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publication September 7, 2020

The Cost of Air Pollution in Lagos


Photo credit: Top left: Courtesy of Iguniwari Ekeu-Wei; Top right: Johnny Greig / Alamy Stock Photo; Bottom: Novarc Images / Alamy Stock Photo; Back cover: Novarc Images / Alamy Stock Photo.


  • The study estimates that illness and premature deaths due to ambient air pollution caused losses of $2.1 billion in 2018, representing about 2.1% of Lagos State’s GDP. In the same year, it caused 11,200 premature deaths the highest in West Africa.
  • The major sources of pollution are road transport, industrial emissions, and generators aggravated by open burning and illegal dumping of waste. If as experts predict, Lagos becomes the world’s largest city by 2100, the sources of pollution will likely increase as industry grows and transportation needs soar.
  • The study proposes various remedies to improve Lagos’s air quality such as using cleaner passenger vehicles, shifting to public transport, adopting cleaner fuel and using alternative power sources.

Publication Overview

Ambient air pollution is a major contributor to mortality and morbidity. Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is especially harmful to health because it can pass lung barriers and enter the blood stream, causing premature deaths, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Globally, exposure to ambient PM 2.5 caused 2.9 million premature deaths in 2017, or about 9 percent of total deaths in the world. In West Africa, it was responsible for about 80,000 premature deaths the same year. The problem is particularly acute in Nigeria which had the highest number of premature deaths due to ambient PM 2.5 in the region.

Lagos, a coastal city of 24 million people, exemplifies how air quality is upending Africa megacities’ growth, health and livelihoods. Despite growing concern about air pollution, there is currently no reliable estimate of the impact of ambient air pollution, nor a comprehensive air pollution control plan.

The study ‘The Cost of Air Pollution in Lagos addresses these knowledge gaps. It estimates the impact of ambient PM 2.5 on health, analyzes the main pollution sources, and recommends a set of possible options to control air pollution in Lagos.

Key Findings

  • The study estimates that illness and premature deaths due to ambient air pollution caused losses of $2.1 billion in 2018, representing 2.1% of Lagos State’s GDP.
  • In 2018, ambient air pollution led to about11,200 premature deaths, the highest in West Africa. Children under five were the most affected, accounting for 60 percent of total deaths while adults suffered from heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • While WHO recommends an acceptable annual mean PM2.5 concentration level of 10 μg/m3, Lagos has recorded levels of 68 μg/m3, in the same range as other polluted megacities such as Beijing (73 μg/m3), Cairo (76 μg/m3) and Mumbai (64 μg/m3).
  • Road transport is the main source of ambient air pollution. Each day, 227 vehicles clog each kilometer of road. Most vehicles are over 15 years old, using old emission technologies and fuel with high sulfur levels: 200 times higher than U.S. standards for diesel.
  • Industrial emissions are the second source of air pollution. Industrial and commercial zones like Apapa, Idumota, Ikeja and Odogunyan, where cement, chemicals, furniture, refinery, steel industries are concentrated, have high levels of pollution. In Odogunyan, a PM2.5 concentration of 1 770 μg/m3 was recorded in a period of 24h.
  • Generators supply half of Lagos’ total energy demand and are the third source of air pollution. The poor combustion of the gasoline and oil used to operate the generators pollutes the air and causes huge health damage.
  • The World Bank Pollution Management and Environment Health Program (PMEH) offers  opportunities to collaborate with the Lagos State Government to create incentives and policies that will improve the air quality.
  • Air quality investment shortfalls can be curtailed through innovative financing. The IFC ‘s  Breath Better Bond offers opportunities to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by investing in climate-friendly infrastructure projects. 

About the authors

Lelia Croitoru is an Environmental Economist who has worked extensively on the economics of natural resources, particularly related to air quality, coastal zone, forests and water. She has edited two books on the cost of environmental degradation and on forest ecosystem valuation in several African and Middle Eastern countries; and has co-authored other reports on natural resource valuation. She has operational experience in Africa, Middle East and South Asia. She holds a PhD in Environmental Economics from the University of Padova, Italy, and a Masters in Agricultural Economics from the University of Bucharest, Romania.

Joseph Akpokodje is a Senior Environmental Specialist in the World Bank Nigeria Country Office and leads the Lagos Pollution Management and Environmental Health Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA). He recently co-led the roll-out of the Environmental and Safeguards Framework capacity building program for Nigeria. He has worked with the Bank for 15 years as consultant and staff, supporting Bank operations on project management, policy development, dialogue and client/ donor engagement. He has a Master's in Environmental Economics from the University of York, UK; BSc in Economics from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and an Executive certificate in Climate Change economics and Governance from LSE, UK.

Jiyoun Christina Chang is a Young Professional in World Bank’s Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice. She works on operations and advisory programs related to circular economy, resource efficiency and pollution. Prior to joining the Bank, she did research about resource efficiency and material recycling at MIT. She studied various material industries such as aluminum, paper, and steel industries, which are among the most energy-intensive industrial sectors. She holds BS and MS in Materials Science and Engineering from Yonsei University and PhD from MIT.

Andrew Kelly is CEO of EnvEcon Decision Support, a specialized economics and decision-support company operating out of Dublin, Ireland. EnvEcon specializes in the appraisal, design, implementation and management of policies and interventions to achieve (or support) a defined political or corporate objective. Andrew has served and continues to serve on several national and international expert groups and Task Forces including the Irish Government, European Commission and United Nations ECE. Kelly has worked as consultant for Morgan Stanley, SIDA and the World Bank on investment appraisal, program evaluations and international development.