Africa’s dirty diesel scan­dal

Re­finer­ies in Eu­rope and the U.S. Gulf are us­ing lax stan­dards to sell poi­son to the con­ti­nent

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - ALWYN VILJOEN

DIESEL fumes in Ac­cra, Ghana, con­tain five times more par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM) than diesel fumes in Lon­don.

In La­gos, Nige­ria, the cars belch out diesel that has 13 times more par­ti­cles than in Lon­don.

This par­tic­u­late mat­ter comes from sev­eral sources, but dirty diesel is by far the main con­trib­u­tor.

Th­ese are the find­ings from a 160page re­port based on three years of re­search into the African fuel trade by Swiss cor­po­rate watch­dog Public Eye (for­merly the Berne Dec­la­ra­tion).

The re­port en­ti­tled “Dirty Diesel” was re­leased last week and ar­gues that Euro­pean and U.S. firms, but es­pe­cially Swiss firms, are abus­ing lax reg­u­la­tions in African coun­tries to dump fuel with high sul­phur con­tents on the African con­ti­nent.

“They work with po­lit­i­cally con­nected in­di­vid­u­als and do busi­ness with po­lit­i­cally ex­posed per­sons. This hap­pens in no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt coun­tries such as An­gola, the Repub­lic of the Congo and Zimbabwe,” stated the re­port.

In Zimbabwe, the fuel in­dus­try is dom­i­nated by Swiss trad­ing com­pa­nies Glen­core and Trafigura, which sup­ply three front com­pa­nies to meet lo­cal con­tent laws, which re­quires petroleum com­pa­nies to be 50% owned by Zim­bab­weans.

In to­tal, the re­searchers sam­pled fuel in eight African states where fuel is sup­plied by Swiss com­pa­nies, and found those states’ av­er­age sul­phur con­tent to be 200 times higher than in Eu­rope. In the worst places, the PPM count is a 1 000 times that of Eu­rope’s av­er­age.

“The re­sults from our fuel tests are even more shock­ing when one con­sid­ers that Africa, es­pe­cially West Africa, sup­plies the world with the some of the best qual­ity, low-sul­phur, ‘sweet’ crude oil,” the re­port reads.

The re­port lists only China as an­other coun­try fac­ing sim­i­lar prob­lems, where ex­haust fumes from old trucks are adding to the blan­ket of toxic smog Bei­jing is in­fa­mous for. But the Chi­nese govern­ment has set Jan­u­ary next year as the dead­line to start sell­ing fuel con­tain­ing only 10 par­ti­cles per mil­lion (PPM) while Africa is still run­ning its cars on any cheap fuel it can get.

“Noth­ing jus­ti­fies this sit­u­a­tion,” states the re­port.

“There is no tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenge, no re­stric­tions to the avail­abil­ity of low­sul­phur fu­els, no sig­nif­i­cant eco­nom­i­cal im­pact re­lated to their adop­tion.”

The re­port quotes Jane Akumu, leader of the African cam­paign at the UN En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­gramme’s Trans­port Unit, who said adopt­ing ul­tra-low sul­phur fu­els would save gov­ern­ments money in dra­mat­i­cally low­er­ing ill­nesses and deaths from ur­ban air pol­lu­tion.

With car own­er­ship rapidly in­creas­ing in Africa, the re­searchers pre­dict that Africa will have three times as many deaths from ve­hi­cle-re­lated air pol­lu­tion as the U.S., Eu­rope, and Ja­pan com­bined by 2030.

Public Eye calls on African gov­ern­ments to ban all dirty fu­els and govern­ment of ex­port hubs for “African qual­ity” fu­els in Am­s­ter­dam, An­twerp and the U.S. Gulf to pro­hibit such ex­ports.

Public Eye makes it clear that none of the dirty fuel sup­pli­ers to Africa were ex­ceed­ing le­gal lim­its, but stressed that gov­ern­ments would get what they al­low, and with that all the res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases as­so­ci­ated with high par­tic­u­late counts in the air.

The com­pa­nies sim­ply take ad­van­tage of weak fuel stan­dards in Africa to pro­duce, de­liver and sell low-qual­ity fuel — what the in­dus­try calls “African Qual­ity” — in or­der to in­crease prof­its.

If African coun­tries were to adopt Euro­pean fuel stan­dards (10 ppm) for sul­phur in diesel, they would im­me­di­ately cut by 50% the traf­fic-re­lated air pol­lu­tion from par­tic­u­late mat­ter.

This adds up to pre­vent­ing 25 000 pre­ma­ture deaths in 2030 and al­most 100 000 pre­ma­ture deaths in 2050, the re­port states, adding such a move would also re­duce car main­te­nance costs and al­low peo­ple to spend their bud­gets on other press­ing is­sues.


Africa’s gov­ern­ments need to set higher stan­dards to pre­vent dirty diesel and petrol from killing its ci­ti­zens, says a Swiss cor­po­rate watch­dog.

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