess a lot of people in the commercial city of Lagos go through such horrendous traffic daily but do they know what they are exposed to? Let us see some facts on the impact of traffic on our health and the environment.
Congestion costs the economy a lot of money: Time spent in traffic is not available for other activities; unpredictable and unnecessarily long journeys add costs to business due to loss of productive man-hours and increased fuel consumption leads to additional costs as the most efficient speed for most vehicles is around 50 mph.
Traffic can cause air pollution and noise pollution.  In the UK, air pollution causes an estimated 24,000 premature deaths every year.

Noise Pollution: Vehicular traffic is the main source of disturbing environmental noise; increased amount of traffic noise transmits over greater distances. Noise and vibrations can affect people who live or work near busy roads or traffic-congested areas. This can cause stress, aggravate existing medical conditions and interfere with daily activities such as communication and concentration.

Air pollution:
Emissions from motor vehicle are released wherever vehicles are in use and are of particular concern in a traffic situation and other low speed circumstances. Emissions include particulate emissions from diesel engines, Nitric Oxide, volatile organic compounds, Carbon monoxide and various other hazardous air pollutants including benzene. Carbon dioxide is non-toxic to humans but is a major greenhouse gas emission.

Environmental Impact:
Traffic consumes energy, and generates noise and harmful emissions, which have a negative impact on the environment especially on the air quality. Motor vehicle emissions are an important contributor to the growth of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere although more polluting gases are released into the atmosphere by standing traffic also known as (hold-up). Other environmental impacts include:
  •     Roads can act as barriers to animal movement by altering the natural habitat of certain species therefore preventing migration that may eventually lead to their extinction.
  •       Heavy metals and petroleum products from vehicles can contaminate the land and ground water.
  •       Gases from the exhausts of vehicles contribute to global warming through the release of greenhouse gases
  •       Loss of valuable habitat of Flora and fauna when car parks and roads are marked out.
Health Impact:
The quality of the air we breathe is diminished mainly by traffic emissions, because the exhaust emissions are released at a low levelInhalation of greenhouse gases or concentrations of air pollutants can cause adverse respiratory health effects. Road dust kicked up by vehicles may trigger allergic reactions.
Congestion makes driving more unpleasant, and can put drivers in a bad mood. It is a major source of driver stress, and makes many people feel frustrated, irritated, angry, anxious, confused, aggressive and/or exhausted and less safety conscious. The amount of traffic, how well the road network functions, the different means of transport and the way they are utilized have a fundamental influence on the health, safety and attractiveness of the urban environment.

Some possible sustainable solutions to mitigate the negative impact of traffic congestion include but are not limited to:
  •       Public transportation system should be improved and accessible to all locations.
  •       Travel plans should include car sharing, use of public buses, cycling or walking.
  •       People should live closer to where they work in order to reduce commuting time and exposure to traffic
  •       Employers should encourage working from home using computers and Internet in a mega city such as Lagos.
  •       Employers should provide staff buses for staff journey management to major routes.
  •       Drivers should make use of media such as traffic radio station or modern technology to monitor traffic.
  •       More adequate and well-trained highway agents such as LASTMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority) should be provided on more road networks.
  •       Mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be conducted for all road construction to include traffic impact, mitigation or control.
  •       Implementation of regulation on age and quality of imported vehicles.
  •       Development of other means of transport such as waterways, rail /train, subway and use of bicycles (little or no emission)

So back to my story, we finally got home at 3am (mercy hour) and guess what; we could not sleep because we had to wake up in the next one hour to get set for work. All we could do was take a shower, have a light snack and watch TV to stay awake until 5.30am for the sequence to begin again.

Traffic in a Lagos has become a norm and is generally accepted as a way of life but we need to understand the negative impact it can have on our health and the environment and that is the aim of sharing this true-life experience. Now I understand why the life expectancy in the urban areas is lesser than in the rural. Should we relocate to the village where we can enjoy a healthier and natural lifestyle? Let us all weigh the pros and the cons of living in an industrial city then we can adequately make a choice that will determine the quality of life we live on the long run.

Further reading:

Written by O’ Reese of En-pact Solutions Limited, 2013.

Twitter: @OReese2

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