Aging Motorcycle Taxis Primary Air Pollution Source in West Africa

Many motorcycle taxi drivers are unemployed university students.

Published: 16-Jan-2003

T size=2>LOME, Togo, Jan 15 (IPS) - Ageing motorcycle taxis, which cover 80 percent of transport needs of Togo, Benin and Niger, produce air pollution, causing health and environmental problems, particularly in the cities.

In the 1970s and 1980s motorcycle taxis were few and far between and existed only in rural areas. But, the idea took off in the 1990s and today, they are everywhere, thanks to the economic problems experienced by Togo, Benin and Niger in the 1980s and 1990s.

Known as the ‘'zemidjan'' in Benin, ‘'oleyia'' in Togo and ‘'kabu kabu'' in Niger, the motorcycle taxi industry appeared in Togo between 1992 and 1993, spurred by a socio-political crisis, which included a nine-month general strike. The motorcycle taxi concept quickly spread to Lome, the capital of Togo, and then on to the country's other cities.

Niger already had motorcycle taxis in the 1980s. It was only through this mode of transportation that one could cross the border separating Niger and Nigeria, which was closed, between 1984 and 1986. Later, the motorcycle taxi became a key element in the opening up of a number of cities in Niger.

In Benin, a few motorcycle taxis could be seen on the streets during the 1970s when many young Beninoirs returned from neighbouring Nigeria where they had travelled to seek greener pastures.

The sector expanded in the 1980s during a tumultuous social and economic crisis under the former Marxist-Leninist regime.

Since then, the number of motorcycle taxis in the three countries has continued to grow. In 2000, there were 83,000 of them on the streets of Benin, 40,000 in Togo, and 2,350 in Niger.

The 2002 preliminary statistics show about 160,000 in Benin, including 72,000 in Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin, plus 45,000 in Togo and 2,500 in Niger.

The motorcycle exhaust, emitting air pollution all day long, creates health risks for drivers, passengers, and the residents of the streets they ply. The pollution contributes to respiratory diseases and other ailments.

‘'Respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, eye ailments and irritability are the main results,'' says a provisional report, entitled ‘'Study on the Impact of Two-Wheeled Vehicle, Urban Transportation Modes and Their Development Perspectives in WAEMU-Member Countries''.

WAEMU, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, comprises the eight West African countries that use the CFA as their common currency: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

The study, commissioned by the West African Development Bank, was conducted by the Togolese Society for Development Research in Africa. It reveals that most motorcycle taxis are second-hand machines imported from Japan or Europe, and that they emit a lot of pollution because of the use of adulterated gasoline, which lacks sufficient lubricant for their motors.

‘'In Cotonou, about 83 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted daily, 59 percent of which is generated by two-wheeled vehicles, and 36 tonnes of carbonic acid, 90 percent of which comes from the two-wheelers,'' the report says.

Bonaventure Ahitcheme, the secretary general of the National Association for the Promotion of the Zemidjan in Benin, quoting Ayi Ajavon, a Beninoir consultant, says ‘'the city of Cotonou is the most polluted in the west African sub-region. Almost the whole day, especially during rush hours, downtown is enveloped in a cloud of smoke''.

In Togo, around four in 10 drivers acknowledge the enormous amount of exhaust created by their motorcycles, and 35 percent admit to how noisy their machines are.

‘'Although zemidjans did a lot of good things for Togo when we went through hard times, they are hazardous to the environment,'' says Samuel Azomedon, the secretary general of the National Association of Togolese Motorcyclists.

‘'The air pollution, created by the motorcycle taxis, heats up the cities, and the polluted air contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer,'' he says. ‘'And, the polluted air shortens life expectancy.''

The Minister of Civil Service and Labour, Seydou Moussa Kasseye, recognising the importance of the motorcycle taxi as a means of transportation in Benin, says ‘'we cannot ignore the air pollution.''

A recent study by the Togolese Society for Development Research in Africa says motorcycle taxis also create a danger on the highways. In 2000, they were involved in 4,735 accidents in Benin and 4,103 in Togo, and 2,813 in Niger, many of them fatal.

Boni Yayi, president of the West African Development Bank, says motorcycle taxis have created 134,000 jobs in Benin and 61,000 in Togo. Many motorcycle taxi drivers are unemployed university graduates.

‘'In 2000, motorcycle taxis contributed 2.5 billion CFA (about 3.8 million U.S. dollars) in revenue for Benin, 700 million CFA (1.076 million U.S. dollars) for Togo and 600 million CFA (923,076 U.S. dollars) for Niger, '' says Yayi. (END/2003)

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