Welcome to Cotonou: West Africa’s most polluted city

As early as 5am, thousands of motorcycle taxis – nicknamed Zemidjans – begin swarming the city’s streets, main roads, tunnels and corridors, taking people to their daily destinations, and in the process creating a dreadful noise that disturbs the city’s morning peace.

The noise is unbearable and will go on for the whole day until late at night.

The smoke coming from Benin’s motorcycles’ exhaust pipes pollutes the city’s atmosphere, and is estimated to equal about 83 000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHGs) annually, causing an environmental catastrophe in this city already plagued by unusual warmer temperatures, floodings and unpredictable weather patterns.

As if that was not enough, fuel street vendors, who sell anything from motor oil to petrol and diesel on the roadside, will also do their part of pollution as from 7am, by supplying their products openly to motocycles, meter-taxis, vans, trucks and even government vehicles at lower prices, far less than filling stations.

The smell of these petroleum products is annoying, and makes passers-by not only to cover their noses but alsoto cross on the other side of the road to be on the ‘safe side’ of the environment.

But there is nowhere to run in Cotonou!

Used plastics are also omnipresent in this fast-growing African city, lying unattended on the city’s streets and beaches, at marketplaces, in front of office buildings, private houses, churches and mosques and schools, while some are finding their way into the city’s drainage system.

What about e-waste? Computer screens, used keyboards, cables, old TV sets and fridges, as well as remains of cheap Chinese cellphones, have transformed the city into a paradise of e-waste.

As power outages are frequent in this country, especially in Cotonou, many people in this city use generators, mostly made in China, and which unfortunately vomit huge plumes of smoke when switched on.

Another piece of environmental disaster!

And along the peaceful and fish-infested lake that runs into the Atlantic Ocean, fishermen and their families constantly defecate in its banks, and push their ‘final products’ into its waters, polluting both its fishes (their daily bread) and its natural wonder.

At Dantokpa Market, Cotonou’s biggest marketplace which serves as the city’s biggest shopping mall, the vibe is magic, amazing and endless as the whole of Africa descends to trade there.

Locals, Nigerians, Togolese, Congolese, Senegalese, Malians, Cameroonians, Gabonese, Western tourists, and of course the Chinese, among others, are all here, buying or selling amid mounts of used plastics surrounding and greeting them.

But from 11am when the heat begins to simmer, the city’s residents seem to lose their sparkle, with everyone looking tired and reaching out for a cold drink or ‘pure water’ (fake version of mineral water) to quench their thirst and alleviate the fatigue.

It is none other than the demons of climate change, reincarnated from the city’s cycle of environmental pollution, that have come to haunt residents. And they will also haunt future generations unless something is done – and fast.

The Global Information Society Watch has this to say about Benin’s climate change: “It seems that the fight against climate change is not being conducted in synergy. People think that this fight is only the business of the ministry of environment and protection of nature.”

Benin signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 13 June 1992, and ratified it on 30 June 1994, but…

Photo: the city of Cotonou. Credit: Voyage au Benin.com

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