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Transport and Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa (policy brief)

This policy brief, based on a report by the Transport and Environment Science Technology Network (TEST), offers an introduction to transport and environment issues in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on air pollution, road safety, traffic flow management, equity and climate change.

Gary Haq, Dieter Schwela / Published on 17 May 2013

Schwela, D., and G. Haq (2013). Transport and Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa (policy brief). SEI Policy Brief, York, UK.

Modern transport is an essential ingredient for development, allowing the movement of labour, supplies and goods, and enabling citizens to access key resources and services. Yet in sub-Saharan Africa, transport is also problematic in many ways, especially in cities. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution; traffic congestion is severe; road-crash deaths and injuries are far too common, and access to transport is uneven, often leaving the poor, elderly, disabled and women behind.

This policy brief outlines key challenges, identifies best practices and makes policy recommendations. The key findings are:

  • Urban air pollution is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa, and a major cause is the use of fossil fuels in transport. However, vehicle emission standards are inadequate and poorly enforced, and only eight countries in the region have operational routine air quality monitoring systems.
  • Deaths and injuries from road crashes are taking a serious toll, especially on pedestrians and cyclists. Africa has less than 3% of the world’s motor vehicles, but more than 11% of global road fatalities. There is a need to increase awareness of this problem amongst politicians, planners, engineers and the public.
  • Traffic congestion is of growing concern in many cities. The causes include ineffective public transport; lack of transport demand measures; poor quality of cycling and walking infrastructure; lack of integrated land-use policies, and poor road discipline. However, the extent of the congestion problem and the resulting economic, social and environmental impacts are rarely quantified or assessed.
  • Transport policies in sub-Saharan African tend to favour automobiles, which short-changes poor and vulnerable populations. There is a need for policies that ensure a more equitable appropriation of space, from the standpoint of accessibility, safety and environmental protection.
  • Africa has the lowest historical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of any continent, but its emissions are also now growing rapidly, driven by a sharp increase in fossil-fuel use. An integrated approach that incorporates climate considerations in transport planning could reduce transport-related GHG emissions and also increase the resilience of transport infrastructure and systems.

Download the policy brief (PDF, 1.58MB)

SEI authors

Gary Haq, Senior Research Assoicate at SEI
Gary Haq

Senior Research Associate

SEI York

Profile picture of Dieter Schwela
Dieter Schwela

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI York

Topics and subtopics
Climate : Mitigation / Air : Transport, Pollution, Cities / Health : Cities, Pollution
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