The role of poverty in many aspects of life is a well-documented chronicle which stares the world in the face. Poverty has immense contribution to gender imbalance, abuse of rights, inability to access good food, water, healthcare amongst others.
This time, poverty has revealed that its tentacles are also in control of the transport and power systems in some of the third world countries especially experimenting ones of Africa. Nigeria is one or perhaps the only country in Africa housing over 15 million of various versions of 2-stroke engines. The Green Society of Nigeria has said that these messy and easily worn out engines are on every second of the day emitting partially combusted but very dangerous fuel gases to the ecosystem. The global fight against depletion of the ozone layer aimed at protecting the biodiversity would not be complete if this menace described as ‘Asian Dilemma’ by Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India is not addressed with immediate alacrity in all third world nations of Africa including Nigeria where these two and three wheeled engines predominate currently.
Illustrating this challenge in Nigeria, there are three types of 2-stroke engines that dominate the system. The two-wheeled bikes are called ‘Okada’ while the three-wheeled ones are named ‘keke or Napep’. Yet there is another that has claimed so many lives in Nigeria called ‘I pass my neighbour’ meaning that I am better than my neighbour. This last one actually is a power generator. Nigeria has a totally collapsed power sector and cost of running bigger generators is not friendly to over 100 million pockets in Nigeria due to the fact that many are still living below the poverty line. The introduction of ‘I pass my neighbour’ was more or less like saying that a messiah has come. Most of them that mainly come from China cost as little as $55-$60 per unit. This pocket-friendliness made the acquisition of ‘I pass my neighbour’ a-must-have for every home in Nigeria irrespective of how poor the family is since the national power system is more or less moribund. This also goes to the nation’s transportation system. This system can better be said to be in shambles as almost all transportation activities in the country are done on the roads rendering severe pressures on the roads. But ‘Okada’ is a wonderful choice for fast and flexible movements within the city of Lagos and others that are traffic-jam ridden. The three-wheeler has adequately replaced car taxis and so families, friends and associates these days fancy it to cruise in ‘keke or napep’ with dangerous gases emitted behind them as they cruise. People choose these engines to get around and power their houses because they are cheap, powerful and easy to fix. But in the reverse, the environment and human health are compromised. And as cities balloon and populations grow, the number of journeys and two-stroke engines are bound to grow with it if uncontrolled.
Setting up the Euro 111 by the European Union is good but reasonably not enough to halt the trend if the 3rd world governments of these nations are not made to understand the enormity of problems the use of these engines could impact on the entire earth. There is need for cross-fertilization of ideas and a strong push for the right practices to be observed in these nations.
Just as was the case in the entire Asia and India-a co-inventor of these engines before 2004, about 75-80% of the traffic constitutes these machines, so is the case in Nigeria today. Due to poverty and inability for most people into the transportation sector to acquire 4 stroke engines for their businesses they go for these pocket friendly 2-strokes which must run by mixing petrol with engine oil. Experts have said that because 2-stroke engines burn petrol-oil mixture, they emit more smoke, more carbon monoxide, more hydrocarbons and more particulate matter than the engines that run on petrol alone. In effect, 2-stroke engines are highly wasteful in the use of fuel. Experts confirmed that up to 40% of the petrol and oil go out of the exhaust pipe not combusted leading to release of more dangerous carbons, nitrogen gas, sulphur, hydrocarbons as well as fine dust- all being much more toxic than the ones emitted by any 4-stroke engine. All these toxic compounds contribute immensely to urban air pollution.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that these classes of pollution are responsible for air pollution leading to the deaths of more than half a million people a year. About two-thirds of the residents of Delhi and Calcutta suffered from respiratory symptoms such as common cold and dry and wet cough before the government put pressure to end usage of such vehicles. WHO has also classified that urban pollution ranks 13th greatest contributor to disease burden and death worldwide. On the other hand, Mrs Tokunbo Jakande, executive director, Green Society of Nigeria said that research shows that these classes of emissions contribute immensely to the depletion of the ozone layer faster than would emissions from a 4-stroke engine.
Before the tricycles known as keke or napep in Nigeria are banned in Thailand, it was estimated that one keke is equivalent to 50 cars in terms of gaseous emissions and contributed 47% of pollution particulates in the air. Today the nation has curtailed on the use of these vehicle. Philippines did same and India has also gone ahead to almost reduce to zero the use of these vehicular mess even though it is still a manufacturer of 2-stroke engine. The proliferation of these engines in Africa’s third world countries should be worrisome. Yes, many local respiratory related deaths are either not investigated or believed to be effects of tobacco smoking; it is becoming evident that most cases linked to tobacco smoking in these countries are actually caused by 2-stroke engine emissions in the air.
There is urgent need to cut down on the usage of these engines but again, for this to be effective, the government must provide an alternative. The snag would be if the affected governments would have enough political-will to tackle this menace which has direct local and global implications on the environment and human. When Bangkok toughened up vehicle inspections and emissions standards in 2000, 2-wheelers were over 96% of the city’s traffic. However, March 2004, released the result that only 40% was in use with 50% out of the streets, according to Supat Wangwongwatana, deputy director general of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department. Africa nations would need to also adopt what Philippines did by offering interest free loan for operators of 2-stroke engines to upgrade to 4-stroke. This approach would appear most workable option as it is not easy to fix overnight their power and transportation systems. When 2-stroke baby taxis were phased out of Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2002, particulate concentrations dropped up to 40%, with carbon monoxide as well as hydrocarbons fell significantly, S.M.A. Bari, director of engineering at the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority said.
Let the whole world rise against the 2-stroke engines!
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